One of our friends who reads here sent me a link to this article about ‘affluenza’ — consumerism, materialism, addiction to shopping — and the imperative responsibility of getting free of that to protect the health and integrity of the Earth. Good article.
I’m not sure I’ve finished separating out my thoughts about it into something ordered and coherent — but here are some in process.
IDENTITY & PERSONAS
For me, purchases of items I haven’t kept often related to acquiring kit to become someone I was not — buying a persona. I have become wary of purchasing anything that is ‘like’ something else. I look for the word ‘like’ in my motivations, and draw back if it’s there.
So, for example, for a season I wanted to dress ‘like’ the Amish (and other Plain dressing people) because I loved their simplicity, wisdom and closeness to the Earth. I am not Amish and never will be. It was costume, not authentic, I made myself odd, and I sensibly got rid of the things. Same with the robe-‘like’ garments that attire my longings for the worlds of Zen and Earthsea.
I have a strange relationship with my mother, and from time to time, under her critical eye, have bought clothes ‘like’ hers. They don’t suit me, don’t feel right, I don’t keep them. My physique, colouring and personality are different from hers. She always looks lovely, but generalising from that specific doesn’t work.
Sometimes, seized by fear of economic collapse and prepper-mania, I have bought bushcraft items ‘like’ Ray Mears and other intrepid types — just in case. Pocket knives, fire-flints, Kelly kettles and extreme-water-filtering bottles are, I have determined, fairly redundant in a Victorian semi-detached house with a small garden. I mean, it’s true you never know, but . . . hey.
And sometimes I’ve wanted to dress ‘like’ a smart, chic, urban lady, in high heels and suits. Hahaha. That never lasted long.
I’ve realised that a key to cutting consumerism is understanding who I really am, in my real circumstances, and making peace with that, not trying to be ‘like’ anyone else or dressing to fit in. I hope if I ever meet an Amish woman or a Zen monk or a film star or a genuine wizard from fairyland, that person will be able to accept me as I am in an encounter of mutual enjoyment and respect.
COMMUNITY, FUN & INTEREST
Another motivation for shopping, in my life is, oddly, that my income is small. ‘Spend money on experiences not objects,’ the minimalists advise you — but if you are a low-energy older woman, that can have its challenges. Experiences are — in my experience — expensive. I would love to make a retreat on a regular basis, but that costs a lot. I would love to go to concerts, interesting films, dance performances — but, again the high quality ones are very expensive. I would love to eat out more, but the cost is considerable. Well; lunch at Asda is cheap, if you don’t have a drink. I’d love to travel but that’s way beyond my purse, even in England.
I have found belonging to groups is expensive too. Even church. The raffles, the pasta bakes, the constant requests for donations, the auctions and extra collections, the fundraising drives and bazaars, the lunches and outings and away-days and special events . . .
By comparison, shopping is cheap and cheerful. A £2 second-hand top on eBay, for example. Searching for something I like is fun, getting a bargain feels triumphant, anticipating the parcel arriving in the post is enjoyable (just like the article on Affluenza said). I don’t go High Street shopping; for that, there’s the cost of getting to the shops (train, bus, or petrol and parking fees) even before any purchases are made. And the price of something bought new in a shop is . . . shocking. And then I get hungry and want lunch.
Looking back over my life, one time stands out when I spent almost no money at all — when, aged 18, I lived for a while with some monks and an ever-changing group of volunteers in a place offering country holidays for inner-city children in Devon. We had no car and no shops, but we had each other, a small-holding, a cow to milk, a tractor to drive, a household and Post Office to run, fire to sit by, a goat to care for and a veggie garden. Our place included 2 cottages, the village store and Post Office (I lived in a caravan in its cabbage patch round the back), a derelict chapel where we stored jumble sale stuff, and a farm. The interest and variety made consumerist activities completely unnecessary. Many people shop when they are bored and lonely. Me too. It offers something to think about.
MISTAKES & CHANGES
Another cause of shopping is continual disruption. Illness, bereavement, job loss/change, house moves, and divorce, whether one's own or other people's, all can create situations where you have to either get rid of stuff or acquire it — sometimes both. Sometimes I’ve had to squidge down into circumstances where there just wasn’t room to store a coat, or boots as well as shoes, where I couldn’t keep that chair I loved, or any books. Other times, things eased up and I had space for a little bookshelf, had a wardrobe, had a room of my own. Then something changed again and I had to give them up. Sitting light to possessions, being willing to get rid of stuff, enables flexibility. The journalist who wrote the article, encouraging us to keep our things, to repair things, assumed a level of stability not all of us have enjoyed, I think.
And then there are the mistakes. I have spent several hundred pounds trying to get my sleeping arrangements right — trying this, trying that — because my room is really a box room, wide enough to accommodate a bed but not wide enough to take the angle as you lower it to the floor (divan), not wide enough to get your hand in to screw the head and footboard onto the side rails (wooden bed). I’ve slept on the floor a few years, then craved the sense of normality a bed gives me (and the view of next door’s tree through the window). Look — this is my room now.
And with inhabitants.
At every step of the way, I kept costs right down, looking for the lowest and the least, and where possible the second-hand and the free. Except for my very expensive MacBook and iPhone, which my husband so generously paid for.
I believe in God’s grace and provision, and I believe in the grace/gift economy. I like giving things away not selling them, I like working for free and helping for free, swapping and sharing. I don't regard my money as wasted if I give away something on Freegle/Freecycle, or if a charity shop can sell it to raise funds for the hospice or animal rescue or homeless shelter. I'm happy for my ill-advised purchases to redeem themselves by that cause. I like frugality, and in a world where some people daily face bitter struggle and even have to sell the children they cannot feed, I understand and appreciate just how very, very much I have. A room of one's own, and the luxury of being able to make mistakes; is that not riches? I like freedom and quietness, peace and being at home. I live happily on a very small income. But sometimes, let me be honest, I do enjoy shopping for second-hand bits on eBay and second-hand or Kindle books on Amazon, or such small things (a mirror, a clock, a comb, a pair of earrings) as I think might improve daily life. And the thing is, though I have all I need and all I want now, who knows what the next reversal will be? Someone may need my room, I may lose my home, life might all change again. And in the changes I might need to dispose of some possessions and acquire other things — even some that I had and got rid of before.
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This article, rather vast in its scope, also intelligently and thoroughly addresses the problems of affluenza..