Sunday, June 20, 2010

Not Buying It

I am amazed by the bloggers that manage to have full-time jobs, families, and scads of well-articulated essays. Here's how my week usually goes. I go to work and eat my lunch at my desk. This is designated Blog Time, where I read through the blogs I follow and attempt to shovel in food at the same time. I usually send links to my personal account with subject lines like "For Blog" or "Write This Topic" or "Think" with the idea that I am going to go home, eat a meal, spend quality time with kid and husband, read all the books that are piling up on the bookshelf, and then write some brilliant essay based on someone else's post, and then get to bed in time to get 8 hours of sleep. Yeah, right.

If I ever do anything with the links, it's usually more of a Link Love post with a message that says, "they said it better than me."

That being said, I have been thinking about this post, Why We Buy, over at Cat's Meow for a while. The sermon at church today discussed our culture of conspicuous consumption and how even so-called Christians base decisions about the life of the church on money and status. It reminded me that I wanted to write something about this.

I took a big paycut after I went back to work post maternity leave, so that I would have a day free to spend with Zygote and to write and to basically do all the housework things that don't get done when they are not part of someone's job description (grocery shopping, dry cleaning, pediatrician appointments, etc). Before Z, I was aware that a disproportionate amount of my money goes to clothes and books, keeping my hair a shade of "natural" red, remaining hairless and drinking lots of wine. In other words, grooming and being selfish. I've had to cut back drastically, but I still notice that I am surrounded by clutter, STUFF. This was the impetus for the outfit project and this month's "no clothes or books" project.

Cat's Meow asked the question,
"So, why DO we buy stuff we don't need, like that much, or possibly even afford?
And why, for goodness' sake, do we clean up, and then go and buy more useless stuff to fill the empty space?"

That's it, isn't it? The why. I know that I'm capable of saving money when I need to, and I have never used a credit card to pay for "fun" purchases, but I get serious, clear out, and then replace everything. Editorial note: the day last month's shopping ban was over, I bought a bunch of new jewelry and dresses at the Ann Taylor outlet. Same DAY people. And yes, I may make hilarious fun of the Dwell kids on Unhappy Hipsters, but my main reaction is fascination: Where is all their stuff? You know, the books, the piles of shoes, messy magazines, cds....where is it?

The explanations that most resonated with me were:

-We feel insecure and uncertain in the world and what the future will bring, so we buy "for the future". Like the world is going to run out of stuff soon and we need to hoard a "safety net".

I am a multiples buyer. Almost all the time. Just in case the world ever stops manufacturing the cotton underwear I like, I have enough to last me for the next couple of years. Same with gym socks. If you are ever having a gym sock emergency, call me.

- We like to project an image of a person we wish we were, say bohemian, artsy, intellectual, sporty, adventurous.. through our belongings, clothing and home decor.

I have lots of "on writing" books.

-We think that the knowledge from the books we own magically "belongs" to us if we just own the books. Buy the book, be smarter. Lose the books, lose the information they contain. (Hey, anyone heard of libraries and the internet?)

Our books situation is a bit out of control. We have boxes of books in the basement that were never unpacked and shelves just bursting from the weight of my books. Now we have a shelf re-arranger (read: Zygote) so all of those books end up strewn all over the floor. I always said that I buy books because I like to write in them and take notes (true), and then I can refer back to them when I want to write about a quote that stayed with me (also true). But I think Cat's Meow's explanation hits closer to home. It's been so long since I've had any kind of real creative work, and/or intellectual stimulation. I think that all the reading I do about topics outside of my daily realm help prove to myself that hey, look, I can be smart and that I do know things.

-We are depressed and use shopping as an escape.

I do not do this anymore, I think, but it's been a habit that was hard to break. I still have clothes with tags on them and unworn shoes and unread books that I bought when I was seperated from my first husband. When he was away in treatment, I would visit on the weekends and then hit a different outlet mall every time on my ride back. I wouldn't eat. I wouldn't drink. I would just buy things.

-We are happy and want to celebrate by buying ourselves a gift.

Also known as: Stay Away From Anthropologie.

-We are bored and entertain ourselves by shopping.

Same as above. During the seperation time, if I had not made plans with a friend or my family, I would wander around the mall and buy things to make up for the fact that I had nothing else to do. The JCrew sales girl knew my name, and I will always remember her fondly because she never brought up the fact that I spent most Saturday nights during that time, alone in the mall, eating at Starbucks for dinner.

-We buy in to the subconscious idea that happiness is just one purchase away. After you get that one thing, it's still just one purchase away. We think, "if only I had a bigger home", "if only I had a better car", or that fabulous couch, that awesome outfit, the perfect pair of jeans, flattering shade of lipstick, and on and on.

This is a little bit like The Fantasy of Being Thin, but with shopping.

So what do I do with all this information? I'm not quite sure. I'm still trying to institute a ban on "extras." YG doesn't think that I have a spending problem, but it feels like it's about more than the money. I really do want to try and simplify things, make do with less, de-clutter, blah, blah, blah. I don't NEED anything right now. I worry about what happens to all my stuff when I'm done with it. I worry about raising another generation of conspicuous consumers. And I'd like to keep the money I make for me. And so on.

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