Skewed Numbers

How many times can you brush your teeth from one tube of toothpaste? Maybe you don’t know the exact number of brushings or days, but you could probably estimate the number of weeks or months before you need a new tube.

I have minimal concept of how long it takes for me to finish just about any product. Part of this has to do with having more than one on the go at the same time (think of having a lip balm in your purse versus in your washroom, as opposed to only having the one – and how much longer that would take you to finish it), or from sharing with others (I’m sure I’m not the only one to have used the same shampoo bottle as my mum while growing up). When I went away to university, I was surprised at how quickly I went through body wash and toothpaste on my own. I still don’t know how long it takes for me to complete a lip balm.

Sure, there’s the fact that different products will be different sizes and viscosity, so how quickly you hit pan or empty something will be influenced by that, too. Though I think were I struggle – and how this has influenced my excessive shopping – has to do with having taken a scarcity mindset when purchasing stuff which will eventually run out. Take the following sticker sheet, for example:

I use one sticker per day of physical activity, to track on a year-long calendar that I’ve made some amount of movement that day. I started with these last year, using some 200 of them, and continued on for this year since I’m using the same calendar format. I took this photo back in February, already concerned that I would need to find more stickers for the rest of the year. Actually, to be more honest and accurate, I was stressed that I would need to find more stickers for the rest of the year. This was my gut reaction to seeing that I had fewer than half left, despite there still being more than enough to get me through to June. Thankfully, my first thought wasn’t to purchase more, but to go through the sticker booklets that I thought might have equivalent/similar ones that could be used. I did happen to find more than enough of roughly the same size, so the stress is no longer there – but it’s also something I don’t want to carry as stress in the future.

While it’s certainly an ongoing learning process, my skewed perception of how long something will last has definitely influenced how I’ve shopped in the past. Even in a climate that has all four seasons, the amount of clothing I have is far more than I need, as evidenced by the fact that I barely have enough space to store all of it – let alone enough days in the season to wear it all. I also have bought five of something (candles, crochet hook sets, art history books) thinking that I will need more immediately if I like something even just a little bit. Even with library books, I’ll take out the first two of the series in case I like it enough to want to continue reading immediately.

None of those items are necessities (well, clothing for the sake of being adequately dressed is), but the combination of lacking delayed gratification, bargain hunting, and being a bit of a collector, I generally end up with more than I could need within any definition of “reasonable amounts.” I’ve found that things I’ve already been doing this year – being more intentional, having an inventory of my stuff, keeping track of empties, not buying anything new until I’m all out – has helped with re-calibrating my perception of “enough,” even if the learned response is still “uh, oh, need more!” when I reach the halfway point of something.

I’d be very curious to see where my head’s at when it comes to reaching the last of a category (say, liquid body wash, though I still have 10+ bars of soap), and whether I deem an arguable “necessity” to be worth refilling. For the record, body wash absolutely is, though I’m thinking about hair masks as optional. Once I get to that point, I’ll be sure to offer an update.