Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The price of living

As January sets in, I face another birthday. At 44, I don’t consider myself “old” but I no longer see eye to eye with youth. Could this be the nether years?

My daughters are growing up; fast. College will set upon my oldest faster than I’m prepared while my youngest clings to the elementary school years and I cling with her. I’ve cuddled with Little Pie most every night of her life. Hard to imagine that shall pass.

Watching them grow makes me aware of my own mortality and I realize just how lightly we tread on the history of humankind.

Going lightly is an approach I try to apply to many life endeavors. It’s common sense.

My home is a collection of historical curios, books, and items pulled from the forest compiled in attempt to evoke a rounded curiosity in my daughters. I think it has. But sometimes, like when I have the blues, it feels a bit overwhelming and a visit to some Scandinavian furniture store to replace my curios and mix-matched vintage with light wood and simple lines seems to make sense. That’s likely the fault of the blues. Stepping back, I see that we are not consumption junkies, though the basement is always tornado alley after the holidays. My little family is moderately mindful about our material acquisitions.

But it still begs the ultimate question, why do we consume so much when life is so short? Especially when so many of us place a higher value on experiences rather than material goods. Think of all the possessions and waste each of us will leave behind. In many ways, the current American culture forces us into a corner of consumption instead a plain of awareness.

In a world where it can be so confusing as to what action is best for the planet and future generations, I can take refuge in the fact that shopping second hand is a sustainable practice. At least I know I'm doing one thing right.


Louise said...

At 44 you are just coming into middle age. I am much older than you and really enjoy my university studies, my hobbies, and preparations for my next career or job. I am not the prisoner of my family. Perhaps you are filled with self doubt because you are becoming strongly aware of the rather foolish stance taken by a sector of the community which is at odds with your values. Even the Dalai Lama has doubts at times. You are living the life you are meant to live. It will be long so live it with conviction.

Megan said...

I think that culture is obsessed with having "more" because we are trying to fill what we know is missing with stuff. It has also become a measure of success to have more possessions than the next person, which is sad in my opinion.

Beth said...

What a thoughtful post.

I will continue to mull what you wrote. It's important. But my initial thought was that over history, as more and better things came along to make our lives easier, we consumed them because they made our lives easier but also because they were novel (like everyone and their brother – except me, apparently – owning an iPhone and an iPad and ... ) but I think we've neared our saturation point, out of financial necessity (too much debt!) and logistical necessity (that people rent space every month to store crap they obviously don't use blows my mind) and the pendulum is beginning to swing back toward sanity.

Most everyone I know is trying to have less these days, not more. They're trying to simplify their lives so they can focus on what matters. One woman on Facebook wrote that she's giving away one possession a day this year. I love that: 365 things gone, given to people who will appreciate them or who can use them. I could probably do that with books alone.

Alex M said...

We are downsizing and have faced this reality: whether we paid a little or a lot for stuff, having too much stuff bogs you down. We are divesting. It can hurt. I gave a couch away to someone and that couch meant something to me. He had it for a few months and something better came along so he got rid of it. That hurt a bit, but it's a lesson that once you let something go, you really have to let it go. And it doesn't necessarily kill you!

Beth said...

I tend to think of my home as a way station of sorts. I rely on thrifting to decorate as well as to provide basics for the kitchen, wardrobe, yard, and tool box--but move them on when they've served their purposes. I've certainly made mistakes and fallen into the trap of impulse buying. When either happens at thrift prices though, it doesn't mortgage my future. I've been tapping the used market for sometime and so find myself upgrading (or changing) home dec, etc. to meet my changing tastes and budget. At those junctures, I'm happy to load up and move on well-loved items back to the thrifts or offer them to friends. In fact, people are bringing things to me to "broker" (they're all free items) because I've got a "distribution" network. Last year I was called several times about kids and a newly divorced friend who need help furnishing their new digs -- from scratch! As long as you give as easily as you acquire, it just can't be bad to enjoy the lovelies and the usefuls that abound in the used market.

Serena said...

My parents are immigrants, and I grew up in a home where frugality was a way of life. Recycling and reusing was common, and now that I look back on it, wise. But one thing I've rejected from my upbringing is the need to hold onto things because of the money that went into purchasing something. My parents (and grandmother) were by no means extravagant, so whatever they did buy, they had to use up or it had to last. However this mentality comes with a price - cluttered houses filled with stuff that no longer serves a useful purpose. So what I've learned is to know when to let go of something and when to hold onto something for a future purpose or usage.

I've recently discovered that simplicity is a big thing for me (along with freedom and creativity) and that living simply is important to my well-being. So along with many other people, I have been paring down and really asking myself if I really need to buy something before I do so. Learning to limit the clutter in my home is something I've been tackling - for both my sanity and my pocketbook!

Pidge said...

Very thought provoking post, as usual. I have also reading others comments on the subject. I was just thinkiong this morning about the clutter in my bedroom which seems to be disrupting my sleep, and recalling the freedom I felt back when my husband and I were first married and had very little. Our house was neat and spare, but cozy, filled with hand me downs and "make due" items. I think all of our stuff can become a burden.....I like to think of it all as just serving me for a while and then letting it go....it takes the power away from the possessions. All of the comments really resonated with me. thank you for your blog!

Shopping Golightly said...

I think January is a natural time to purge.

I've been reflecting on what I can purge as both daughters are reaching pivotal points in their growing up and the home needs to evolve to meet those changes. It's bittersweet and overwhelming.

I've an extensive collection of lovely childrens books and have been paring them down today considerably keeping the books that were our favorites. There are several boxes that we will take to the elementary school library. This way, the books still land in the hands of young children and we keep what is essentially meaningful to us, our favorites that help us recall the hundreds of nights reading at bedtime, something I shall always cherish and miss. There is no substitute for reading to children and no better memory than seeing my girls lying on the floor amidst piles of books, thumbing through them with interest.

Yes, we've things in our homes we must give up. I think the key, like other comments have noted, is understanding such objects still have value and delivering them to places where that value can be maintained instead of just tossing them into the trash.

Anonymous said...

Am sitting and watching ETV and on the travel show that is on, a couple of ladies just visited a market in Peru. The colorful hats were cheerful and there was something satisying about seeing the sweaters and thinking about the process of creating. Trade has no doubt existed as long as humankind, and perhaps we even derive information through our senses more than we realize, when we handle objects and 'collect' things. Maybe it is just part of human nature to be somewhat acquisitive. It can be fun! Seeing the colors of things, feeling textures, there can be something sort of like taking vitamins in that, and also the process of looking maybe frees up our mind in some ways -- can get us in our right / creative brains, and give us a certain kind of relaxation.

A week or two ago I was cleaning, and funnily (because of your mention, GoLightly, of Scandinavian design, though I hadn't read it yet) I was imagining people going to the IKEA store and buying things to help organize a space (Our one piece of IKEA furniture came from Goodwill ;) (we did buy a plastic watering pot there.... my boyfriend wanted to buy something there... the lines there blow my mind... so much stuff, so many people ;)I was thinking how it can feel good to go buy stuff (new, possibly a little pricey), if it is within one's comfort zone and budget (though my buyer's loyalty is definitely with thrifting, and I don't think I'd like to 'reconvert' to the boring old regular retail market even if we had the funds :)

For myself, the process of finding things ('the hunt' perhaps) tends to be more satisfying than having an object, piece of clothing, etc. If I can feel like I put some 'work' into the process of acquiring something, it is a lot more satisfying and feels more meaningful.

Since we got back from the holidays I haven't stepped foot in a thrift store yet. Our purchases have been isolated to groceries and vitamins (oh yeah -- I did buy some beads and embroidery floss recently). I would like to maybe start collecting a few items of clothing, upcycling them, and then thinking about trying to get them into a community where such resources can be a bit scarce (like Appalachian communities where I have lived). And in the next month or so start keeping my eyes open for holidays presents for next year, perhaps.

raima said...

Nice Article. quite informative

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