Before I get started with today’s post, just a quick reminder about #pfmessages – if you would like your contribution to be included in the wrap-up post at the end of this month, make sure to post it or email it to me by December 27th. Anyone and everyone is welcome to contribute! If you don’t have a blog, just send your contribution (ideally 1-3 paragraphs) to me directly at: theyachtless [at] gmail [dot]com. Thanks to those who have contributed thus far!
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Sometimes I just feel very deeply troubled about hairbands. Specifically, about where they’ve all gone to. If you’ve ever had long (or long-ish) hair, you may be familiar with the issue I’m referring to. And if you haven’t, just trust me on this.
I feel pretty confident in saying that I don’t throw hairbands away very frequently. Yes, they do occasionally break, and they sometimes get overstretched, but generally they’re pretty sturdy. A decent hairband should last many months, even years.
Despite this, I find myself having to buy new hairbands surprisingly frequently. Why? Well, I don’t really know. All I know is that my hairbands continue to disappear, mysteriously, like single socks in the dryer, except much smaller and much sneakier, scurrying off my dresser in the middle of the night on invisible little legs, never to return.
The troubling thing is not so much that they’re gone: CVS has an endless supply of packs of them for under $4.00, so I can always get more. What’s troubling is, where are they? I’ve been vaguely wondering about this for years. Those hairbands haven’t evaporated: they’re somewhere. In a landfill perhaps, or just lying around in dark corners unseen. I try to picture how much space they would take up if I could gather them all into a pile. It’s a rather unsettling image.
Here’s a graph that illustrates the full gravity of this situation. I don’t actually have a very good sense of how many hairbands I’ve bought each year since adolescence, but for the purpose of simplicity, let’s assume that I’ve bought one pack of 20 hairbands in any given year since 1996.
Figure 1: Where the Hairbands Went Each Year
Look at all the hairbands that are unaccounted for. This is totally bizarre. I cannot fathom how a hairband could fall out of my pocket or off my wrist or out of my hair without my noticing. It just doesn’t add up.
Except that it does add up.
It was nearly a year ago that I started tracking my spending. Aha—yes, this is in fact not a post about hair accessories, but actually a sort of anniversary post for me. Not the anniversary of this blog, but rather of the beginning of a shift in my thinking about my finances. It all started when a friend sent me this email, exactly one year ago today:
To make a long story short, reading about Beth at Budget Bytes doing the SNAP Challenge motivated me to started tracking every single one of my purchases in a spreadsheet. I had never paid much attention to where my money was going before, but once I started taking careful data, I realized, oh, that’s where. And I made some important changes as a result.
I’ve heard some version of this story from a number of people. If you haven’t been tracking your spending and then you suddenly start taking data on it, chances are you’re going to gain a lot of new insights about what you’re actually spending it on. And as someone who has worked in a lab doing research for the past five and a half years, I can tell you that data collection is very powerful in many other situations as well. Real life in real time can seem jumbled and haphazard, but things do actually add up, and sometimes all it takes is a little tracking—a little awareness, if you will—to detect trends and patterns and significance. A one-time purchase of a $3 cup of tea may not have huge consequences, but a habit of getting a $3 cup of tea every single day for years? Definitely.
So yeah, I’m still tracking my spending, and I’m continuing to work on noticing where my money goes and deciding if that’s where I actually want it to end up. But I also think that seeing the positive changes I’ve been able to make by being more conscious of this one area of my life is opening up the opportunity for me to reevaluate other areas of my life as well. I feel like I’m starting – starting – to be a bit more tuned in to other types of important questions.
Like where all my hairbands went. Ok, not specifically where they went, but just how they got lost. And the answer is, there’s no magic here. No thieves, no alien abductions, no daring hairband escapees disappearing off my dresser and into the night. Rather, I allowed them to be lost, one by one, because I wasn’t paying close attention to them. And now the equivalent of a large pile of my lost hairbands is scattered across the Northeast U.S., and probably beyond.
Really, trying to add up the sum total of any one thing across a lifetime is very sobering. That lab that I’ve been working in for over five years? It’s in the center of a building and therefore doesn’t have any windows. How many moments have I spent inside that room with no windows? How many minutes have I spent waiting on a subway platform? How many times have I refreshed my email inbox on my phone? How many hours have I spent watching Seinfeld reruns? Anything adds up over time if you keep doing it consistently.
Luckily, good things can add up too. A half an hour practicing the guitar every day, or meditating (if I could actually stick to either of these) would add up over time. One or five or ten hours a week for years can grow a pretty amazing friendship. Choosing to practice kindness and compassion on a daily basis (again, assuming I or we could stick to this) can turn these choices into habits. Whether it’s tiny purchases, or tiny hairbands, or tiny acts of kindness, the concept remains the same. The more we tread the same path, the deeper that path becomes cut into the soil.
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P.S. No more windowless lab for me! I defended my dissertation on Thursday, which means I’m basically done working there. It’s the end of an era. Expect some posts in the near future about post-grad school issues such as Finding A Job, oh, and also Paying Off Student Loans.
P.P.S. In case you’re wondering about that photo in the header, why YES that random bird DID voluntarily jump onto my leg! I fed him a piece of my granola bar. It was awesome. Can’t believe I also managed to get the photo.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Do you think I should switch to scrunchies since they’re larger and therefore harder to lose?
(Just kidding. I will never switch to scrunchies.)