Do You Own What I Own?

The following quotation from the opening page of the Winter 2004 issue of The Wilson Quarterly feature story, “Shopping and the American Way of Life” clearly delineates some of the reasons I’ve wanted to reconsider consumerism and my own relationship to things:

In America, shopping is a national pastime, and consumer spending the engine of prosperity. But consumerism is also the source of deep ambivalence. One moment, Americans decry the country’s rampant materialism; the next, they jump in their cars and speed off to the mall, on a mission as consumers to save the nation from recession. Indeed, it’s American consumers’ seemingly insatiable taste for more that has kept America’s economy-and the world’s-afloat the past few years. Is our consumer society sustainable? Is it defensible?

Though I’ve always considered myself rather frugal, I’m embarrassed to admit that though I dress like a “granola” many of my tastes run more towards a “yuppie” life style.

Although my wardrobe runs towards, sandals, jeans, hemp shirts and GoreTex jackets, I prefer fancy restaurants to Burger King or McDonalds. I’ve probably eaten hamburgers out four times in the last year, all with grandson Gavin, but I’ve eaten out at relatively expensive restaurants many times during the same time period. Generally I prefer “ethnic” restaurants, particularly Thai restaurants, but it’s also hard to ignore the fine local seafood restaurants.

I either made all the furniture I have or I got it second-hand from my parents years ago, but I didn’t feel guilty about buying a top-of-the-line sharpening machine recently. Though the Inca table saw that I made most of my furniture with is over twenty years old, it, too, was considered “extravagant” when I bought it. In fact, I’ve never bought a tool that I didn’t consider “top-of-the-line” because I hate to have to replace a tool that I already own. I’m willing to pay top price if it means that the product will last longer and work more effectively.

As a result, except for my computer equipment most of what I own is “old,” just like me, but unlike me, most of it works as well as, if not better than, similar new items. Heck even my HP scanner, the one with SCSI port plugged into a Firewire adapter, is ancient by modern standards.

Though I’ve never been able to afford the kind of art that I really like and generally settle for relatively inexpensive prints, I have managed to spend upwards of $500 for individual watercolors and pottery I really liked.

In other words, like most Americans I’m deeply ambivalent about what I buy and don’t buy. At the same time I’m throwing things away and trying to simplify my life, I’m buying new things in order to do the things I want to do.