Consumer consumed by consumption

Remember when Netflix raised their rates a month ago, and everyone was really mad? I was one of those frustrated customers. Naturally the 30 percent price increase for my Netflix subscription put a crimp in my habits, but I couldn’t just cancel my plan.

See, I love watching movies and TV, and I need it as part of my art practice. What?! Yup, that’s right. I need TV.  I run it when I work. I don’t watch the programs the whole time, but the stories keep me interested enough as I listen to warrant a look over to the TV every now and then. This keeps my neck moving, and avoids the neck aches that come with the way I work. Couple this with an old-fashioned tube TV that squeals intermittently, and a cable company that cannot send me a steady signal on all my stations at once, and I decided I needed to change how I got my programs to keep me happy. So began my search for all possible options.

I looked into flat screen TVs – expensive. I can live with the squeal for now I guess. I looked into Wi-Fi and Roku. Not a bad idea; I could stream Netflix to my TV, replacing movies with streaming which in turn means I could lower my plan to one-DVD-at-a-time, thus cancelling cable (saving $16/month!)! It seemed perfect. But I do love my fall TV shows. Crap. Well, what about streaming those? Nope, Hulu Plus costs eight bucks a month. Dang it! Still saving money, but not as much if I do that, and buying the Wi-Fi modem thingy and the Roku would mean I would spend money in the end. Then, do I get the HD Roku even though I don’t have an HD TV yet, but could have one maybe in the future? That costs more. And then I’d need a converter so I could plug my DVD player and Roku into my TV all at once, but maybe not if we just got a newer TV….

And of course I check with my friends, and ask around, and do internet research. And that’s when I realized. This is freaking ridiculous. So ridiculous I decided to blog on it. This silly search for something that isn’t a necessity was taking over my free time. The same could be said for my plans to buy a few pairs of shoes this fall, or the decision to join an online Yoga website, or whether or not I subscribe to Dwell (even though I don’t want to, but they offered me a free other magazine subscription with it!). My husband jokes that every marketing campaign built to motivate people to spend more money under the guise of saving in the long run (farce!) found its dream girl in me. Sad, but true.

How did I realize my ridiculous, time-consuming effort to consume wisely was out of hand? Staring me in my purchase-crazed face today was an article from PBS.org (in an email from DailyGood – highly recommended):  Raising Kids to Be Less Stuff-Centered by Annie Leonard. In that moment I realized how stuff-centered I was becoming. Regardless of how well I can justify my purchases, they are still altogether time-consuming. My desire to spend money wisely led me to extensive research which is good, but it doesn’t change the fact that this urgent need I had to solve my media “problem” was over-taking my free time. Taking me from my artwork, my blog, phone calls to family, and so on. Sounds extreme, but all the minutes I spent weighing the pros and cons of my buying could have been spent more meaningfully.

Ms. Leonard’s article reminded me of how I was raised. We didn’t have cable. We didn’t have a ton of stuff, or new clothes, or fancy anything. We shopped at yard sales, used hand-me-downs, played outside, created art projects, and used our imaginations. I was raised to visit family, make a phone call, enjoy nature; not sit at a computer, type “status updates” and “like” what other people are doing virtually.

Despite our upbringing I think my siblings and I do connect having things with being successful, financially stable, and well-off. My brother had bought so many fun things for his house at one point – struggling to keep up with the pool, the games, cleaning, and working a ton of hours – that I finally said to him, “You have all this stuff, but do you have the time to enjoy it? Maybe you’d be better off with less stuff and more time.” But like me, my brother wants it all. I can’t say I blame him. My sister prefers to buy a new house if she can manage it sometime soon. Not an older house needing upkeep, but a new one. Could it be that she doesn’t want a “hand-me-down” feel to the house – worn in, but with some good years left? Maybe. And I get that too. It’s like when I buy new clothes. I have my “nice” clothes I only wear on really special occasions, and then everything else. “New” is like gold to us kids. My behavior? Well, I buy books I don’t have time to read, buy movies I rarely watch, and kitchen appliances I seldom use. And each of us, too, has a distaste for clutter (to an extent). I literally fight against these two opposing inclinations: accrual and purging of things. I spend a significant amount of time organizing and sorting through my belongings. It reminds me of when we played “Barbie” as girls. Sarah and I spent all our time dressing the dolls, doing their hair, and then setting up the doll house Dad had made for us. Once everything was in its place and looked fancy, we didn’t want to play any more.

Annie Leonard calls attention to these counter-productive behaviors that lead to lives less lived, though more full of possessions. And even though her suggestions are aimed at parents for raising kids, I couldn’t help but see them as suggestions for myself. I hope you’ll take a look too. Some food for thought.

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4 thoughts on “Consumer consumed by consumption

  1. So true, so true! I struggle with the same thing. Even though I have managed to cut back some (I’m not a clothes & shoes addict and love anything my sister offers me when she cleans closet), I still have difficulty with books and threads & fabrics (and related arty stuff). And magazines! Those we cut back and have slowly added to again, with different ones. I think my generation in particular thought we wanted it all, but as we reach retirement age, some of us realize what you said to your brother and just want to be able to enjoy what we have.

    • I’m the same way – when I was a kid I would take any and every thing my brother and sister were tossing out when they cleaned their rooms! I’m also currently whittling down a 6 month back-log of art magazines! Next I aim to read books I bought last Christmas! Wish me luck!

  2. What a brilliant article — and I loved Annie Leonard’s piece, too! I absolutely struggle with this myself. I often try so hard to be a conscious consumer and not accumulate stuff that — like you — I end up spending hours researching things that I sometimes never even buy! It truly is a waste of precious time. I am going to start thinking twice before I start mindlessly browsing yoga pants on eBay. It sounds a little silly, but I’ve noticed that when I stop looking for things that I’ve convinced myself I need, they either ‘find me’ when I’m not looking or I realize that I never really needed it to begin with!

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