Consumerism is a disease.
I was looking around my daughter’s room and thinking about all of the things that we “needed” when we found out we were having a baby. The baby monitor with a 400-foot range and two remote receivers, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. The changing table that matches her crib and dresser set. Pacifiers and bottles, and a dishwasher basked for washing that stuff. The stroller/infant car seat combo. Cute shoes, colorful sun hats, toys that play music when you push the buttons.
And you know what? We don’t use any of it. The baby monitor stopped working before Christmas, and it hasn’t caused a problem… if my daughter cries, I can hear her just fine from our room right down the hall. The changing table gets used once a day at bedtime, and the rest of the time her diaper and clothes are changed on the floor in the living room. She has refused pacifiers since she was two weeks old, and really, what good are bottles to a mother who breastfeeds exclusively and doesn’t work outside the home? The stroller has been used twice in the 8 months since our daughter was born, because a sling is much more comfortable and convenient for everybody concerned. Our money would have been better spent on a 3-in-1 car seat that would go with her up to 100 pounds, instead of the infant seat that she’s already outgrown. She doesn’t walk, so she doesn’t need shoes. She throws hats off her head and chews on them. And the toys that play music… well, I’d just rather have peace and quiet in the house.
But beyond parenting stuff, there are lots of things we “have to have” but really don’t need. Cell phones, for instance. Excellent for people who travel a lot, and nice to have in the car for emergencies, but really, does everybody over the age of 8 need to have a cell phone glued to their ears? Most of these people have perfectly good home phones that sit there rotting, and then they complain about never having a moment to themselves because people are calling them all the time, no matter where they are. Not to mention the fact that excessive cell phone use has been linked to brain tumors. Yet I too have one, and I “had to have it.” Not only that, but I had to have the one with a video camera and an MP3 player. How often do I use my cell phone that I need it do do all of these things? I use it maybe once a month, if that.
And cable television. It’s something that everyone needs, right? The fact of the matter is that if we didn’t have cable, there would be one less reason to sit on our big behinds and get fat and unhealthy. Yeah, it’s good to have it for the news and a little bit of entertainment… but do we really need to spend $50 a month for 130 channels, when we usually end up watching reruns anyway because “there’s nothing on tv”? Of course not.
Your clothes. Your DVD collection. Your electronics. Your furniture. How much of it do you really need, and how much of it did you buy because society says you “have to have it”? Take a look around you. I’m willing to bet that 90% of the crap you see around you isn’t really necessary at all. Most of the rest of it could have been purchased at a lower price if you had gotten it at a thrift store or a yard sale instead of at Best Buy or Kohl’s, and it would have worked just as well and looked just as nice, but you would still have money in your bank account.
Face it: we are a society built on advertising. A new product (say, an MP3 player) comes out, and they put ads all over tv, on the radio, on billboards, in your favorite magazine. You think it’s pretty cool, but you resist the temptation because you’re still paying off your debt from school, and from the last stupid impulse purchase you made at the mall. So time goes by. You keep seeing it advertised, and one of your friends gets it. Then more and more of your friends have one. Now, about a year later, you suddenly “need” it. You can’t live without it. So you get one.
And the following week, a newer, better model comes out, and yours becomes obsolete. So now you have to have the new model. And so it continues.
Or picture this all-too-familiar scenario: you’re trying to save money, so you don’t buy anything for a while. But now Circuit City is running a sale! No interest financing on all HDTV’s for 2 years! Sweet! Ok, I have to buy one now. And it’s ok, because I’ll be saving money since there’s no interest. Back the train up a minute… you are not “saving money” because it’s on sale. You wouldn’t have even bought the thing if it wasn’t on sale, so the truth is, you’re spending way more money than you were going to spend in the first place. You would have spent $1.50 that day on a bottle of pop, but instead you’re now spending $2,001.50 because you’re buying a bottle of pop and an HDTV.
Why do we do this? It’s because we’ve been taught all our lives that more stuff will make you happy. If you’re not happy, go to the mall and buy more stuff. You’ve heard of retail therapy, right? It’s become a trend. When you’re having a bad day, you reward yourself by going to a fancy restaurant or buying a new pair of shoes or a new video game. If your boyfriend stands you up for a date, he buys you a new necklace to make up for it. We buy all this stuff to fill a void within ourselves, to keep from having to deal with the emotions and pain of everyday life. It’s an anesthetic.
We are born into a society of consumers. It’s our lot in life. And that’s ok. I will continue to buy crap I don’t need until the day I die, because it’s just what we do as Americans. But my challenge to you is to stop deluding yourselves into thinking that you need this stuff. All you need is food, water, clothing, and shelter. Maybe a car if your job is far away from your house and you can’t take a bus. But everything else is just excess. And maybe if we strip away some of the excess, we might actually learn to look inside ourselves and find what’s really important.