Some time ago I realized that my automatic response to the concept of “treating myself” was almost exclusively sugar, shopping, and alcohol, plus the occasional pedicure. I felt limited that I automatically reached for the same things over and over, and indignant that these are the only options promoted by our culture!
These are still treats to me, but I’ve been cultivating a better way to love myself, and give myself the freedom to have small rewards and enjoyment without spending so much money or fueling a sugar addiction. It is still luxury to nourish yourself and to invest in your own mental and physical health. Some of these still require you to open your wallet, but they aren’t self-depleting.
Find some flowers:
Cut them from your own yard, ask a friend if you can cut a few from her yard, cut them from the lilac tree in that vacant lot. Or buy them from your local farmers market, or over-priced flowers from the grocery store. It’s okay to do something that feels convenient and indulgent on occasion, and to enjoy something that is fleeting.
Take a bath:
Now that I do not have a tub, I long for the many wasted days that I took it for granted. When I first moved into a flat without a bathtub, I sadly googled how to remedy this. I had to laugh myself out of sadness when I found a woman who posted on a forum (I paraphrase): “I’m a two bath a day type of gal. When I lived in an apartment without a bathtub, I found that if I curled up on the shower floor and cried for 45 minutes, it just about did the trick.” If you, like me, do not have a bathtub, look for a sauna or steam room. There might be one at a gym just around the corner from you. Every once in a while I have a soak in a friend’s giant tub when she is out of town.
Have a good stretch:
I often push aside the needs of my body when I feel stressed and busy. Rather than adding it to your to do list as a chore, alter your mindset and reward yourself with a stress free session of yoga in your own home or at a studio as a reward. Give yourself the freedom to alter your priorities: put aside your well-balanced meal plans and eat nachos for dinner instead, and take the time to stretch your muscles. Most importantly, forgive yourself.
Take a nap:
When I was a teenager, I spent a summer napping at the park — until my mother found out what I was doing. I would take a blanket and book as pretext for belonging, and had a perfect spot scoped out. It was just on the other side of a ridge next to a baseball field, just out of sight from everyone and their dog, but I wasn’t in the bushes or a secluded area. I see my mother’s point, now. Take an indulgent little nap, but maybe better not in public.
Leave your phone behind:
Put your phone away as a reward, not as a punishment. Let yourself sneak away in the quiet. I often leave my phone and my keys behind when I go on a date with my husband. I feel a little freer and don’t have to worry about my things. Without a purse or full pockets, I feel a little I’ve escaped!*
Just buy some fruit:
I know this probably sounds silly to many people, but fruit is expensive, especially out of season. Maybe you have your go-tos, but fresh berries (or basically anything besides apples, for me) can be both sweet and indulgent, and more comfortable than a half pan of brownies. I love kiwis, but also forget about them. They usually take up such a small amount of space in the produce section that they become a bit out of sight, out of mind. Growing up, I opened my stocking every Christmas to find a kiwi; in my adult life, every kiwi is a gift to me. More luxurious yet: buying pre-cut fruit. This makes me feel like I’m getting away with something.
The gift of time:
For me, this gift is painting. I like the idea of using this gift as permission to do that thing that you love doing, but never feel like you have time for, or feel guilty and neglectful of your responsibilities when you take the time to do it. Bring that feeling into a new light. Instead of a leisure activity that you never have time for, it can be a treat for that accomplishment at work or to chase away the January gloom.
Take a walk, look around:
Take a walk through the forest or a park or your neighborhood, not for exercise, but for the pleasure of seeing what you can find. Hopefully you will find miniature flowers pushing through the cracks in the sidewalk, weird purple rocks, and other small secrets of nature. I was especially practiced at this in college, when I took a few hours each semester, usually during finals, to take a thorough hike through the arboretum. I looked for all the tiny things. The electric green fern fronds, the puffball mushrooms, the wildly red growth just poking out of the mud. The colors are shocking once you are aware of a hair breadth of color rather than only broad brush strokes. Just about anyone can appreciate a breath of fresh of air and a walk somewhere green, but there is a joy that wells up when you discover the diminutive and secret in your surroundings.
Use that class pass:
I tend to feel guilty rather than smug when I go to an exercise class, even though I really enjoy them. Shouldn’t I be running around my neighborhood or doing handstands in my living room instead of spending money? No. Treat yourself.
This is no judgement on what you consider to be a treat, but an offering of possible alternate gifts. We all need a break and to take the time to invest in ourselves regularly. What are some other ways you reward yourself? I’d love to hear your insight and expand my list!
*I’m also plagued by anxiety, so I usually still take my identification in case my body needs to be identified, and because I am terrified of being caught without my visa on me.