As I was putting out the recycling today, I caught a glimpse of a five-dollar bill among the wadded-up pieces of paper and empty jars. I immediately grabbed it, as if it were a small animal I was saving from danger. It felt sacreligious to have come so close to throwing it away. I was surprised by how strong my reaction was, way beyond the monetary value of the five dollars.
How did it get there? I decided I might have mixed up a no-longer-wanted piece of paper in one hand with the five-dollar bill in my other hand. I must have left the piece of paper on the dresser and dropped the five-dollar bill into the recycling.
My left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. It’s a good metaphor for a common cause of making unsatisfying money choices. On the one hand, we want to pay for XYZ, and on the other hand, we don’t. And it’s hard to stay attentive to both sides of our conflicted feelings—let alone negotiate a middle path—so we pay attention to our feelings about just one way and lose sight of the other set of feelings.
This was helpful when later in the day I had to make a decision about whether to pay someone to help me with a project. There was a desire to just go with my first inclination, but instead, I sat with both the “yes” and the “no.” I was able to think and feel about both sides, for longer than I would generally feel comfortable flip-flopping between the two options. It took awhile, but eventually I came to a thoughtful decision that felt “right” to me. Moving more slowly to a decision made it one I could stand behind because I had explored it from all sides.
Even throwing away money can offer us insights.