I have always been fascinated by personalities. I actually think it’s one of the elements which prompted me to become a novelist, since writing fiction gives one a whole new world in which to explore the possibilities of the human psyche. However, it’s not just other people who intrigue me, but also myself. ‘Knowing thyself,’ as various Greek philosophers advised, is surprisingly difficult. Just when one has pinned down an element of one’s personality, some situation brings another out of hiding.
Something, though, which seems common to a lot of people these days – or at least, all the self-help/lifestyle books I’ve read suggest this – is an urge to act on impulse. Perhaps because the advertisements and media around us suggest that rushing out and following your heart to is the path to satisfaction, there’s a constant temptation to buy things or eat foods on impulse, or even to make important life decisions based on one’s feelings of the moment.
For me this is a particular temptation, because I fall on the aggressive end of the personality spectrum.
I’ve always been the type who can review a situation quite quickly and come to an instantaneous decision – whether it be to buy something, or to take a job, or even (in my writing life) to take a novel and cut out 1/3 of its bulk. Sometimes this can be extremely helpful in getting things done and making progress in life, but at the same time, there are inherent dangers with acting so precipitously. I have on occasion been ‘burned’ because I bought something that was out of my price range and got stuck with it, or hurt someone because I analyzed the situation too hastily.
So, for the past four years or so, I’ve been working on tempering this side of my personality so that I thing about things and make decisions in a more tempered way. I had opportunity to practice just this past week, because I needed a new piece of furniture. I was using a chest which Vasnefy built for me as a college graduation gift (ah, the joys of having a carpenter’s daughter for your best friend!) and the top was getting increasingly dinged. Moreover, it was a bit too low and too deep to be just the right shape to have beside a bed. I was in constant danger of hitting my legs on it as I swung out of bed in the morning.
So I went out to look for something which matched my room and my very particular tastes.
I had a budget of about $175 (and that only if it was truly magnificently perfect, otherwise less than $150 would be better). I went to the many consignment/antique stores we have the area. The very first one I entered presented me with a beautiful cabinet, perfectly in line with my taste. Made of reclaimed wood, and stained a warm gold, it featured a plethora of little drawers and doors, all giving the feeling of something ornate and stylized from Asia. I loved it. Of course it cost an overwhelming $430.
At one time I would have said to myself, ‘You know, it’s perfect, and I have the money in savings (even though I need that to buy new tires for my car this spring…). I’ll just get it.’ However, I resisted. Even if I bartered the price down, I doubt I could have got it for less than $300, which is almost twice my budget. Instead, I logged away the fact that what I wanted was a sort of cabinet look, with several compartments, rather than the standard beside table appearance. I bid the gorgeous piece of furniture adieu and fled before impulse could win.
Of course, once you’ve seen the perfect thing, other options appear quite dull.
It can be hard to resist yielding and just going back to buy the first option after all. I went to all the remaining consignment stores, several thrift stores, and then all the regular furniture stores over the course of a week and a half. Nothing remotely interesting appeared. The one other piece that might have worked was in a ‘reclaimed’ furniture shop, where the owners had painted a wooden cabinet white and distressed it for the shabby chic look. Unfortunately, I have zero interest in pre-distressed furniture (it bothers me on a philosophical level – yes, I am a snob), so I couldn’t take it after all.
Finally, I ended up at Fred Meyer, where I do my grocery shopping. I dropped by the furniture section, and what did I find but a little cabinet. Tall, with wicker sides and three pull drawers with wicker fronts, it had the right aesthetic to fit in my room and please my pickiness. When I inquired, they only had the floor model available, which means that I got to take it for 10% off the sale price, plus add another 10% discount for a sale going on in the store. The final cost was $110, a good $40 under my budget.
I feel proud of myself with this purchase, not just because it was a good price, but also because I saw all kinds of furniture that would have worked reasonably well, or that would have been exquisitely beautiful, but instead of settling in the first case or going wildly over-budget in the second, I waited until something that fit both criteria showed up. I resisted impulse successfully!
This was good practice for me, because I’m about to start shopping for a new place to live, and I’m also working on a special writing/editing project right now. Both endeavors require judicious consideration rather than impulse decisions, so buying the bedside table has reminded me of how to use the former instead of giving in to the latter.
I’d be very curious to know how visitors to my blog approach this same issue. Do you find that waiting and thinking help you make better decisions, or do you prefer spur of the moment actions?