Friday, March 7, 2008

Inconspicuous Consumption

The president thinks if he sends us all a check for $500 we’ll go on shopping sprees with our “free money,” thereby stimulating the economy. I thought this was taking an overly simplistic view of the problem, and was determined to put our $500 in savings. I didn’t want to feel manipulated into spending money. I wanted to be slightly mysterious and defy prediction.

I was feeling pretty virtuous about this plan—a paragon of self-control—until I thought a little more about my shopping habits. Maybe I wasn’t running out to Best Buy to get a flat panel TV, something my husband would love dearly, but I do have some wasteful habits.

When I go grocery shopping, I sometimes buy items I already have. In come the cans of whatever, to be placed on the pantry shelf in front of the previous cans of whatever that for some reason keep getting passed over instead of being used. In go the veggies to the fridge’s crisper (“rotter” would be a better name for it), and out go the limp, unconsumed ones from last week. My eco-friendly grocery bags next to me, I try to visualize where all the new food will fit. I have a feeling of unease that I can’t quite name. It’s the urge to purge. I want to use the new stuff, as the old stuff has lost its charm.

Things just seem more appealing when I’m at the store, even if I could make do with what I already have at home. Whether it’s because of the packaging, the price, or the advertising, I feel drawn to the new and exciting. This may explain why there is a pork roast sitting in our downstairs freezer marked 2004. Many casseroles, stews and other items have come and gone in that time, but the pork roast remains. After a few months, it just seemed to lose its appeal, and it never rose to the ranks of dinner material. My aunt, a farmer’s wife, has 3 of those enormous chest freezers. I am convinced she just uses the top layers, always adding another cake, more green beans from the garden, and barely scratching the surface of what lies beneath.

This manner of consumption is not limited to food. Have you ever brought home a brand spanking new bottle of shampoo and placed it beside your old, not quite used up one? The new one looks so pristine, so hopeful, while the other one may represent broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. Its lackluster status is aptly illustrated by a little mildew and a layer of soap scum.

It’s all I can do to use up the old shampoo before opening the new one. I might find myself using handfuls when only a little dab would do. This is when a Costco-sized bottle ceases to be cost saving. It lasts so darn long I become sick of it! If I simply can’t wait, I open the new one and my shower door becomes lined with half-used bottles. Same with soap. My “old” bar may be barely getting soft around the edges, but if I whip out a new bar of Irish Spring, the old one becomes nothing more than a pile of gunk.

Remember those little netty things from a generation ago that were used to corral scraps of soap so they would last longer? Now that is a product that has become obsolete. If other consumers are anything like me, they can’t wait to use up those scraps and move on to the next great thing.

Do you ever read “Hints from Heloise” in your paper? So many of her hints seem laughably anachronistic b/c in this age of consumerism, I don’t see a whole bunch of people who want to make a “soap saver,” mix their own bath salts or use a coffee filter as a handy popcorn bowl.

I know by putting this out there, I may come across as wasteful and loony, so I’d love to hear if anyone reading this has similar tendencies. Perhaps for you it is the lure of a brand new pen or a pristine pad of paper. I want to say I’m a pretty good steward of resources. I’ve been driving the same car for nine years, my clothes are from the thrift store, and my dumpster diving speaks for itself. On the surface, I do not look wasteful or overindulgent. The jars of under eye moisturizer in my medicine cabinet, each one destined to change my life, may tell a different story.

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holyyogini said...

Spiral notebooks! They get raggedy quickly and I move on to the next one from my school-supply stash. Gotta buy PILES of them during back-to-school sales. :) Don't get me started on the shampoo-wasting either. The new ones always have a new and exciting scent when the economy-sized older ones have lost their appeal. I'll use handfuls and handfuls to get rid of the rest! (yes, I am nuts)

Pamela said...

My loving but keep-supplied-but-don't-stock-up husband keeps our bottles to a minimum. One bottle of each in our shower. So I was just enjoying your post, thinking certainly this doesn't apply to me until - pen and paper. My weakness. I hoard. I stock. Rather than use more when a particular pad gets low, I treasure it even more (those blasted laws of supply and demand).

No consumption here, just savoring the stash...