“Hooray, new socks!” or “Getting some enjoyment from ‘the little things’

Once upon a time, I had the ability to shop whenever I wanted. If I saw a fountain pen I wanted or a pair of sunglasses I ‘needed’ I’d buy them with impunity.

I included shoes, clothes, perfume, and for some odd reason bedding (sheets, pillows, blankets, bedspreads, lap rugs, etc.) in that compulsive shopping list. The clothes and shoes and perfume are self-explanatory. I think we Americans have been indoctrinated by advertising to look at self-adornment–or at least shopping for self-adornment–to be some perverse form of entertainment, right up there with reading, playing guitar or playing bridge.

But with the bedding, I think I might be self-medicating or maybe self-comforting by overpurchasing.  I enjoy making myself a lovely nest into which I can retreat at the end of a long day, with crisp sheets and a soft, fuzzy blankie.  It’s important to me to have a comfortable bed, and pursuant to that one must have materials with which to MAKE the bed.  So that particular shopping fetish kind of makes sense to me.  It’s still not healthy for me to want to buy new bedding all the damned time, because I HAVE plenty of bedding.  But having a lot of bedding is comforting to me, it fills a ‘hole in my middle,’ it meets a need that I haven’t identified yet.

But it doesn’t explain why I overbought all those clothes and jewelry and perfume, all of which I’m STILL ‘using up’ from shopping trips long past.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t need all the sweaters I ended up with, or all the t-shirts, or shoes.  Many items I bought because I wanted to change my self-image by wearing different (more sophisticated) clothes.  But did I ever wear them?  No.  I usually went back to the sturdy and classic clothes I find at L.L. Bean and Land’s End, so all those forays into new fashions were a waste of money for me.

Back when I was in full shopping mode, I’d get excited just finding a new pair of jeans on sale, or finding a pair of earrings marked down.  I’ll never forget the rush I got one afternoon many moons ago when I bought a pair of earrings on sale for less than 1/4 of their original price.  That huge pair of gold wire hoop earrings was originally $225, and I’d had my eye on them for quite a while.  They got marked down to $52, and I snapped them up joyfully!  Never mind that they were SO large that they hit my SHOULDERS every time I turned my head, twisting my earlobes back and forth until they were aching.  Never mind that I went back and bought the other remaining pair just because they were also on sale (marked down even more a few days later–the word must have gotten out about how painful they were to wear).  I got them on SALE!  And I got quite a rush from getting them on sale, too.

I still have them–haven’t worn them for years, and of course now I’d never even get $52 out of them, even though they’re 14K gold hoops.

I didn’t NEED them, though.  I just got a thrill out of purchasing them.  I WISH I could say that I wore them frequently, and that they were ‘worth it.’  But actually, I bought them for the thrill of acquisition.  How twisted is it to enjoy purchasing new things just for the sake of acquiring them?  Why do I enjoy buying something new that I don’t really need in the first place?  Is it the thrill of the pursuit?  The idea that a “good buy” is a valuable, narrowly-won prize attributable to exceptional shopping skills is rather sad.  I’m not arguing that being a shopper isn’t a skill–I’m just wondering if it’s a valid skill to cultivate if you’re anything but a professional shopper.

Shopping as a hobby is a very self-indulgent activity which highlights our lack of insight and self-awareness.  Our love of acquisition as a hobby is wasteful and self-indulgent and our culture celebrates that, rather than saving money, consuming frugally, mending/repairing/recycling and living within our means.  Sure, it’s more FUN to be able to go out and get new ‘stuff’ whenever we feel like it.  But is it healthy?  Are we feeling more entitlement than we deserve to feel?  And why can’t we figure out what exactly WILL fill that ‘hole in our middle’ instead of Band-Aiding the emptiness with a shopping spree?

I’ve been reading a bit about Keynesian economics, and the gist I get is that the ‘health of the economy is dependent on people spending and buying more goods and services, rather than saving their money.’  In Keynesian terms, ‘excessive saving’ is BAD, and people need to keep buying stuff in order to buoy the economy.  Okay, save your rotting tomatoes, I KNOW I’ve oversimplified that.  But for Pete’s sake, people, this is the principle upon which our country’s economy is based!  Isn’t that alarming to anyone?

I’m guessing that if we never starting ‘spending money to make money’ that our economy might be a lot healthier today–it would be a HELLUVA lot smaller, but it would be healthier.

It strikes me, too, that the current mortgage crisis that blossomed into a full-blown depression kind of echoes that idea.  People were encouraged to borrow money for mortgages, to borrow more than they ever dreamed possible, and people who never believed they would qualify for a mortgage all of a sudden became homeowners.  Mortgage lenders couldn’t write the paperwork fast enough.  This was due to a demand from investors who wanted those huge returns on all those loans–there were so many investors wanting to invest in mortgage sales that the mortgage companies had to find a new “market”–all those previously unqualified applicants now could get approved for a no-money down mortgage with variable interest rates.

And look what happened–many of those people who didn’t previously qualify for a home loan got into trouble and couldn’t make their house payments.  They began to default on the loans.  And we all know what happened from that point on.

All because of greed.  People wanting more than what they have, more than what they can afford–maybe even not knowing what exactly it IS they want.  Why do we need so much, whether that ‘so much’ is measured in clothes, jewelry, a new car, a huge house?  What ’empty place’ in ourselves are we trying to fill?

I’d like to say that I’ve just come upon these thoughts as a result of our recent season of privation, but I’ve known (and UNDERSTOOD) for a while that overspending and conspicuous consumption is unhealthy.  I just never wanted to really cut down on my spending so drastically–that’s no fun, after all.

But since January, we’ve been earning less than 1/4 of what we were accustomed to living on before Rick got laid off, and we’ve had to cut way back.  We weren’t living high on the hog as it was, but we’ve reached new heights of frugality in the months since the layoff.  It’s gratifying to experience that sort of self-control in consumerism.  We’re actively patching and fixing and living reeeeally frugally, and it isn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be.  Sure, it’s kind of sad not having all the primo movie channels on the satellite, and it’s a bummer not being able to buy the hard cider I fell in love with at a friend’s house (Hornsby’s Draft Cider is $8.65 a six-pack at Kroger–if you have the means, I FIRMLY recommend it; it’s as luscious as taking a bite out of an autumn-crisp apple, plus 5.5% alcohol content).  And we haven’t given up our subscriptions to World of Warcraft yet–I don’t know if I’ll ever be THAT hardcore frugal.

And as strapped as we are now, I know that things aren’t as bad as they were during the Great Depression.  My mother used to tell me about life as it was back then, how she and her sister had three blouses, two skirts, and five pairs of underwear that they’d hand-launder in between laundry day.  “And when the elastic wore out on your bloomers, you went and found a safety pin.”

She said that even if you had money to buy things at the store, that very often the stores wouldn’t even have merchandise to sell. I have a difficult time imagining that era.  I wonder if we will see that level of desperation, but I can’t help feeling that this is an example of a timely “correction” that we need to experience in order to grow more in the future.

In the meantime, I am enjoying some new socks I bought about a month ago.  They’re a ‘brand name’ footie sock, with the logo woven into the sole in a pretty blue yarn.  I bought a six-pack for $3, which comes out to 50 cents per pair.  I opened the package a month ago, and am using them one new pair at a time.  I only get a new pair out when I wear out an old pair, so I get the thrill of wearing clean, new, white socks about every other week.  Quite the change from the days when I refused to drive a car that was older than three years, huh?

Comments are closed.