Written by Abi Humber Tuesday, 10 April 2012 15:04
Until about a week ago, I found myself with a massive amount of disposable income (three jobs, no bills) and have been basking in the luxuries of a really, really, materialistic life.
New shoes from Steve Madden’s spring line? Sure! Impromptu shopping spree at Forever 21 just because I can? Why not! Extravagant West Coast trip without a budget? What a brilliant idea!
My daily commute to work brings me through some of the coolest neighborhoods in Chicago, filled with unique shops just bursting at the seams with stylish clothing, vintage records and kitschy figurines. In my mind, an unlimited amount of stuff I must have.
Inside these stores, I used to browse aimlessly until I found something to buy: knick-knacks that (insert friend’s name here) would just love, necklaces or sweaters that would go perfectly with (insert clothing ensemble here), sales so unbeatable I’d spend my money here rather than (insert name of any store, ever, here).
Spending, spending, spending. So much! On whatever I wanted at the moment.
While on Facebook in the evening, I’d be perusing several online shopping sites. I never really intended to purchase anything, but I wouldn’t tell myself “no” if I found something that I just “had to have.”
Spending was always on my mind. I even saved a document to my desktop titled, “Stuff I Want.” On it are assorted art prints, dresses, shoes, iPhone cases, a shower curtain (?)—totally needless things. I’d consult the list whenever I felt the urge to buy something but felt too lazy to take the train downtown (or, didn’t want to spend $4.50 in transportation costs. Irony.)
It got to the point where I couldn’t leave the house without buying something, even if it was just a head of lettuce from the grocery store. Maybe my roommate and I did actually need the lettuce, but the thrill of spending is what drew me to the store, not the desire for a stocked fridge.
My extremely sudden lack of all the disposable income is what has led to this reflection on my spending habits. A painful reflection, no doubt, but something that was bound to happen at some point. I’ve found a metaphor to describe my spending addiction (yep, the A-word):
I’m a toddler. I’ve regressed back to the Terrible-Twos—those days of thinking everything is “mine,” throwing a fit when I don’t get it, not understanding why I shouldn’t have everything I want.
Of course, I’m not throwing actual tantrums in stores, but the internal turmoil about whether I should buy something is kind of intense and embarrassing, much like a parent trying to calm the toddler at the zoo.
In this metaphor, I’m also the parents of the toddler. I’m both the selfish little monster and the reason she thinks she should have everything. I haven’t been saying “no” to myself at all, so now, when Abi wants something, Abi makes sure she gets it. If I’ve got the money, why would I ever deny myself something I want?
I’m not sure that wanting things and spending money is, in itself, bad. What I do know to be bad, though, is the pattern I’ve fallen into. I’ve trained myself into certain habits, a certain mindset. I feel entitled to new things, “better” things, and saying “no” to myself now (I do still have a few lingering shreds of financial responsibility, apparently) is way harder than it should be.
Breaking a habit is hard, but so is realizing I’ve become a little pawn in the game of capitalism. An itty-bitty brainwashed consumer, swayed by every ad campaign, every shiny new toy. This is hard to swallow.
I’ve always prided myself on my individuality, on my ability to question authority, think for myself, and do things for my own reasons—never because someone simply told me to. I realize now that my intense compulsion toward purchasing the next new “happiness” is exactly what the advertising industry wants from me.
By giving myself everything I thought I wanted, I’ve unwittingly morphed into the last thing I ever wanted: I’ve become just like every other selfish, entitled American.
In an effort to get myself back on track as the person I want to be, I’ve decided not to buy anything for myself (or anyone else) for one month, except groceries. I know one month doesn’t seem like much, but for me, that’s a huge change. After that, I’m not going to buy anything new for awhile. I haven’t nailed down a time frame, but I’ll continue to reflect on this and see where it leads me.
A few of my North Park friends have recently become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of “stuff” they’ve acquired and chose to do something dramatic. They took a huge stand against the sick consumerism that’s become the American trademark and resolved not to buy anything new for an entire year. They shopped at thrift stores and garage sales instead, freeing their minds from the constant spending battle. How awesome is that?
My friends and I both heard our society say, “Oh, you want everything you see? Really? Well, good. That means our bazillion-dollar advertising industry is doing its job. You’re a pawn, now come play the game.”
We’ve responded to this message much differently, though. Up until this point, I’ve chosen to go right along with it. To adjust my own spending habits to feel like I’m “doing it right” and fill my home with stuff to make me happy, all the while emptying my wallet and finding myself feeling surprisingly empty, too.
My friends chose not to play the game. They chose not to live comfortably within the status quo, and took Jiddu Krishnamurti’s words to heart: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”