Ever since the purchase of not one but three WiFi Light Switches changed my life, I’ve been chasing the same consumer high, certain the right amount of money and specificity is all I need to fix my problems. I prefer this self-improvement strategy—it’s much easier than a New Year’s resolution and much cheaper than a year of therapy.
Unfortunately, it has a habit of not working. Here are seven times I was certain, incorrectly, that a purchase would change my life. Please meet me at the bottom with yours.
I love having strong, arbitrary opinions, such as “everyone should own fancy pajamas” and “men over 12 shouldn’t wear boxers.” One of my favorites used to be that “you only qualify as an adult if you own a candelabra, maybe two.” I purchased my first on Etsy, a beautiful milk glass number, fully expecting my life to change. I would host dinner parties, I would show up on time, maybe I’d even grow my own tomatoes in a garden! That’s the type of person who owns a candelabra (and also Liberace, which speaks for itself). Of course, beautiful as my candelabra was, none of these things happened. I was still a chronically late woman who rarely cooked, especially with tomatoes. Only now, I was that same woman, with a candelabra.
Drunk Mode App
In September of 2018, I was busy doing two things: reading the self-help book It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, and sleeping with my ex-boyfriend. This inspired a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance, or, as my friends liked to call it, “delusion.” Every time I mustered the determination to cut off contact, it was inevitably thwarted by my propensity to drunk dial. Seeking out some advice on Reddit, I found just the question I was looking for: “How do I stop outgoing calls?” The first response? “Self control.” I cringed, then kept scrolling until one comment caught my eye: “Download an app called Drunk Mode. It forces you to solve math equations in order to use your phone.” I downloaded it right away, certain it was the answer to never calling my ex again. But it only took two Aperol spritzes for me to realize that the app’s equations were no match for the knowledge I picked up in AP Calculus. Moving on, it turned out, would have to happen the old fashioned way. Unfortunately there isn’t an app for that.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Cookbook
I love imagining a world in which I have cooked even one single dish from this cookbook. Motivated by a wild fantasy wherein I not only suddenly cook, but do so with organic and fresh vegetables, I brought the cookbook home just before remembering that my favorite food is uncooked Maruchan Noodles, straight out of the package.
A few years ago I started paying a subscription fee to an email platform so that I could track my emails. For $10 dollars a month, I could find out exactly who read my emails and when. This, I thought, would enable me to publish my writing more productively and more proactively. This was, I see now, deeply misguided. In the past, I’d found myself quite content to rationalize unanswered emails. Probably, it had something to do with the cloud. But to suddenly know that someone was not responding despite the fact that they had not only gotten my email, but read it also, was misery. Misery, of course, that I was paying for. A month later, I unsubscribed, returning to the world of sweet, sweet ignorance.
When it comes to dating apps, Tinder is notoriously sleazy. I never forgot the incredibly awkward conversation with my father during which he confessed to thinking the app was just for sending “naughty photos.” He was wrong, but to some extent the app’s reputation speaks for itself. When I started dating again, I thought the best way to truly “put myself out there” would be by subscribing to Tinder Plus, which would put me at the front of the swiping queue. I was ready, finally, to watch the likes roll in. Yet I still found myself swiping into oblivion, just with more dick pics to show for it. Maybe, I realized, my dad knew something I didn’t. On Tinder, the pattern of “match, message, nothing” is so ubiquitous it appears that everyone on there at least agrees on one thing: Swiping is the best part. And that, of course, I can do for free.
A White Noise Machine
When I was living in San Francisco, I had a boyfriend who refused to sleep at my apartment. Sure, I lived next door to what was by all accounts a Phish cover band, but I had gotten used to it, so why couldn’t he? To placate him, I bought a white noise machine and forced him to split the cost with me, making the first of what I wrongly assumed would be a lifetime of joint purchases. When we broke up, he said I could keep it; it never helped him sleep anyway.
One spring, I became obsessed with organza. Some writers set up Google Alerts for their names; I set one up for organza blouses. Whenever the alerts reached my inbox, I entered something akin to a fever dream, which is how I eventually found myself in possession of not one, not two, but three neon pink organza blouses. I’ve never bought into the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but even I can admit to the impracticality of three blouses made of sheer neon organza. When winter came, these shirts were shoved to the back of my closet, next to my leopard print beret and metallic leotard.
It’s impossible not to look back at the myriad items I’ve bought that were ill suited to me, didn’t work, or broke, and not feel some semblance of regret. But despite the number of times I’ve been wrong about the magic of a single purchase, I like to think this habit’s proof of my unrelenting optimism, and belief that, against all odds, I still have it in me to change everything.
Photos via Getty Images.