When does it all change? When does the “new car smell” wear off? When do the colors start to fade? When does the body become less resilient? When are we no longer “up with the times”? When does what was once cool become passé? When does the favorite shirt or toy lose its luster? When do we start to become embarrassed by our parents? When do they become embarrassed by us? When do we get to the point where nothing surprises us, nothing embarrasses us, nothing angers us and nothing is of interest, really, anymore? In short, when do we become so jaded that we can no longer be affected by what once truly mattered to us?
I remember as a child a few things that I absolutely used to love: going to the grocery store with my mom on Sunday mornings to get the weekly groceries and the random garage sale scouting with my grandma. Even though we basically got the same stuff every week from the grocery store, I always enjoyed steering the cart, packing it up, putting in pleas for the extra sugary snack or beverage, bagging the groceries and all the other mundane actions that come along with that necessity of modern life. With my grandma, when I would stay with her, we would inevitably drive by some yard or garage sale and stop in to poke around. This would typically result in me leaving with some flea-bitten trinket that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so they say. These were both rather innocuous staples of my upbringing. And as all kids do, I “grew up” and no longer cared for these activities. In fact, I really don’t like shopping of any kind. As much as possible I shop online, and this is odd in its own right. Yes, I am saved the hassle of fighting the crowds, the sterile yellow lights, the traffic and parking and the risk of not finding what I (think) I want, but with online shopping comes returns and most importantly, stealing business from the little mom and pop stores that give some cities so much of their charm. Online shopping is so easy. And because of this, it causes us to dismiss the human element that is behind every transaction. I purposefully avoid big box stores like the plague (well, as much as possible), yet I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Amazon, the pillager of all local commerce. I used to rail against Walmart, still won’t set foot inside one, but I still buy from Amazon with regularity.
When I got my first Amazon account I think I got a 4-year membership for $99, but as it wore on, my concerns with the behemoth reared their heads and I decided to not renew; I was only going to buy “local.” Whatever that means. And for a few years I lived without Amazon, for the most part. Sure, occasionally there were things that I could only get online, and oftentimes an odd book or two, so in those instances it made sense to buy from Amazon. Then the slippery slope opened up and I slid back down the rabbit hole (mixed metaphors, don’t ya love ‘em?). I convinced myself that I wanted Amazon for their streaming service, which was true. But then I slowly started buying more and more from them, spending less in my local community. Though to be fair, it isn’t like there is much that I buy from a mom and pop store anymore because there are so few of them, aside from restaurants. In fact, that policy I still hold pretty tightly to: only eat at local, one-off eateries. When I do have to break that self-inflicted rule, I do feel bad and I rarely like it.
As far as groceries go, where I live now anyhow, there really are only chains. Sure, there’s the odd co-op or two, but they never have everything you need. There is actually a cute little bodega by my house as well, but their produce is so gnarly that I would still need to make another trip elsewhere to round out my grocery needs. I do try to buy a lot there, simply to support them, but I wish they would get their act together. Based on their location they could serve so many people within walking distance that it would have a profound effect on people’s commuting and food needs. But it wouldn’t make me like grocery shopping any more. I still buy pretty much the same thing every week (I guess this is more or less from my youth, huh?), and I get in and out as quickly as possible. I view it as a nuisance. I actually have a friend or two who shop for groceries online and have them delivered. This seems lazy to me. But, I hate shopping, and I default to online buying in every other avenue, so why wouldn’t I do so as well? I guess because I feel that they would give me crappy produce and bread that is already expired if I did. I don’t really trust people; they’re stupid, you know?
A while back I volunteered at a charitable thrift shop. It was largely boring, but every once in a while I did walk away with a cool shirt or something. Yet, I never go to thrift stores, aside for books and movies. I guess I’m not really looking for a whole lot of new clothes, and when I am, I guess I just want them “new.” But why hasn’t the garage sale-hopping happiness of old stuck with me? Why has pushing a cart down the aisle become the symbol of everything I despise (well, not really…)? As I get older I think I yearn for yesteryear, when things were easy – but do I really? I really do wish we could go back to the time before cell phones. Yes, I would get lost way more often, and yes, I wouldn’t be able to check my email a thousand times a day (oh how nice that would be!), but I just look at people lost in their phones and think to myself, “god, is this what we’ve become?” I just happened to be at the grocery store yesterday and I saw a mom and daughter (maybe 10-12) walking around the store, the girl with her head buried in her phone. She knows no other life. I do. I miss it.
Everything I have is used now. That’s the way it all is, inevitably. We don’t buy things to cherish and worship. I don’t have brand new Jordan’s still in a box, or Star wars actions figures from the 80’s still in a package, or an unopened bottle of single-malt Scotch I’m preserving for the right moment or occasion. I use everything once I get it. We consume. We’re consumers. And I guess this is what I was trained to be from an early age: someone who was materialistically driven, just like the rest of you. It wasn’t intentional on my guardians’ part, of course, they were just teaching me some of the many lessons that we all need to live and thrive, all the while trying to have a little fun along the way. And maybe why I rebel (in part) is because I know that our consumer society is so wrong. Why we work to consume is beyond me. But we do. Yet I fail to get by the system, I just make my own exceptions and blink unaware like a cow chewing its cud. Like you.
Was there ever a time when I was just happy with what I had? Was there for you? Why do I need to spend money to be happy? Yes, I need to eat, have shelter and sustenance, and socialize to be happy, but beyond that, why do I need the 301st t-shirt, the new bike, another book I’ll never get to, the remastered album, a pair of glasses for the office, etc.? If we could all just stop buying anything other than bare essentials RIGHT NOW, what would happen? It would be like Congress rolling back spending to 2008 levels or something. And we wouldn’t have to stop forever, but what if we stopped for 5 years? What if we just stopped for one year? Think of all the things we wouldn’t foolishly throw away our money on, all the waste we wouldn’t create. If we actually just chose to be “okay” with what we have for one year, we might actually find that we’d be okay for two. When I was a kid, in 4th grade, my dad paid me $100 to not watch TV for a year (yes, I cheated). At the end of this grand experiment I went back to watching the idiot box every day, I’m certain. But I was ten back then. I’m damn near 40 now. What if I did that now? Could I be done with TV for good after that? Would it decrease other insatiable desires as well? If I only had the willpower to try; where could I buy some?