I love buying things. There’s just something satisfying about having money and then spending it and getting some shiny new wizamathingy. Whenever I do get extra money, it doesn’t stay in my pocket/checking account very long before its gone. I’m not necessarily opposed to saving money, of course. It’s just that the stuff you can get with money is far more interesting/entertaining than the money itself.
Right now I’ve got the gimmies for the new iPod Touch that was just a week ago. It’s a technological marvel, it is. Camera on the front for video chats. Camera on the back for taking pictures and HD video. 960×640 resolution screen. Over 250,000 apps available to download for it. Oh, I want it. Of course it’s fairly pricey too. The one I want has 32 GB of memory and costs about $300. Quite a lot of money, but comparable to the $290 it cost for me to get a 32 GB Zune HD last year. Only the iPod Touch can do a whole heck of a lot more than the Zune HD. So, yeah, I want it.
But my somewhat obsessive desire for this shiny new gizmo has got me thinking about the stuff that people in our society desire, and why we desire it so much. Maybe this isn’t a particularly timely topic, since times are tough and the news is always full of stories about how people aren’t spending nearly as much money as they used to. But there’s certainly plenty of new stuff being introduced all the time for people to buy. Apple wouldn’t have announced a whole bunch of new iPods last week if they didn’t think anybody was going to buy them.
I’m not going to spend time talking about why we want so much stuff. I assume that different people have different reasons for wanting stuff, and it just isn’t something that particularly interests me. I guess I feel like the appeal of stuff is fairly self-evident. Maybe a foraging society would look at all our stuff and wonder why we need it all. But I doubt any foragers read my blog.
No, what I really want to talk about is how harmful (or not) our obsession with accumulating stuff is. First of all, obviously anything can be harmful if taken to an extreme. Clearly if somebody racks up thousands of dollars of credit card debt that they can’t pay, or neglects to pay their rent or electricity or whatever because they’re spending all their money on stuff, there’s definitely a problem there.
But what I’m more interested in right now is whether our consumerist habits are negative even when not taken to an extreme. I feel like I’m of two minds on this topic. First of all, I don’t need any of this stuff that I have, and I don’t need any of the stuff that I want. So why should I be spending money on any of it? But on the other hand, I certainly enjoy the stuff I have, and I’ll most likely enjoy the stuff I want once I have it. And what else am I going to spend my money on?
So I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. I enjoy the stuff I have, but I want more. And then I feel guilty about wanting more when I realize how much I already have. So I find myself going in circles a little bit. I guess the real question is, why do I feel guilty about wanting more stuff?
Well, I suppose part of it is that we have more important things to spend our money on than an iPod Touch or more video games or whatever. But I probably don’t need to feel guilty about that. I’ve never deprived my children of food or clothing or any other necessity so that I can buy a new toy. Nor have I ever told my wife she can’t buy something she really wants and then gone and bought something else that I really want. I don’t ever make any purchase without clearing it with my wife first, in fact. (Which is only fair, since she makes all the money.)
So I don’t need to feel guilty about spending money I don’t have, because I apparently don’t do that. What about time though? How much time do I spend with the stuff I own, and how much time do I spend daydreaming about stuff I want? Probably way too much. The tough part is that I have no real way to gauge how much time with me my kids need. My daughter is an infant, so she doesn’t really communicate needs other than “I’m hungry!” or “I’m tired!” or “My brother’s touching me!” As for my son, I’ve mentioned before that he has autism, so he’s just content most of the time to play by himself. He definitely enjoys it when I play games with him, but the problem is that I’m just content to play by myself as well. So a lot of the time we’re just two people who inhabit the same space, but don’t really interact.
All of this means that I worry that I don’t spend enough time with my children. Unfortunately I can’t come up with some way to spin this worry so that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. My kids don’t tell me if they need time with me, so I have no idea if I’m spending enough time with them or not. I guess the best thing to do would be to spend more time with them. But then I wouldn’t get to spend as much time with my stuff. And so it goes.
So in conclusion, as with just about anything, buying stuff is okay, but only in moderation. And spending time with stuff is okay, but only in moderation. I suppose as long as we have our priorities straight, consumerism really isn’t a bad thing. The problem is, who really has their priorities straight?