What I learned about consumerism from a retro banana phone

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Yes, friends…this is indeed a taxi yellow retro headset for my cell phone. You know…a basic need for most smart phone users.

At times in my life I have fallen trap to the belief that part of living an ExtraOrdinary life is owning ExtraOrdinary things. I have never been a label-looking-Jones-keeper-upper, but I do like owning something that’s unusual, original and fun. As in, “What is that? And where did you get it?” Enter said retro banana phone. It seemed like a good idea at the time as my finger hovered above the Go To Cart button. The truth is it’s a pain in the tuckus because it takes up valuable real estate in my already heavy purse. Also, the sound is not particularly clear when talking to someone. Novelty aside, it was a silly purchase. Now, as I troll my home for equally superfluous Goodwill-bound faire, I am painfully aware of the waste.

I am also noticing how past beliefs about stuff have clouded an attempt at a simpler existence.

I can’t help but wonder why this realization didn’t bonk me on the head earlier. It seems strange that in midlife I’m just beginning to see the literal and figurative cost of spending hard earned moo-la on such items. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to recognize the same pattern in my teen girls. There’s my oldest’s strip mall monologue of why the ridiculous Chihuahua-faced hoodie would be a good edition to a 13-year-old’s closet….there’s my youngest’s 56th pair of novelty socks (bacon patterned!)…there’s the set of IKEA baskets which will be a magnet for more small doo-dad collections that fall prey to my hungry vacuum. It’s funny, because I don’t see a whole lot of difference between their materialistic fluff and mine. It’s time to set an example, but honestly, I’m just starting to get serious about this on my own. Here’s hoping I can teach the lessons to my offspring as I learn them myself.

My 5 step plan to quell the purchase of THINGS I DON’T NEED:

1.     Go cold turkey with a no spending policyIt’s good to shock the system into obedience, right? Worked with sugar. Why not shopping? I’m going for it in my Project Enough this month.

2.     Install a waiting period before making unnecessary purchases. I know Leo says 30 days…but I’m thinking more like two weeks. My self-monitoring has proven that 14 days is quite enough to completely dismiss an idea and move on. Squirrel!

3.     Avoid stores and cyberspace hot spots that provoke materialistic yearnings. I know that Anthropologie (home of interesting and ExtraOrdinary design) is a consumer trap for me. I also know that a mall trip is flat out inviting my daughters’ gimmees to take center stage. I don’t spend money in either of these places when I am not there. Funny how that happens.

4.     Build a nest egg for travel. One of the core values in our family revolves around travel and adventure. Every time I forgo an unnecessary purchase, my bank account wins one for experience instead of materialism.

5.     Practice gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. So cliché’ these days, but oh-so-true. A daily dose of it works to combat the need for stuff. I’m finding myself more and more grateful for the blessings that have been heaped on this family the more and more I record them and share them.

I guess you could call me a recovering consumer. 

I think most of my gimmees fall in the category of home design (need to toss the West Elm catalog before cracking it open) and supplies for a very creative life (my art closet used to be obscene). The song I’m beginning to see the light is the background music to the minimalist stirrings of my heart. Of course, once I started down this path, I stumbled upon a whole host of simplicity blogs and people on the same quest for less and meaning. I take that back—I don’t think there was any stumbling involved there. I think this is a case of (as I’ve said before) when the student is ready to learn the lesson, the teachers show up. There are days I get down on the process because I feel that we’ll never get there. And then there are times I feel that moving into a 600 square foot home is totally doable after my kids leave for college (in just five short years). In this state I feel the power surge to be the person who can let go of stuff, embrace experiences and travel the world with the man I love. How does one get to this point? I’m not sure….

…..but I’m willing to walk to the edge.

Releasing my grip on material things, I’m finally ready to fully invest in what’s important (and it ain’t a banana phone, I can tell you that).

Is there a particular material thing that you find hard to let go of? If so, how did you manage to stop the madness?

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The Stuff Dilemma

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It seems that many people numb themselves with stuff.

By numbing, I mean finding comfort and temporary joy in acquiring things (a boat/fancier car/club memberships/a TV in every room/Imelda Marcos shoe collection/etc) instead of facing the music on what is missing or present (i.e., the elephant in the living room). The gamut of American dysfunction comes in many forms, but what I’ve seen swirling around me is loveless marriages, depression, spoiled children, drug and alcohol dependency, debt, insecurity and loneliness. Not to get all “Why are we in this hand basket and where are we going?” on you, but I’m guessing if it’s that visible in my own small corner of the world, it’s running like rampant rats in all areas.  It seems that the rug where all the ick is being swept is beginning to bulge and buckle. At some point the ick needs to be dealt with or it will wedge itself deep into the grooves. A trip to Europe and a new motorcycle will never be enough to patch a major hole that starts to unravel in the family fabric.

Where do we get these messages that stuff will pave the way to a satisfying existence?

And why do so many folks practice score keeping when it comes to said stuff? Pulling up in the school drop-off zone in a Texas-sized SUV with more chrome than an appliance store may create a puffed up “I totally rock this” feeling, but it doesn’t make the man (or woman).  We know this, don’t we? Somehow the mom cliché’ “If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?” comes to mind with such unnecessary purchases. Sleeping under a wool debt blanket eventually causes one to suffocate…hence the disaster we’ve been recovering from in what appears to be a society of broken hearts and wallets.

I am guilty.  I do know “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s pink travel trailer”, but I couldn’t sleep until we found the perfect Airstream for the Blair Bunch. It wasn’t necessary, of course, but I did have intentions of family bonding and travel adventures when we pulled it into the driveway…you know..next to all the other stuff in the garage. Yet, I have been practicing restraint this year more than any other. I’m well aware there are children in Africa who don’t eat for days—I know this because I’ve been looking at the sweet faces of the Ameena School in Kenya we support on my laptop wallpaper. Their hollow eyes bore into my heart, asking me to examine where my loyalties lie and what I’m going to do about it. The fundraiser we hosted at our home was great, but it has to go beyond one night of money-raising. It has to slip under my daily habitual living like a pea under a pile of mattresses and eventually become un-ignorable.

First, there is purging.

If you walked past my house in the past month you would be in danger of being nailed by jeans and outgrown shoes flung out of windows.  I actually brought coffee to my new friends at the Goodwill drop-off station. I’ve since learned that purposeful giving is far more effective for the recipients, and not to mention, happier for the giver. My girls and I have been dodging Dr. Seuss-looking mile high pile of kids’ books and women’s clothes that continue to be spread around local charities. The best part of this process is that my children actually see where their discarded, sometimes unused, items have value.  It’s sickening how much gear has been placed in the “don’t want this anymore” section of our utility room dropping zone! We’re not a buy-a-Hummer-love-me-some-bling family, but we have an insane amount of stuff that seems to multiply like amorous rabbits.

I’m kickin’ some consumerism tail and takin’ names.

Rather than my first inclination to become a surly recluse and never leave the house again, I’ve decided to put the ky-bash on purchasing anything that isn’t necessary. For my youngest, the necessity of uber-fancy-running shoes from a certain coveted shoe company is not up for debate—thus begins the negotiations of how much she’s willing to contribute. The “We’ll put in a reasonable amount of  $_________ towards this item and you will need to come up with  $________” seems to decrease the perceived value of spendy (read: ridiculously overpriced, cheaply made) foot coverings.

That’s another thing: sense of entitlement.

I’m not just referring to overindulged kidlets, either. Americans in general—we seem to feel that we deserve certain things (even if they live outside of the budget). In the past month I have found unexpected rewards with pitching my glossies and curbing TV watching and blog reading. Fancy shmancy décor magazines and design blogs give me the gimmees…ugly little buggers that create a false sense of “if I don’t buy this rug, I may never complete the shangri-la that is my well decorated home”. It’s embarrassing, actually– something I don’t even feel comfortable admitting. I know some of you folks are with me on this—the gimmees wrestle common sense with an aggressive take-down move that borders on violent. Stand baaaack, Pinterest.

Banishing the visuals of what I’m missing seems to take care of wanting unnecessary things.

I’ve pretty much been having a Serious Talk with myself about how these changes are going to stick. ‘Wanting so much to make these days count with healthy hearts living in simplified homes…people on a quest to make a difference and have experiences together that shape a content, satisfying existence.

‘No need for numbing because they are truly living in a state of joy.

I’m not going militant with a decision to own only 100 things (good grief, how do people do that?) or moving to a tiny (and very, very cute) house behind my parents’ property, but I can tell that the tide of change has come in and I’m up to my knees in it.  I’m willing to go completely under, even if it gets a little chilly.

How about you? What is your heart crying out for these days? And what are you doing about it?

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