Friday, January 18, 2008

The Great Consumerism Battle of 2008

“Excess is its own punishment.” ~ Douglas Coupland; JPod
So, back around May-ish I went on this wild crusade to rid my heart of consumerism . Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? It actually was a good idea. I was learning a lot about the things I value and why, and I was making good progress in making this H person a less consumeristic person which, in turn, was making H a more patient, more content person who was happier in her marriage. Not too shabby, if you ask me.

However, then the unthinkable happened. Then… DUM-DUM-DUM (insert sound effects here) September happened. Ugh. September. That was not a pretty month. Nor was October or November, and especially not December. I spent a good chunk of those months just trying to take care of me, and to get through each day. During this time the progress I made on my consumerism stayed fairly level. I was still conscious of the choices I was making, but I wasn’t making any forward progress and in some areas I was kind of being a slacker.

Anyhow, I’ve now determined that if I can’t feel like my old self again, I can at least try to keep up with the things that were making my old self a better self. Maybe it will help me like my new self better. Who knows? I think its time that I revisit my consumer hysteria and see what changes I can make…

First, let’s have a little chat about consumerism itself. Obviously, we consume stuff. Otherwise, we’d die. This seems like a fairly big deal to me, so I’m not going to just quit consuming cold turkey, as I very much like being alive. However, I think there comes a point where our consumption of stuff becomes a problem. Key problems with consumption, from my humble point of view, include:

**When we start having attitudes of entitlement about things. For example: *So-and-so has (whatever thing you want), so I should be able to have one, too; *I work hard and I’ve earned (whatever) so I deserve it! (usually accompanied by high pitched whine and a pouty face).

**When we start depending on things we don’t really need, or depending on things for poor reasons. Examples: *we go shopping and spend $ because we’re bored or depressed, *we rely on possessions to define us or give people good impressions of us.

**When we get to where we can’t let go of stuff. Examples: *We clean out our closets but don’t actually get rid of anything ‘just in case’ we might wear it again. *We tell someone they will have to pry the Dark Tower books from our cold dead fingers before we’ll give them up (oh wait, was that just me?)

Now we can be consumeristic about a lot of things. We can very obviously be consumeristic about material things, but I think it is also possible to have consumeristic attitudes about other things as well. For example, we can be consumeristic with the way we spend our time, or how much love we choose to bestow on other people. So I guess I don’t really see consumerism as a material problem, so much as I see it as an attitude problem. This shouldn’t really be a surprise – after all, our actions and attitudes and beliefs are pretty interwoven, aren’t they? And would it really be a surprise that a generation raised on the ideologies of entitlement and instant gratification would struggle with this? I don’t think so.

So why do I think I need to curb this consumeristic monster that is taking over the inside of me? The answers are complicated, but I’ll try to make sense of them here:

**First, I read an interesting article in Relevant Magazine several months back. The article focused on this particular problem of consumption, and one quote that I remember read, “God created an economy of enough. God didn’t create a world of scarcity. But we’ve created poverty and need by not living out this command to love our neighbors as ourselves”. Now I’m not totally sure on the God part – being totally sure about the God part is not a luxury afforded to people in the throes of grief (and if they tell you otherwise, I’m 99% sure they’re lying), but I do feel pretty sure about the not living in a world of scarcity thing. I live in one medium sized city inside of one state in one country on one continent in this world and everyday I see so much stuff it seems to me that Fort Wayne could support a small country, if we had to, just on the stuff we already have. I remember reading Generation X and being convicted by Dag’s comment on doing a job that was indirectly enslaving third world countries. I don’t think I necessarily do a job that enslaves third world countries, but I think my lifestyle enslaves people. I have all this stuff and all this cash and all this time, and by being selfish with it I’m enslaving others who don’t have it but need it. Not a very capitalist view, but my heart says that it’s true. And frankly, I can’t live with this. I can’t live with feeling like my life is a drain on the well being of other lives. It’s so easy to do – just go about my life however I feel like it – because I don’t see those people that desperately need my spare room or the $20 in my pocket or an hour of my time to learn how to read. But they’re there, and I’m tired of being part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.

**Secondly, I think that when we work on taking the consumeristic attitudes away, it allows us room to let the beautiful things in. I don’t exactly know what those beautiful things will be, and I suspect they will be different for different people. I can tell you that from May to September last year I found myself becoming more patient and more content, and finding intense joy in little things and small moments. I think it was a good thing. I hope it comes back to me more as I travel this journey. I just think if I change from consumeristic, I have to change to something else, and I suspect that something else will be more beautiful. And I am definitely up for being more beautiful.

So here I am, working on this consumerism thing again. I’m going to identify a few changes I’d like to make in my life that I think will help. Now you may be asking why I am going to change specific things in my life when I’m trying to work on a general attitude. I think this is a fair question, so I’m going to address it. I think that by starting with a few small changes, I will start to become more conscientious of the bigger picture of my life. Ultimately, the things we do are reflections of the people we are. So if I change a few of the things I do, and if it helps me to see other things I should change, and if it makes me overall more conscious of the way I am living, hopefully it will help to change the person I am. In the end, I hope that I can measure my attitudes by looking at my actions. I am hoping this makes sense, because I don’t know how else to describe it. If it doesn’t make any sense, somebody let me know and I’ll work on an alternate explanation – maybe an analogy of some sort, which, if at all possible, will involve a hippopotamus because right now I think they’re really funny looking animals.

Anyhow, here’s the part I’ve been trying to get to all along: the stuff I want to change. First I’m going to revisit some of my goals from May 2007, then I’m going to start a list of the new changes I want to look at. Here goes:

May 2007

*The Great Soda Pop Debate: Anyone have any idea how much Diet Coke I am capable of consuming in one sitting? It’s not pretty. I realized that I was on this diet soda binge for one reason only, and a very stupid reason at that: water is not sweetened. I also decided that sweetness was not a good enough reason to spend a lot of $ on diet soda and fill my body with artificial chemicals. So I am continuing my cutback on the diet soda for this round. The general rule is no more than 1- 12oz. can per day, and less if possible. I have pretty much stuck to this since May with the exception of nights when I drink and need a mixer. I’m going to keep going with this one.

*Clothing: I’m going to try not to buy clothing from anywhere but second hand shops for the next 6 months, unless something catastrophic happens and I suddenly need an entirely new wardrobe (i.e. I lose a bunch of weight, gain a bunch of weight, get preggers, have a house fire, etc.). And I’m just plain not buying shoes. I have so many shoes I’m ashamed. I followed this for awhile and have recently been impulse buying (well, as impulse as it gets for me anyways – meaning I bought an article of clothing recently without feeling loads of guilt and then wondering when I got home if I should take it back). So I’m going to try going with this again. There is one modification to the rule from last time around: I have decided I can make clothing, if I want to, and I can buy brand new fabric for that.

*Tick Tock, Tick Tock: Last time around I decided I was awfully selfish with my time and the person who was most affected by this was my husband. So I self-imposed a rule that I would be home and make supper for him every night before doing my other activities. So far it has worked well, so I’m going to stick with it. Interestingly, it has forced me to better manage my time, make better choices about what to say ‘no’ to, and has actually made me like my husband more. Weird, huh?

The New Stuff

*Fast Food Nightmare: So, up until the dreaded September I pretty much didn’t eat fast food. For some reason I’ve started eating it. This is problematic for my waistline, my wallet, and my sanity, as fast food restaurants don’t do much of anything toward making me a calmer person. So I’ve decided to give it up entirely during the week, and only indulge on the weekends if hubby and I happen to be out and need fed. I don’t see any good reason to use resources on food that is actively bad for me when those resources could be somewhere else doing something good.

*My Favorite Legal Drug: So, hubby and I have this weekly ritual of hitting the Starbucks on Sunday mornings. This is a fun little ritual that ensures us time to just hang out and do nothing once a week. I like it, D likes it, we all like it. It’s good for our marriage to have something that is so ours, if you know what I mean. However, this does not mean that I need to make a Starbucks run three or four times a week. I might as well throw 4 bucks through the shredder. I mean, Starbucks coffee is good, but do I really need to indulge myself so frequently?

*New or Used?: So, in the Dark Tower, Rolland tells Jake that a man who can’t stand to share his habits is a man who needs to give them up. I ask myself: What am I ridiculously possessive of? The answer is: Books. I think my book collection makes me look cool. My book collection says: I am a person who reads. I am a person with culture and intelligence. I am enlightened and exotic and cool. Or it says: H, you buy too much crap. So for the next 6 months my goal is to check out the majority of books I want to read from the library. If for some reason I think it would be wise to own a particular book (I’m reading it for book club and will be writing all over it, etc.), I will try to find it used rather than buying a new copy.

*You Are All Going To Laugh At Me: Sadly, I see myself becoming a POAS addict. That’s POAS: Pee On A Stick (take a pregnancy test). Like I said, it’s sad. And, like I said, you are all going to laugh at me. It’s really not fair that you should be laughing. All women trying to bring home a live baby are at-risk for POAS addiction; just like smokers are at risk for lung cancer, needle users are at risk for AIDS, etc. Anyway, you can spend an awful lot of money on sticks only to pee on them and throw them in the trash. This makes no sense whatsoever, but I do it anyways because I have to know if there is even the remotest, teensiest chance that I could be pregnant and the stick could know about it. Pee sticks hold the knowledge of the gods, I tell you. This has to stop! Peeing on a stick is not going to make me any more or less pregnant. Either I am or I’m not, and the sticks can’t change that. So, I am going to try not to pee on sticks unless I have a reason to believe I should (late period, tri-phasic temp pattern, etc.)

This is not about saving $. This is not about losing weight. This is not about a healthier lifestyle. If my assumptions are correct, my little experiment will benefit me in all of these areas, but these are not the goals. These, my friends, will be the side effects. The goal is to make me more aware of what I need and don’t need; to show me the places where my heart is selfish and whiny; to learn to appreciate things more; to soften my heart to the things that really matter. This is not about a certain behavior or a certain possession; this is about the state of my heart. Certain behaviors and possessions are involved, but they are merely means to get to the part of my heart that needs to grow and change.

And if I fail at something? If I make 8 Starbucks stops and pee on 12 sticks and drink a 2 liter of Diet Coke? Well, then I fail. But I fail at a particular task. And this is okay. If I make 8 Starbucks stops, I haven’t met my goal, but I’ve certainly given myself something to think about. If I POAS 5 days earlier than I should have, I have the opportunity to pick apart my reasons for needing to do so – maybe it’s a control issue, maybe it’s a fear issue. Whatever. I pick it apart and I work on the ugly parts and I pick up and hope for better the next month. I refuse to define failing at a particular task as failing to learn and grow. So keep me accountable – ask me how many lattes I’ve had this week or how many spicy chicken sandwiches I’ve demanded or whether I’ve made my husband dinner. And if I tell you I’ve failed, find out why. Ask me what I’m learning from it. Ask me what my failure is showing me. But don’t assume that I am a failure. I’m sure not going to.
If I am going to grow, I need permission to fail. It’s a hard concept to grasp when we’re all ultimately trying to succeed, but I think that sometimes it’s the only way to go. Without permission to fail, I will stick to every goal – but I will do it because I feel like I have to, or everyone will disapprove. And if I fail, I’ll get flustered and give up. If you give me permission to fail, I will try to stick to every goal. I will try to do this because I want to discipline myself and I want to see how I can grow. But I will also probably fail. And I will dust myself off and move on, because you’re going to be cheerleading for me and exploring with me the whole way. See the difference? So don’t be alarmed if I fail now and then, and don’t be afraid to ask me why.

So that’s what I’ve got for now. I know it’s a little long, but hey, it’s my heart here! My heart and the growth it needs can’t really be summed up in two paragraphs or in a short bullet-pointed list. And if it could, I wouldn’t really want it to be my heart. I’m going to go for it, and work on this ugly part of me and hopefully…. hopefully we’ll clear out some of the clutter and let some of the beautiful things in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Heather, I love this! I think you'll do a great job and have great success mostly because you've left room for slip ups! Your not perfect and your going to slip up, that's only human! It's good that you've given yourself that room to do so!
I feel challenged to do the same!
I actually recently did this sort of thing in the sense of relationships, freeing up time, because of new things in my life as well as old that have been becoming too much, but to do it with physical stuff is a good thought as well.
And sssshhhh, this isn't probably going to help you in this area, but I LOVE YOUR BOOKS. I personally love them because I'm doing the same thing, I have a lot of books, but I'm also saving up for enough to fill a room to be my library. That's just me, it also doesn't help that I work in a bookstore either!
Anyway! Thanks for the challenge and I'm going to go make my list now!
Glad to hear that you and Daniel are doing so well.....yeah marriage!