Make It Better

There are different reasons I want to buy things. Some things just Look Cool (mostly clothes) and I want them to make me Look Cool. It’s pretty easy to push these wants out of my mind, though some have staying power (ahem, slip on Vans I’ve been coveting). Other things are functional, and I can give you a hundred and one reasons why it would be a Useful Thing (ahem, fan I’m not buying despite stifling heat when I exercise). These are harder to let go of, but I’m learning to make due with what I’ve got (or just endure a little discomfort, gawd forbid). What I’m finding is really hard to walk away from are the Things I Think Will Make It Better. Those things dance in my dreams at night.

The truth is, I think a lot of things will Make It Better An example: My daughter’s Not Wanting To Wear Shoes Kindof-A-Thing is becoming a The Great Shoe Strike of 2015. She never wants to wear shoes. She wants to be barefoot all the time, including the times when she’s walking in areas where there could be (ie probably is, because this is San Francisco) glass or nails or dog shit or other undesirable surprises. She wants to go barefoot ALL THE FUCKING TIME. It’s a constant negotiation, that eventually becomes an argument that inevitably leads to a meltdown. Every. Single. Time. It’s starting to wear on me. It’s getting to where I don’t want to take her outside anymore (which would suit her just fine, thankyouverymuch).

Her main pair of shoes, The Blue Ones, are almost too small. The Rainbow Dash Ones (which she tends to avoid wearing even though they are super fucking cool) are getting tight and The Tevas are still wearable despite being the size she’s growing out of (thank you open toes!). She just got a pair of awesome Vans with cats on them but they have laces, which she can’t tie yet. She does like them though, and will at least put them on (then ten minutes later will ask to take them off again).

Today at the zoo, after she tromped around for three hours in her socks, I got the brilliant idea that those “barefoot” shoes with the individual toe sleeves would be perfect for my daughter. Sure there was a chance she’d hate them, but if she loved them, they would Make It Better.

I spent a day obsessing over these shoes. My daughter’s size is the smallest carried–it was meant to be!–but no stores carry them anymore (they haven’t been “all the rage” in two years and the site’s store list is badly in need of editing). I called eight places and nobody had them in a 29. I could order them online, but they are expensive and I hate returning shoes that are shipped.

So I slow down and think about what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. And I recognize that desperate desire for this Challenging Issue to be Fixed, and that I’ve channeled all that desperation into a Thing I think will Fix It. And then I chuckle to myself.

There is no way those ridiculous looking shoes are going to resolve the Great Shoe Strike of 2015. Sure I may get her a pair some day so we can see if she likes them, but I don’t need them Now, to fix This Particular Thing.

As I researched a sensory swing for my daughter I saw tons of other stuff I knew she’d love. Stuff that I was sure would Make It Better. I have a whole list of things I want to get her, but I see now that I want those things because deep down, voices I’m not ready to entertain, would do anything, buy anything, for it all to be easier. I’m looking for the magic bullet–or a cylinder of magic bullets–but it doesn’t exist. No item I can buy is going to make this all go away. It’s hard for me to remember that.

I’ve been buying shit to Make It Better for a loooooong time. A really long time. It’s a hard habit to break. But this summer I’m breaking it, one day at a time. Some days are harder than others, but this spending freeze is forcing me to take the time to be honest with myself about why I want things, how I think they’ll Make It Better. It turns out that time is usually all I need to stop myself from spiraling into the abyss.

When my daughter really doesn’t have anything to put on her feet, I might try those ridiculous shoes. In the meantime, I’ll remind myself even that even the Great Shoe Strike of 2015 will eventually come to an end, even without magic footwear.

Do you buy things to Make it Better? What other reasons compel you to spend?


  1. Really great insight here. Yes! Making it better is a big force behind the things I want. I can usually talk myself out of it (like you did there). I think THIS is the point of the spending ban. Its not just about “not buying things”…its about being forced to think about why you spend, and what things are worth it to you, and how to reframe things so you don’t feel compelled to buy things. If you just “don’t buy things”, nothing will have changed when your ban is over…but I think all the reflection (and even angst) you are going through will lead to lasting changes.

    1. I hope you are right. I think you probably are, but I wouldn’t put it past me to not learn anything during these two months. 😉

  2. I think for me, my mantra is, “if it makes your life better, do it.” And that tends to get me in trouble spending wise. So then I have to add on, “do I need it or do I want it”…depending on what the answer is, I usually skip out. It’s hard but you’re getting there and you’ve realized what’s going on. Big step.

    Maybe your daughter can go pick out a pair of shoes? Will that work to entice her to wear them?

    1. I feel like there are so few things we actually NEED, you know? I mean, really, truly need? We can say we need dishwasher pods but really we can forgo the dishwasher to do the dishes by hand. We can say we need toothpaste but really baking soda is probably all our teeth really need (I use baking soda and vinegar to wash my hair!) So the “need” thing is as subjective as “want” can be.

      And my daughter ALWAYS picks out her shoes these days. I’d never buy them without her anymore, there is no rhyme or reason to what she’ll put on her feet.

  3. I’ve been remiss in commenting lately, but have really enjoyed these posts on your budget, as well as parenting.

    I can totally relate to the desire to make things better by purchasing the solution. One of my daughters is an extremely picky eater (she only wants to eat crunchy foods), so I’ve spent a small fortune trying to find foods that fit that bill and are still semi-healthy. It’s not made much of a change in her eating habits, but it at least makes me feel less stagnant in my effort to get her to eat fruits and vegetables. It’s been a fruitless attempt (no pun intended. 😉 ), but it at least helps to calm the control freak in me that worries she’s going to end up with scurvy.

    1. Haha. I used to do the same thing with food for my kids. Now I’ve just given up and I only offer them the same ten things over and over again. They’ve broken my spirit when it comes to food. I just can’t anymore.

  4. This resonates so much with me, although I hadn’t thought about my spending in those terms. I reckon I spent around 15 years (mid 20s to 40 ish) buying stuff to Make It Better and stuff to Make Me Better. Sorting out the crappy stuff in my life has gone hand in hand with stopping my spending. And now, not spending very much gives me time and mental space to sort out any new crappy stuff that pops up. Rather than cruising around op shops which were my spending site of choice, I walk in the forest & think things through when things go awry. It’s been a really long journey to get to this point.

    1. You know, I’m wondering if this will kind of be the other way around, like by not allowing myself to manage my emotions with spending I’m going to have to face them in ways I haven’t before. I think that may already be happening… And I definitely recognize that I still have a LONG way to go.

  5. If you only knew how much I spent on various sleep things for my son: sleep sack, zipadee zip,Merlin sleep suit, some hands up swaddle I ordered from New Zealand, white noise, black out curtains, blackout shades. I was a mess.

    1. Oh, I know what you’ve spent on various sleep things for your son, because I’ve bought them all myself. Everything on that list (minus the swaddle from New Zealand, though I bought many, many swaddles) I’ve bought for one of both of my kids. When it comes to sleep, nothing is too expensive!

  6. Sometimes the make it better stuff is worth it. Occasionally I will deny deny deny myself something and then I’m like “just spend the 20 bucks already!” And then I will save time etc. bc I finally bought whatever it was.

    1. I’ve had that happen too. I think as I do this more and more and start to recognize what is worth it and what’s not sooner. At least I hope I will…

      1. I think the fan is worth it! You need exercise to be healthy and for necessary stress relief. Why be miserable when you can get a little fan for not much money?

  7. I’ve found that often the things that actually do “make it better” are little inexpensive things. Glue on a light switch that keeps popping off. Rearranging furniture so I don’t walk into the overstuffed chair in the middle of the night.

    Bigger stuff I will put on my amazon wishlist and someone will get it for me for Christmas or a birthday (in place of stuff I don’t actually want)– as I get older a few months of waiting doesn’t seem as long as it used to. And then if it makes things better I think happy thoughts about the person who got it for me and if it doesn’t, then now I know and I’m no worse off than if they’d gotten me something I didn’t want at all.

    Similarly, I’m never really able to predict what kinds of toys my kids will love for long periods of time vs. play with at first and then not care about after. It seems to have nothing to do with how much things cost.

    1. I like the idea of the Amazon wishlist. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts and neither do his parents really (they give gifts to the kids though, maybe I should put that kind of stuff on my Amazon Wishlist so my kids don’t get dumb toys they won’t ever play with. I’m trying to move away from present giving with my parents too and focus more on spending time with them instead of them giving us stuff. That is part of the minimalism thing. But maybe if I knew they’d be getting stuff we want anything I’d be okay with them buying us stuff. I know they love to do that!

      1. The general idea is in the Willpower book too– telling yourself you can have it later keeps you from having the negative effects of denying yourself, which means you don’t lose willpower. Back when time moved slower for me because I didn’t have kids, I would allow myself some post-holiday buying off the list if I didn’t get everything I wanted. These days I can usually wait for the next holiday because I have such a backlog with my hobbies already.

  8. Very very intriguing!!! I totally can relate to this!! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

  9. I almost forgot to add; G’s crazy doesn’t allow her to wear quite a few clothes and shoes. Have you brought your little with you to try them on in the store? Pose in front of the mirror? CHOOSE them for her self with great confidence? It helps greatly in our house.

    1. I routinely dropped $150-$250 at Target, pretty much EVERY TIME I WENT THERE. I go to Costco now, and I always drop $150, but I’m not getting stuff I don’t need anymore, I’m just getting WAY MORE of the stuff I do need.

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