When I was little, my parents or families teased me. When I have a choice, I have a bowl of grapes (or other snacks). Do I eat the smallest first and save the biggest last, or vice versa?

That was called the “pick the best first” scenario, and it reflects our choices in life. I am the kind of kid who saves the worst for last.

I remember my grandma hiring a chef to make traditional foods for the Spring festival, such as rice balls, buns, or meatballs, usually the day before the festival.

After the food was made, my grandma always asked me to taste it before it was served at the family dinner table. I have a plate of freshly steamed buns in front of me, and none of them are exactly the same as all the buns, which were handmade instead of made by a buns maker. I usually pick the biggest to eat, then the second biggest, then the smallest.

My grandma laughed at me as she knew I always made that choice.

However, after I grew up and in recent years, I noticed I hadn’t worn the best coats this winter, as they were expensive and complicated to maintain. I was afraid I accidentally spilled coffee or had any stains from food. So, I always wore the clothes that were the easiest to maintain. They are dark in color, and I could throw them in the washer if they get dirty.

However, two recent conversations triggered my thoughts to look into this habit in my life.

My conversion with my mom

One night, I talked with my mom via WeChat’s video conferencing. My mom wore her “working” clothes as usual and was busy in the kitchen. I asked her what gift she wanted for the upcoming Mother’s Day. I used to purchase clothes, skincare products, and accessories. However, it’s frustrating as I haven’t seen her use them. She said she did not need anything.

I asked my mom, why don’t you wear those new clothes I bought for you last summer, but always wear a few clothes repeatedly?

My mom said she’s always busy in the kitchen, so she doesn’t want to wear those nice clothes because she is afraid they will be damaged or dirty from the housework.

I asked my mom,” When do you have a chance to wear them?” She doesn’t have lots of social events. She has been far away from her childhood or youthhood friends since she moved to another city 20 years ago. She has a few new friends who usually run into each other during grocery shopping. She visited her hometown and friends once a year or even longer. To my mom’s definition, she has retired and does not have many occasions to wear those new clothes.

Last year I went back to China, and one day, I decided to help my mom clean her closets. I saw piles of clothes sitting there, and lots of them still had price tags on them. She did not have a chance to wear them. Instead, she had been wearing only a few clothes during the summer as she did not want new clothes in order to protect them in a good state. Her latest and nice clothes have rested well in her closet.

My mom thought about my question for one minute and made a firm decision: “I will clean up my clothes and donate those old clothes to people who need them. I will wear my favorite dresses from now on. I don’t know when I will.

Later, my mom said, “I am already in my seventies; why do I still save many things for later? I shall use the good stuff stored and high in the clothes and wear the nice clothes. I shall do that now. I even don’t understand why I have been stocking my clothes but never wear them.”

I cannot agree with my mom anymore. I was also inspired: if I don’t wear the clothes or use our favorite bags, they just become one piece of stuff stacked in our cabins, not adding value or enjoyment to our everyday lives. Why did we buy them if we are not going to use them?

Another conversation with my mentor

The next day, I had a conversation with my dear mentor. Many readers could notice her in my blogs from time to time, as she genuinely inspired me in many ways.

My mentor has been a busy lady, even now in her seventies. I often don’t understand why her energy is several times higher than mine while my age is similar to her daughter’s. She traveled between work and home every week by flight. Each one-way travel will take around 7+ hours, as there’s no direct flight from her home to her work. She also needs to drive to the airport from home, which requires 2 hours. So, during a typical week, she must spend 14+ hours on the road.

I feel dizzy thinking of that weekly trip as if I were in her place. I must be exhausted after one week. But she has been doing amazingly well and has a wonderful work-life balance. She could have parties during the weekend. She is the type of person who never feels tired, like an Iron Woman.

However, that night, she mentioned retiring and saving time for families. She has travel plans with her husband that haven’t been turned into reality yet. There are so many great things in life she hasn’t had time to appreciate; she mentioned she should not save everything to the last.

I told her I had that conversation with my mom the night before. What a coincidence for me to have the two conversions.

She said she has some beautiful dinnerware, but she only uses it once during Christmas with guests. Why not use them every day, as that beautiful dinnerware could add enjoyment to everyday dinners? Why save the beautiful accessories only for special occasions? Why not start to use them more often to please ourselves?

Our conversation went on and on. Later that night, I wondered how many of us had saved the best for last.

Save the best for last?

How many of us have been waiting for the perfect moment to use our cherished possessions, only to find that the moment hasn’t come yet? We buy things we love — clothes, gadgets, accessories, or kitchenware — with the anticipation of using them at just the right time when we have celebrations. But often, that ideal time never arrives, and our treasures remain unused and unappreciated — just like the unused clothes in my mom’s closet.

One day, I was reorganizing my closets when I found some bags still with tags. I thought I would use them for some occasions, but those occasions have never come up yet.

Last summer, I asked my husband where my accessories were, which he bought for me when we married. He led me to the bank and went to the area full of safe deposit boxes. After we went through the bank’s security, I found them safely sitting in the safe deposit box. My beautiful accessories are lying in a cold and hard steel box. When should I use them again if they are not in my daily life?

Understanding the Phenomenon

What drives this behavior of saving the best for last? Psychologists suggest that it is partly due to a phenomenon known as “loss aversion.” We fear that using something precious will lead to its deterioration, which makes us hold back, saving it for a future that may never come. Yet, ironically, by not using these items, we lose out on the joy they were meant to bring us.

The Cost of Waiting

By saving the best for last, we pay a hidden emotional cost. The beautiful dress that never sees daylight, the fine china that gathers dust, the advanced camera that remains in its box, and the lovely accessories sitting in the cold safe deposit box all represent missed opportunities for enjoyment and making memories. This behavior can leave us feeling like spectators in our own lives, always preparing but never fully participating.

How often have we had a trip plan but never had the chance to make those trips? When I married my husband, we talked about trips to several European countries; however, due to John’s early arrival, we haven’t had the chance to travel to those countries yet today.

There’s a phenomenon of “waiting” in our lives. A popular saying is, “When we have time, we don’t have money; when we have money, we don’t have time; when we have money and time, we don’t have health.” That describes our lives: We have been waiting for the perfect time to do something. But that time can never come.

Shift in Perspective

We might benefit from a shift in perspective. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is unpredictably transient. Waiting indefinitely for the “perfect” occasion means we might miss out on the daily opportunities for happiness. What if we started thinking of every day as special enough to deserve our best?

Reflections on Material or Plans Joy

As I reflect on these conversations with my mom and mentor, it becomes clear that the things we own are meant to enhance our lives, not burden us with worry about their preservation. The joy of living well isn’t about maintaining things in their best state but about using them to create a life filled with color, pleasure, and meaning.

Practical Steps

  • Inventory Audit: Go through our possessions and identify items we have been saving for special occasions. Make a list and set intentions for using them in our regular life.
  • Create Occasions: If we find it hard to break the habit of saving things, start by creating mini-events at home. Have a fancy dinner night every month where we dress up and use our best dishes. Wear our favorite jewelry on ordinary days to lift our spirits.
  • Mindful Gifting: Consider their practicality and how often we will use them when purchasing new items.
  • Legacy of Enjoyment: Remember that an object’s actual value comes not from its condition but from the enjoyment and satisfaction it provides. Our possessions are tools for living, not just artifacts to be stored.
  • Shift the priorities: Besides the materials, we shall shift our waiting to planning and doing. If we have plans on our list for years, we shall shift the priorities and put them on our to-do list for the upcoming trips. Don’t wait until the late seventies or eighties as we have time and money, and we may not have the energy or the same level of pleasure to enjoy the trips then.

So, are you still saving the best for last?