Monday, August 18, 2008

On Appreciation

About five years ago Jay and I were in the process of redoing the living room of the condo we lived in at the time. We put down some wood flooring and bought a dark wood futon. Then I went to Pier One and bought a wicker chair and three giant throw pillows. It wasn't a huge project, especially in comparison to some of the things we've had to undertake since buying this house, but all in all, we spent about $1500.

I mention this because it occurred to me that none of those things are in my life anymore. I no longer live in the house that had the wood flooring. In fact when we sold the condo, I heard that the new owners planned on replacing those floors with carpet. The futon mattress and cover was peed on by my cat Polly so it found its way to the trash. The three giant throw pillows were stained up by the spills and accidents of children, and the wicker chair was sold at Saturday's garage sale for ten dollars.

I find it both eye opening and depressing that we spent $1500 and have nothing to show for it. My family, and American society as a whole, spends far too much time working to have more and more junk that ends up being gone so quickly. It's hardly worth the effort. Although I don't work outside the home, I do all the bill paying and take care of the finances. I estimate I spend about twenty five percent of my week thinking about financial issues. If I'm not thinking about bills then I'm thinking about what needs to be bought for the kids and Jay, pets, house, or myself. When I'm done focusing on the needs, the wants get my full attention. It's exhausting. I'm so tired of spending money.

These feelings didn't erupt overnight. I've been thinking a lot about consumerism and how much my family wastes. I cannot pinpoint exactly what has caused me to have these feelings. I think it's a combination of factors. Maybe one of them is that on any given day my family has at least $100 worth of items to sell at a garage sale. The fact that I would spend $30 on something and then be so quick to sell it for $2 is really kinda sad. Another factor is that my daughter has become quite the gimme-gimme. I know this is a common phase for kids her age but she takes wanting to a whole new level. Anytime she sees any toy on TV she asks me to buy it and if I say no then she just says, "Well, the mailman will bring it to me." She's gotten so used to the internet shopping that my family does that she thinks most of her stuff is actually bought by the mailman.

I'm aware the ten dollars we got for that wicker chair isn't a lot of money. In this economy ten dollars doesn't even buy two gallons of organic milk. But to be honest, I had never planned on getting anything for that chair. A few months back I was suggesting the hubby take it to the dump for me when the boy walked by and decided he wanted it in his room. Having grown tired of it, he decided to try and get a few dollars for it at the yard sale.

This brings me to a question I've been asking myself all weekend: Does the fact the someone paid $10 for something I planned on trashing indicate that maybe I don't fully appreciate everything I have?

I don't really know if there is an easy answer to that question. I certainly don't think there is anything wrong with getting rid of crap you don't want or need anymore. I guess it would only become a problem if I replaced old, yet perfectly good, items. I suppose this whole issue can only be resolved by striking a balance between maintaining the proper appreciation for what I have, yet not putting too much emphasis on "stuff", all the while being mindful that there are people who might love to have the stuff I own. It's a very difficult balance to maintain.

In the past few months I've tried to be more aware of my spending habits. I've noticed that a lot of my internet shopping is done on days when the girl has been difficult and I'm feeling stressed out. I turn on the computer and use it as a way to escape for a few minutes. Now that I'm more aware of this, I think my internet spending has gone way down. I'm trying to only use the computer when I actually have a need to, instead of using it as a mindless diversion. It's a change, but I'll live. The shopping I did while stressed never really worked to de-stress me anyway.

Right now I'm reading Fat Girls with Lawn Chairs. It's written by Cheryl Peck and filled with entertaining stories about her life and childhood. One chapter about Christmas time with her family contains a quote that pretty much sums it all up , "We were neither rich nor poor, but we were wise enough to realize, gradually, that the hunger for things is never fully cured by mere things."


Apron Thrift Girl said...

A very thought provoking post. I would suggest that instead of looking at the money you spent as wasteful, instead look at it as an experience. It must have been exciting to work together to redo your room. Those feelings of excitement can be looked as priceless. Shopping can be addictive though like you mention and I'm sure that I have that to a degree. But that is also why I try to buy everything second hand. At our last yard sale, most of the items were priced at the sale of which I bought them. Therefore I basically rented them for free. I had the enjoyment of buying them for next to nothing, using them and then selling them. All created a very satisfied feeling. That's what life is about, it's about feeling and experiencing. Can you get the same feeling of decorating a room for $100.00 then you could for $1500? That's how I try to look at the math of shopping when I am out and about.


That's a great quote. We are working on living more simply. It's a work in progress.

Tammie said...

apron thrift: oh such wonderful tips. i could learn a lot from your thrifty ways. you are definitely right about considering the experiences as priceless. i too often get very caught up in trying to justify things in a monetary way. i need to start thinking outside that box. it makes my life too stressful.

dysfunctional: yeah, it's a work in progress here too. i think it always will be. i don't know if i'll ever escape the urge of wanting to buy more but i can hope it lessens.

Nowheymama said...

I've been reading lots of blog entries about issues like these lately. Personally, I'm focused on our food spending--wanting to have healthy foods we enjoy without breaking the bank.

Tammie said...

I hear ya, Nowheymama. Even the basics are more expensive than ever. When you have to factor in the dietary issues of the family, it can get costly. I think and rethink every purchase I make.

It's nice to have you here at my little section of the web. I love your cucumber salad.