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Our Daily Habits: Normal or Out of the Ordinary?

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There are routine things that each of us does every day, week, and month, but how do we know what’s normal? Do I do certain things more or less than others? And does that make me a freak—either for doing something so much it borders on compulsion or not doing something enough?

My not-so-scientific survey of friends and family, online acquaintances, and a few experts gave me some insight concerning how I compare when it comes to these daily (or not-quite-daily) activities. On one hand, I don’t feel so bad for the occasional Facebook stalking session. On the other, no way am I admitting how often my jeans are washed.

Our Tech Addiction
I wake up in the morning and turn on the news. Admittedly, the Today Show doesn’t exactly constitute hard news, but between that and my Yahoo homepage, I consider myself pretty informed. And I seem to be in the majority here—just about everyone reported checking out an internet news site at least once each day. Since Yahoo is the second most visited site on the web according to (a web traffic company), this isn’t surprising.

Speaking of popular sites, how about that Facebook? Nearly everyone I talked to under the age of fifty reported multiple daily visits. What are we all doing there? Stalking people that have absolutely no idea we’re sifting through their photos, checking out their friends, and seeing who looks better since that last sorority formal, of course. “I had to have my husband change my password so I couldn’t check it anymore,” admits Kelly Holland, a researcher for a public relations firm. “It used to be multiple times a day, but now it’s only once every few weeks.” And email? Blame the Blackberry—just about everyone is constantly checking. The days when “I haven’t checked my email” worked as an excuse have been officially left behind.

Our Pearly Whites
When it comes to brushing, most people tend to their teeth in the morning and night. And this is just right. “Overbrushing can wear down your teeth and cause sensitivity,” says Sue Gwerder, a dental hygienist. Too much brushing can create worn down, painful teeth—and then you might as well have not brushed at all. Despite this, a few of us just can’t leave it at two. “I hate having leftover food bits and tastes in my mouth,” says Karen Hastey, an elementary school teacher. “I brush four times a day—twice in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at night. It used to be more.”

Sugar-free mints or gum can help with this, but it’s a habit that can get out of hand, too. “I usually go through a pack a day,” says graduate student Dayna Davis. “Sometimes my jaw even hurts from chewing so much, but it tastes good and makes the time pass when I’m stuck in class. It’s better than cigarettes or chocolate donuts, right?”

Our Sheets
My mother changes the sheets once a week, without fail. Turns out that this should, in fact, be the norm. And it often is. (Not so easy if you don’t own a washer and dryer, though.) We shed skin cells constantly, and this means for about six to eight hours a day, we’re shedding in bed.

This is discomforting, but it gets worse. Dust mites feed on these dead skin cells, meaning the longer you go without washing, the more of those little mites you get. Anyone with dust allergies needs to be especially careful, because lapses between laundry loads can worsen your allergies. Alexandra James, a development executive at a production company, washes hers weekly for this reason. “I get terrible allergies, but as long as I stick to once a week, I keep them under control.” Seem like too much to handle? Grab a few extra sets of sheets so you can put fresh ones on without having to head to the washer.

Our Clothes
Speaking of doing the wash, how often do most do it? Leslie Barrie, a graduate student, says she tries to do laundry every two weeks. “But sometimes, if I’m lazy, it turns to three.” And does everything get washed after one wear? If I drop $200 on a pair of jeans, I keep those babies as far from the dryer as I can and try not to wash them unless they’re seriously dirty or smelly (don’t judge me). Most people reported being a bit more regular. “I wash them probably every three times I wear them,” says Amber Rose, an event planner.

Spending Habits
Money is all anyone’s talking about right now, so I was curious as to how my spending habits compared. My findings—I shop too much, but so do many people, who admitted to buying something new and unnecessary anywhere from once a week to once a day. Only a few reported having the willpower to keep it to a few per month. Also, I’m not big on comparison shopping. (As the saying goes, time is money, so I figure the extra time I spend comparing usually costs more anyway.) But, turns out, a lot of my friends are much more dedicated to getting a deal (hence my New Year’s resolution to be more money savvy). Barrie, a former fashion editor, consistently sticks to the marked down items. “I go to the sale rack a lot or—even better—shop at places like Nordstrom Rack and then go to the sale rack there.” If a fashion editor can do it, I suppose I have no excuse.

Our Health
I’m a runner, so one workout-related question I’ve always had is about shoes. Experts recommend purchasing new ones every six months, which I do. But does everyone? Among runners, that answer was yes. Lindsay Segal, a grad student that runs five to six times a week, says she sometimes buys new ones as often as three months. And what about workout frequency? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stipulates that adults need at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity (like power walking), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (like running), plus at least two sessions of muscle strengthening each week. Um, does anyone hit that? Not many that I spoke with, though the younger people were definitely closer than their older counterparts.

Those who are regular exercisers say it’s just about making it a priority. “I literally schedule exercise on my daily calendar,” says Rose. “That way I never get to the end of the week and think, ‘Wow, I haven’t done anything physical.’”

Nutrition goes hand-in-hand with exercise. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I made a full commitment to buy local and organic food, even if it is a few bucks more. Do other people spend the same amount of time I do comparing egg cartons (are they really cage-free? What about pesticides? All vegan feed?). Perhaps not surprisingly, most people feel that they have better things to do, and that saving money is crucial. “I know organic is better, and I know it tastes better, but I eat a lot,” says Bryan Silverman, a personal trainer. “So I can’t afford to shell out that much for everything I buy. I have to pick and choose.”

It’s always interesting to get a peek into the quirks of others, even if it’s just to make us feel a little better about our own oddities. Whether we find ourselves a part of the pack, or one of the outliers, learning how other people do things sparks self-reflection. It’s definitely encouraged me to question my habits and, at the very least, think twice before letting those dirty sheets go another week.


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