Tag Archives: purchases

“Stuff”

I think a lot about stuff, things, and consumerism. Both how they play in my life and on a broader scale. It is easy in America, to fall into tunnel vision, where the focus is on gobs & gobs of possessions, forever trading up, keeping current, going bigger, and god forbid, not getting left behind. I live very simply; I don’t have money or things by the standards around me, yet even I am susceptible to the desires perpetually stroked by our consumer culture. I don’t know when exactly happiness and possessions became so inextricably linked here – likely further back in time than I’d guess, but linked they are.

At times I intentionally force myself out of the limited tunnel of vision, and think about how my life and possessions might appear to someone in the second or third world. It’s almost embarrassing to consider, especially when I’m feeling deprived in any fashion. I see an abundance. Food, clothes, entertainment. I see the positive effects of lifelong nutrition and dental care. I see plants, greenery and the upside of nature. I see education and access to books. And access is a great word here, because that may be the one thing, access of all stripes, that stands out in relief. This kind of reflection jogs my thoughts out of wanting mode and makes me see that what I have is enough for a happy life. That is, I’m reminded that if I am not happy, or more accurately, satisfied, it is not the fault of my possessions or what my life affords me, literally and figuratively.

Within the last couple years, I have put my hands on every last thing I own. There are no “mystery boxes,” no “what is this part for?” conundrums, no “I haven’t worn this shirt in 10 years but dagnabbit I’m keeping it anyway” stances. If I’m hanging onto anything extraneous or illogical, I know what it is and where it is. I’ve moved a lot of junk on down the road. It’s outta here. A woman I know told me that you spend the first half of your life collecting things and the second half getting rid of them. I’d never heard that before! It sure sounds like what smart people would do. I can’t exactly sign on for that plan though, because I never really had much in the first place, and what I mean by that are nice, quality things. I don’t have any family heirlooms, no good China, no investment pieces. What I’ve sent packing was detritus, even if it took awhile, in some instances a long while, to see that.

There are still things I want, still cravings and wishes. However, I can catch myself and decipher what’s motivating those urges. I think carefully before bringing anything into my life. There has to be room for it in every sense. I now buy smallish things that make my life easier or more enjoyable, that I did without in the past (whether I opted out, they didn’t yet exist, or I just didn’t know they existed), but even they are subject to standards. It’s a bit of a cliché that when you get rid of old things, space is freed for better things. I gotta admit, cliché or not, I’ve found it to be true. Habit, fear, and imagined senses of obligation (“I must hang onto this!”) drive much of what keeps a person stuck. And what I’m saying applies to objects yes, but it’s shown itself beyond that as well. I hadn’t figured on that. The thinking changes I’ve made are broad and philosophical in scope. You have to clear the decks of all the crap and clutter, create space and then consider what you want to fill in the spaces with, if anything. That’s where I’m at anyway.

Let’s go shopping! Not so fast….

When I was growing up, significant purchases were a very big deal in my family. More often than not my father was the one to make the decisions. A production ensued. Much research, note-taking and time was involved. I can see him now in my mind’s eye, poring over catalogues and information stacked on the dining room table. By god we’re going to buy the right toaster the right way if it kills us.

As a result, decades later, making purchases is not exactly my strong suit. Indecision is my personal shopper. I have to check everything out, weigh my options carefully, blah, blah. Now that there are so very MANY things to buy, it is all that much more confounding. In stores I suspect I look shifty, like a potential shop lifter because I take so long looking at everything (although on my behalf let me say I look at everything out of curiosity too).

Liberal return policies are my Kindly Friends. My insurance policy in case I get the wrong thing or I don’t like it after all. Whew! And I dare say I’ve gotten better about all this. I’ve noticed, shockingly, that disaster does not necessarily ensue if all the proper techniques are not first employed before daring to actually buy something.

Although I take plenty of time before online purchases too, Amazon has almost made a reformed woman out of me. Not only do they not need a big song and dance from the customer who has decided not to keep an item – which years of shopping in brick & mortar stores beat into me: “Oh please, Sullen Customer Service Representative, may I trouble you from your busy schedule of shirking and scowling in order to return this piece-o-crap?” – the place on the online form where you can type in the “reason for return” has a word limit! I think they saw me coming.