Twice in recent weeks I’ve come across situations where people were trying so hard to keep their things in pristine condition that they ended up cheating themselves out of some fun and being a complete jerk. The first happened when we were at a fast food restaurant. The landscapers were blowing leaves outside and they inadvertently blew some dust onto a customers’ brand new car (it still had the temporary tags on it). The customer flipped out and cussed out both the landscape crew and the manager in front of all the other patrons.
I could understand if they’d blown a rock on it and scratched it, but it was just some dust. Sure, the landscapers could have been more careful, but there was no real harm done. Certainly not enough to warrant the level of anger that this guy showed. (Incidentally, if he was so concerned about his car, I had to wonder why he chose to park it in the busiest section of the lot instead of out in the boonies. Seems an errant door ding should be a bigger worry than some dust.)
The second incident happened at a board game night at a friend’s house. He’d gotten a new game and wanted to play it, but the whole time we were setting it up and playing, he kept commenting about washing our hands, not dinging the box, not bending the cards when shuffling, not dropping the pieces, and not scratching the board. No one could make a move without this guy watching them like a hawk and making some comment. We never finished the game because after about twenty minutes of this, someone said, “Why don’t we play something else? Clearly you aren’t ready for this to hit the table.” Looking very relieved, the guy put the game away and dragged out an older game.
While I can understand not wanting to get a new car dirty or a game board dented, there comes a point where you have to realize that stuff is meant to be used and, with that, comes a bit of damage and dirt. If you are so afraid of damaging your stuff that you’re not using it, here are some ways you’re cheating yourself and those around you.
You don’t get the full value out of your stuff. Stuff sitting on a shelf in pristine condition isn’t being used. It’s not being played with or driven. It’s not being worn. It’s not doing what you bought it to do. Instead it’s collecting dust. If you spent money to own something, you owe it to yourself (and your wallet) to use it. Otherwise, why did you spend the money?
It cheats you out of some joy. In the case of my friends’ game, he cheated himself out of the joy of playing it. He also cheated himself out of the social aspect of playing with friends. If you never drive that sports car, you cheat yourself out of the joy of driving it. If you never use those “good” dishes, you cheat yourself out of the joy of seeing pretty china on your table. Using things can be fun, but if you’re so afraid of damage that you never use it, you’re missing out on the fun.
It wears you out. Trying to prevent every ding, dent, and stain is tiring. The constant vigilance and worry required to keep something pristine will wear you out and turn you into a nervous wreck.
It annoys others. If you end up being a jerk like the guy in the restaurant or my friend, other people won’t want anything to do with you. In the restaurant, the guy’s wife was trying to crawl under the table she was so embarrassed. Those of us at the game night ended up wanting to be anywhere else than in the room with this Nervous Nellie. People are going to hate you if your desire to keep things pristine makes you rude, obnoxious, hard to deal with, and no fun to be around.
Some things do better with some “character.” Sometimes things need a little damage to reach their full potential. I had a handbag once that looked a lot better with a few scuffs on it. Remember leather bomber jackets? Most looked better when they were a little beat up. Sometimes a stain on a seat or a ding on a car can remind you of a funny incident, or make you remember some other milestones. When things are pristine, you miss out on the life stories that your belongings can tell.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care of your stuff. Things do last longer and look nicer when they’re cared for, and not having to replace something frequently is a money saver. But there is a fine line between caring for something and trying to keep it so new that you refuse to use it to its full potential. Unless the item in question is a rare collectible, it’s meant to be used. If you don’t use it, you’ve wasted the money you spent and you’ve cheated yourself out of the enjoyment of having the item.
I’ll admit that there is even a feeling of relief when something gets that first bit of damage. When the car gets that first small ding, or the game starts to show a little wear, that’s often when I fully relax and really start enjoying the item. Not that I’ll go out and intentionally damage something, but once it happens I almost feel better. I know then that I’m really using the item to it’s potential and that I’m enjoying it. With the first bit of damage out of the way, the worry is over and the fun begins.
If you want to get the full value out of your possessions, you have to accept some wear and tear. That’s just life. Cars get dinged, electronics get scratched, and furniture gets nicks in the wood. It happens and trying to keep things pristine not only wears you out, it’s almost impossible to do. So go ahead and use your stuff. Love it, use it, and get the most out of it. That’s what you bought it for, isn’t it?
(Photo courtesy of Rob Boudon)