Tonight I dipped my toe into the tepid, pleasantly plastic-scented waters of Consumerism Bliss, but I did not dive in. At 6:30 I accompanied two friends on a drive to our local Shopper’s Mecca of Silverdale (also known as Slobberhell, Consumerdale, etc) for a brief purchase of serger thread to help Cyn finish her cloth napkins (yay! Sewing!). Then, in our aimless way, the three of us set off on some harmless shopping, nothing serious, before it was time to head back to PT.
The glass tumblers my husband sent me to Target for are not in stock. After brief consideration, I decide not to look for a suitable replacement but instead wander back through the aisles, feeling a distinct lack of temptation for anything on the shelves. Regarding all the nice things on all the ordered shelves of all the tempting marketplaces in my geographic possibilities, I am somehow halfway there to some mystical Buddhistic place, but I don’t quite know where “there” is. As I walk to rejoin my friends I fondle a couple dozen richly colored beaded throw-pillows and feel a brief pang for piles of thin quilts my favorite color of greens and muds (cotton fabric and blankets can be my downfall). Everything cheap, nothing insurmountable, everything yours for the taking and the credit line. Marked down items, “classy” packaging – with enough work and purchasing manhours, anyone can assemble a home that looks like a diorama of the American Dream. An enticing display. I tell my friend Paige that I cannot allow myself to go purchase niceties and luxuries such as this guilt-free; I am waiting for something to allow me to do so, to help me choose which things to bring into my home. I don’t know if it’s money, the desire to quench my consumeristic drive, my distaste for the type of labor that has spawned these cheaply-sold goods, or all of the above.
Perhaps I should back up a bit, lest you readers not understand what an accomplishment this abstention is for me: I have been afflicted with the “I wants” as long as I can remember. Before I had a job, before I had a home to run or even a room to furnish. Since I first grasped the concept of currency I have found the world to be full of wonderful, shiny things to buy and to then feel good about buying them. Not just for myself; in fact, hardly for myself. Along with my extravagant desires developed an equally generous heart that longs to shower friends and family with comforts and trinkets. But what I enjoyed most was what I brought home for myself: beeswax candles, tiny yet expensive cases of makeup, a soft vintage t-shirt to wash and wear the next day.
But as an adult I have learned that for every thing you buy or collect there is a price, more regrettable than the cash spent that cannot be reclaimed, more exhausting than the exertions of finding the “perfect score” (a Holy Grail of housewifery that many of my peers seem to live for), more disconcerting than the closets and storage area crammed with one’s possessions: the emotional baggage that a lifetime – or even a quarter of a lifetime – of accumulation can build. The initial thrill is limitless and very in-the-moment, but does not last and indeed becomes a snare of condemnation and confusion – why do I have all this stuff? What else should I buy to make it complete? Why do I never feel complete? Purchasing something new or old, frivolous or virtuous, and the brief high is all too ephemeral and one’s focus and life mission seems to blur at the edges, dissolve, and become unimportant in the pursuit of the matching stemware set.
On our drive home we stop at a Vietnamese restaurant in Poulsbo where I purchase a bubble tea (with mango jelly and tapioca) for my daughter and an iced milk coffee for myself. My daughter loves bubble tea quite fiercely, and since it isn’t available in our hometown she seldom gets it. It is one of the very few things I can buy for her or bring her or do for her that truly creates a long-lasting joy in her soul and a deep gratitude for me (other things she loves me to do: when I sing to her, when I say “Thank you” to someone in her earshot, and when I read to her).
I guess some things really are worth buying, but I’m damned if I always know how to tell the difference.