The packaging looked the same: a tightly wound cylinder of 70 Tall Kitchen Bags with Twist Ties tucked inside a transparent plastic bag with a yellow border and red lettering. I had bought them before, or so I thought.
But on the next trash night, the bag ripped as I lifted it from my kitchen bin. Ditto the next week, a slit down the side; and the next, a hole in the bottom. What is the deal? It’s not like I’m tossing out lead weights or anything.
Upon closer inspection, I realized I’d bought a brand called Shoppers Value, some ultra-cheapo label, an even worse version of my regular cheapo brand, which, come to think of it, had drawstring handles, not twist ties.
So, three trash bags into my $3.79 investment in the Shoppers Value collection, with 67 to go, I felt stuck. Damn! I thought. At this rate, I’ll have to live with these flimsy things well into 2021.
I seriously had that thought.
It’s been about four months and, week after week, the bags rip, and week after week, I curse them, eagerly awaiting the day when I’ve used them up, every last one.
I don’t know what triggered my epiphany the other day. Perhaps it was the mindfulness workshop I attended, which reminded me to savor the moment and cherish the small stuff. But it occurred to me that I have a choice. I can continue to suffer or I can throw away the crap-ass trash bags and get myself some Heftys.
My stomach knotted ever so slightly. Even the thought felt like heresy.
Not long ago, I discovered my confounding habit of saving my “good knife” for a “good” occasion, a habit that daily deprives me of the pleasure of the good knife’s clearly superior cutting abilities. I realized I was playing by a variation on the same unconscious rule with the garbage bags: If you bought it, you must use it till it’s done, even if it sucks.
I never consciously considered how this inner rule affects my life. But now that I’m on to it, I’m seeing it everywhere.
For example, last month I bought generic CVS hand lotion. It has a greasy, thin texture and the pump needs to be primed two or three times before the stuff spits out. So I found some high-brow Curél Continuous Comfort Dermatologist-Recommended Fragrance-Free Moisture Lotion for Dry Skin with Time-Released Moisturizers. For a good price at Target, I grabbed three 13-ounce bottles.
Have I used it? Take a guess. Nope. Not until I finish up the CVS. That’s the rule. Says me.
Recently, I got two boxes of Quaker Lower Sugar Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal, two for $4.00. Not only would I save money, but I’d be lowering my triglycerides. Bleccch. Cardboardy, gritty, wholly unsatisfying. Day by day, I suffer through the grit so I can finally get back to my tried-and-true Nature’s Path Organic Instant Maple Nut Hot Oatmeal.
Clearly, it’s something more than cheapness that fuels my unwillingness simply to toss the inferior items and buy the ones I like. Why, I’ll throw $3.79 at a dish of frozen chocolate coconut gelato without so much as a wince of guilt. Or $12.00 for a silly movie. Or how many times have I bought, say, clothes or shoes that I’ve never worn? Have I sweated the forsaken dollars?
So is hanging on to the oatmeal or the hand lotion or the flimsy trash bags an act of sheer stubbornness? Or is it some compulsive urge to see something through, to never let go?
I’ve always been a loyal person. I’ll stay too long in crummy jobs or hang on to lousy relationships. I’ll stay up for late-night extra-innings Red Sox games, waiting until the last strike of the last at-bat, until hope is lost and staring me and the Nation fully and finally in the face.
Maybe it’s not loyalty. Maybe it’s more like that definition of insanity — trying something over and over in the same way, hoping for a different outcome. Maybe this time the bag won’t rip and my purchase will have been vindicated.
I know behavior change is hard, habits not easily broken. I face this truth daily as a therapist in the addictions field. I respect the stubbornness of habits, irrational though they might be.
But the fact is, deep inside, I want decent trash bags, creamy hand lotion, and smooth oatmeal. It is up to me to make that choice, to clear out the unwanted, unneeded, even toxic things in my life that keep me from feeling free and alive. I’m the only one in the way of experiencing the pleasure of stuff that works, that tastes good, that enriches rather than limits my life. What am I waiting for?
So today, without even looking at the price, I bought a big, solid orange box of 80 Hefty Easy-Flaps Tall Kitchen Bags with “Stretch & Grip Tops that Stay Put.” I stashed them under the sink, right next to the remaining batch of Shoppers Value bags.
Tuesday is trash day. Maybe I’ll get up my nerve and toss the flimsy bags once and for all. It would be a first step, anyway.