Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: March, 2015

Decision Making, Part 3

photo of almost completely used toothpaste tube

“It’s almost empty. Pitch it, for Pete’s sake.”

Once you start reading it, you may wonder why this post’s topic wasn’t part of Living Well, Part 3, because it sort of fits under the umbrella of little decisions that most of us think don’t matter. But then again, it takes off in a completely new direction. Since it isn’t an exact fit, it stands alone as Decicision Making, Part 3. (Goes to show you get special treatment when you don’t fit anywhere else.)

Here’s the pay-attention tip
right up front:
use what you pay for.

Since this is a fairly straightforward and logical statement, you’d think we’d all grasp this concept. Instead, it seems a devilishly slippery one for our society – at least today’s American society. Our forebears living before the Industrial Revolution got it; no one had to explain this concept to them. We, it would appear, are living on another planet.

FYI: Bill Bryson’s lengthily titled Made In America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is a delightful read with an added bonus that directly applies to our use-it-up concept. He describes how our society functioned during pre- and post-Industrial-Revolution times, succinctly illustrating why people didn’t throw away any resource they had paid for with time or money, prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Unlike our pre-Industrial-Revolution ancestors, though, we have an abundance of everything. In fact, we have too much of everything. “Not quite. We don’t have an abundance of money,” you say? What a surprise. We have houses and apartments stuffed to the rafters, but not enough money. Do you suppose there’s a connection?

But, I digress. I want to stick like glue to this use-it-all concept. Let’s get started by using some REALLY little examples. Promise me you’ll stay with me to the end. Roll your eyes if you must and if it makes you feel more hip, but just stay with me. Okay?

First, a little reminder
of what I – and you – pay for.

I pay for the WHOLE tube of toothpaste – the part that squirts right out of the tube and the two-weeks’ worth that won’t squirt out, leading me to pitch it into the trash. Colgate doesn’t say, “Aw shucks, we’ll just give you that last bit that we’ve made almost impossible to get out. It’s on the house.” I’m quite certain no one at any level of Colgate-Palmolive’s vast management tiers has said that.

That last quarter cup in the slimy-sided mayonnaise jar? I paid for it. When I throw it in the trash, I throw away food (make that a food product) I’ve paid for. (I’m also dooming yet another jar to the dump instead of the recycle bin.) Kraft didn’t throw in a little extra “at no additional charge”; they charged me for every bit of product – plus the jar, label, and lid. Businesses don’t absorb these costs; they pass them on to us.

Oh, pleeeease. Using up the last little bit of toothpaste?? That can’t make a difference,” you say?

Of course not!
But that’s not the point.

Scraping out every smidgen of the mayo won’t make a difference either. Neither will sloshing water around in the shampoo bottle or laundry detergent jug till not one bubble comes out. Neither will rinsing out the ketchup bottle with water and throwing the resulting goop into your home-made soup. None of these little habits make a difference – on their own. They allow you to stretch toothpaste, shampoo, mayo, detergent, ketchup for just a few more days or weeks, and that’s all.

This simple idea that if we pay for something, we should use it – all of it – involves, for the most part, making little decisions. Now here’s where we come full circle to Living Well, Part 2: THEY ADD UP. When we apply the use-it-all principle to all our buying decisions, the effects begin to add up. Adding this use-it-up habit to your lifestyle results in collective, very real savings. And that, as you know, is what helps out the old bottom line.

The reverse is also true.

The mindset prompting the mayo’s premature death in the landfill also prompts you to throw away plenty of other resources you paid for, and that doesn’t help the old bottom line. I don’t have to tell you how important the bottom line is; sitting down to a stack of bills every month has already taught you that. But there’s one more reason that use-it-up habits are worth incorporating into your mindset.

Quick. What’s the number one cause of marital problems, according to the majority of marriage counselors? Right. Money. Not too much of it, as a rule; the problem is that one or both partners are pretending they have too much of it. Okay, so we have a rampant cash flow problem, along with an astronomical divorce rate, in “the richest country in the world.” How did that happen?

One answer:
we throw away
an awful lot of stuff
we pay for.

(We also buy boatloads of stuff we definitely don’t need, but I’ve already covered that (sort of) in Saying “No” – Practice, Practice, Practice and Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, Part 3.)

Not many small- to mid-sized businesses can stay in business operating on the fiscal principle that they’ll just throw out

  • that last batch of plastic,
  • that last dozen boxes of fan belts,
  • that last five bolts of upholstery fabric,
  • that last….

You get the picture. But husbands and wives (CEOs of household “businesses”) try to do it all the time – and set themselves up for fiscal and marital failure.

I may as well come clean.
Several years ago,
I was not paying attention.

I was already sloshing water around in the ketchup, mayonnaise, shampoo, and detergent bottles; it was the rinsing required by our city’s recycling policy. But then, I was pouring all that goop I’d paid for down the drain. Are you doing the same thing? Well, then. Why not use the product instead of throwing it away? I was already halfway there to developing the use-it-up habit, and so are you.

Pay attention to your own use-it-up habits – or lack of. Try this concept for a while. See if this use-it-up habit doesn’t make sense. If you agree it does, make it your own.

Then look for a mate who either already knows and uses this concept – or “gets it” when you tell him. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

Already married? Try – do try – to get on the same page. Decide you’re both willing to adopt new use-it-up habits and whatever else it takes to ensure a profitable bottom line for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith & Associates.

As you might have guessed, for a very long time now my husband and I have practiced habits that were common before the Industrial Revolution and even during the Great Depression. We were doing all this well before frugality became the new chic way of living after the Great Recession. But even now, even with a growing number of our society regarding frugality as du jour, our use-it-up habits mark us as freaks to a great many of our peers. They roll their eyes and say “Oh, pleeease.”

Don’t care. Know why? Because it makes a difference in our bottom line, and we’re always tickled about that. Others’ labeling us as freaks? Of no consequence.

Pay attention: use ALL of the resources you pay for.

Next up: my ever-so-humble take on how our misconceptions about resources get us into sooooo much trouble.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” – Anonymous

A Yankee gem from an old German (?) proverb

Decision Making, Part 2

photo of basement office piled high with papers, files, books, etc.

A basement office in need of decision-making

You noticed, of course, that Decision Making, Part 1, ends with a well-meaning encouragement to make decisions – as many as possible – all day long. But I’m betting some readers (including you, maybe?) are thinking, “But I’ll make mistakes.” Of course you will, darlin’. And how do you think you’ll learn if not by making some mistakes? (How do you think I became so incredibly wise, if not from making a fair share of my own, eh?)

No, it isn’t your imagination and, yes, I am contradicting myself – yet again. This entire PayAttention! blog is an attempt to help us all learn from others’ mistakes. But there’s just no getting around the fact that we all have to make some mistakes for ourselves. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Making decisions is like everything else in your life.

  • The more you practice, the better you get.
  • The better you get, the less you have to think about it.
  • The less you have to think about it and the more intuitive it becomes, the more you do it.
  • The more you do it, the better you get.

Do we have another circle thing going on here? You bet. Except this time, it isn’t a vicious circle. When you’ve practiced proactive decision-making so much that it’s just part of who you are, you rarely find yourself with a backlog of decisions to make. You simply make them as you go, and you acquire an unconscious habit of looking ahead and making decisions before they’re screaming, in-your-face emergencies.

FYI: you’re already
making decisions
all day long.

If the photos in this blog post look uncomfortably familiar to you, that’s a clue you’ve settled for the deciding-not-to-decide brand of decision-making. Remember the colossal list of junk at the beginning of Decision Making, Part 1, all evidence of a homeowner’s deciding not to decide? Look around you. What’s in your home?

photo of folded laundry covering dining table and chairs

Laundry HERE???? Postponed decisions.

  • Piles of files covering what used to be office work surfaces?
  • Piles of laundry on the dining table and chairs?
  • Piles of books all over the place?
  • Piles of magazines beside your favorite chair?
  • Piles of opened and unopened mail in the office, on a kitchen counter, on the kitchen desk?
  • Piles of food on the pantry floor?
photo of bookshelf in bedroom with stacks and piles of books all over the bed, floor, and piled in messy piles on the bookshelf

PLENTY of postponed decisions.

If this is what you see, that’s more good news. It means I’m speaking to the right audience.

Rather than decide to:

  • file the magazines for future reference,
  • read them in the evenings till you’ve read everything of interest,
  • pitch them into the recycling bin, or
  • pass them on to someone else for their pleasure reading,

you’ve decided not to decide. So there they all sit, perched in a precarious pile.

Rather than:

  • fold the clean T-shirts and jeans you dumped on the coffee table,
  • get up off the couch, and
  • carry them to your bedroom closet,

you decide not to decide. So there they sit, waiting to embarrass you when your girlfriend drops by – or worse, when Mom shows up unannounced.

Rather than:

  • driving to a furniture store,
  • buying a bookcase,
  • assembling it, and
  • organizing your books on its shelves, or
  • giving them to a charity shop,

you decide not to decide. So there they sit, an obelisk slowly and precariously reaching toward the ceiling.

Rather than

  • file,
  • act on, or
  • recycle

each piece of mail as you opened it, you decided not to decide. So there they sit, an uneasy reminder that an unpaid bill or a friendly letter from the IRS may still be lurking in the pile somewhere.

If I’ve just described your living quarters, it’s time to start practicing decision-making – and not the decide-not-to-decide variety. All this clutter you see around you? Merely postponed decision-making.

Pay attention:
postponed decision-making
is scarier than you think.

When we postpone – decide not to decide – the above relatively easy-to-make decisions, we could well be avoiding other, more important and vital ones, as well. And that’s the scary, surprise ending to this disagreeable saga. Life is full of REALLY important decision-making. If we aren’t very good at making little decisions, we’ll be abysmally ham-handed at making The Big Ones.

Make a list of the messes of your life that bother you the most. Decide to decide what you’ll do about the worst one. Follow through.

Okay, that wasn’t so bad.”

What’s the most next most annoying one on your list? Decide to decide what you’ll do about it. Follow through.

Well! That wasn’t so hard.”

Woohoo! Don’t you love positive momentum? Make another decision. And another. And another.

It’s astonishing how rewarding decision-making can be – when you’re good at it – and we simply DO NOT “get good” at things without practicing. Now, go out there and do yourself a whole lot of favors: practice productive decision-making – all day today, and every day thereafter.

Next up: Decision Making, Part 3. It’s all about those trivial, oh-pleeease, roll-of-the-eyeballs decisions that “everyone” knows aren’t worth bothering with. Or are they?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes - understanding that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of success.” – Arianna Huffington

“Failure” = getting better at decision-making

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. (Part 3)

photo of young woman and a desk full of bills

Probably not enough Should I? questions.

Can, Should, &
“Oh well, you only live once.”

Nowhere is this trend of doing what we can – just because we can – of greater concern to me than in the way we spend money. As you’ve noticed in previous blog posts, I think a great many of my compatriots have checked their brains at the door when it comes to making appropriate decisions about spending money.

Before making any buying decisions, ask Should I? And do try to be honest with yourself when you formulate your answer. You well know you’re playing head games with yourself if you quickly answer with a head full of rationalizations, especially if you’ve been doing a whole lot of everything, just because you can.

When I find myself playing this head game, I ask more questions. Why right now? Why should I buy this very minute? The answer almost always is, I don’t have to. Ah. A little breathing time, a little thinking time, so that my second answer to the Should I? question has a slightly better chance for a little more honesty. Sometimes not. If you’re like me, you may have to ask the Should I? question five or six times before Ms. Honesty shows her face.

Not asking and honestly answering the Should I? question means getting yourself in hot water with:

  • a spouse,
  • parents,
  • credit card companies,
  • your bank,
  • adult children who may have to bail you out,
  • and a host of others.

Need I point out here that getting into hot water is not exactly greasing the wheels of our relationships? Okay. Just wanted to be sure.

I could literally fill a book with more examples of people doing really stupid stuff – just because they can. So could you. In fact, maybe you should. Okay, not a book’s worth; a page might suffice. Key a whole page of things others do – just because they can – that irritate the heck out of you. And then make a note to yourself not to do those things yourself. You can’t stop there, though.

Here’s the pay-attention advice
you knew was coming.

There are boatloads of irritating scenarios you won’t think of. Here’s my humble and simple remedy: repeat the maxim just because I can doesn’t mean I should – over and over this week and next week and the week after. Make it an ingrained and instinctual habit before you:

  • dress for an occasion,
  • answer that vibrating cell,
  • slide your credit card,
  • open your wallet
  • speak, or
  • make a decision about anything.

Analytical types like to call it “intentional living.” Regardless of what you call it, adopting the habit of making conscious, thoughtful, appropriate decisions about can and should will endear you to others, continually greasing the wheels of your relationships and making your life far less stressful. It’s mind-magic that leads to relationship-magic.

Whew, this series could easily turn into another Russian-doll set of blog posts like the Odd Series. Really: I could go on till Russian Doll #864, but then you’d all be nodding off. Best to call this post the end of just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

red box of white text: "Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?" – Proverbs 17:16, NIV Bible

Wisdom = asking and answering Should I?

The next blog post is already done, as I posted it prematurely. 😒 It’s a bit of a sticky wicket, if you must know, because it’s about that thing plenty of us avoid: making decisions.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

Decision Making, Part 1

photo of outdoor garage sale

Debris exposing decisions that were NOT made

  • Bags and bags of costume-jewelry beads
  • Worn out workshop tools
  • Boxes and boxes of crochet thread
  • Sacks and sacks of knitting yarn
  • Leather worker’s lacing in every imaginable color
  • Multiple tubes of gaudy glitter
  • Men’s rubber – yes, rubber – rain boots
  • Dress pattern packets in jumbled piles.
  • Instruction booklets for what no one wants to know these days
  • A 1924 algebra textbook
  • Heavily battered pots and pans
  • Mismatched cracked and chipped pottery
  • Women’s undergarments no woman under 40 would recognize
  • Threadbare towels and sheets
  • Piles of faded postcards from travel-smart friends

All this was there – and much more – at an estate sale in an elderly neighbor’s house. It immediately made me unexpectedly and unexplainably sad. I said as much to the young woman helping with the sale and asked about the owner’s circumstances. “Oh, she isn’t dead. She just went into assisted living,” she chirped brightly and reassuringly.

This is your mother’s stand-in talking, now: Never, ever say that. (I’m quite sure I did when I was her age, and equally sure the more mature around me would’ve liked to smack me.) DO NOT make blithe statements about the last stages of life, about which you know nothing. FYI: moving into assisted living is dying-in-slow-motion for most elderly people, as they watch their peers up and down the hall die off and as they await their turn or – worse – the dreaded move to a nursing home.

Whew. That just slipped out. We’ve digressed, haven’t we? Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Ever been to a sale
like the one I’ve just described?

Then you know the drill. Some flea-market-type person agrees to handle the sale of all the house’s contents (after family members have fought over the good stuff). Enterprising flea-marketers figure this saves the family additional heartache and stress, while providing themselves with legitimate income.

The entrepreneurs set up shop at the front-door or garage-front with the ubiquitous card table, complete with a “sales clerk” like the chirpy young woman above. They’ve culled what’s left of the valuable stuff, priced it at antique-shop prices, and have it displayed safely under their noses on that card table. They’ve pulled the rest of the house’s contents from every drawer, cupboard, closet, and cubby, organized it, and laid it all out – room by room or table by table in the driveway – for prospective buyers to paw over.

In short, the entire detritus of a person’s life, as well as every room of their home, is there for total strangers to sift through. The plan is that visitors will offer a buck for the privilege of carting stuff from the estate-sale house to their house. Furthermore, the family is desperately hoping a yard-saler (or Realtor in disguise) will make an offer on the house, and they can be done with the whole miserable business.

In most of the cases I’ve seen, the homeowner has been on the slow, downhill slide of poor health. In fact, they left for the assisted living center or nursing home much later than they should have. The result is a grungy house (the ”fixer-upper” you’ve seen in Realtor ads), unpainted and unmaintained, filled with items like the ones listed above which should have been given away or disposed of a very long time ago.

They long ago reached a point where the physical activity of running a vacuum and the mental activity of sorting through a lifetime of material accumulations (for the grandkids, favorite charities, younger friends, etc.) were simply too much for them. I’ve often heard stories of elderly people who, having reached this point, would not permit family members to take over these chores. They could no longer perform them, but neither would they let anyone else perform them. They simply sat in their beloved homes, with those homes falling down around their ears, and decided not to decide.

What have these people done?

They’ve abdicated their decision-making responsibilities, with rather unpleasant, awkward results – for all concerned.

Did they suddenly do this at age 82, just weeks before the long-term-care facility move? They did not. The elderly people I know about who ended up in the very situation I’ve just described had spent most of their adult lives avoiding decision-making whenever possible. What most of these people seemed to have in common was a deep-seated aversion to looking ahead, planning for the future, and making the necessary decisions, however disagreeable or uncomfortable they might be.

What happens if you don’t do something very often? You’re not very good at it. If you’re not good at something, what do you tend to do? You avoid it. Do we have a vicious circle going on here? You betcha.

Here’s the pay-attention lesson
for this post.

Make decisions. Now. Lots of ’em. Every day. All day.

  • Don’t live your life by proxy.
  • Don’t abdicate your right to decide.
  • Don’t let others keep doing your deciding for you.
  • And most importantly, don’t dump your decision-making onto others.

Part 2 of Decision Making is ready. Warning: if you thought this Part 1 was harsh, you haven’t seen anything yet. Sticking doggedly to my ever-so-endearing, in-your-face style, I’ll be asking some rather disagreeable questions. (Just thought you’d want to know.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” – Edward de Bono

An English psychologist–creative-thinking fella

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