Thursday, January 27, 2011

Everything we don't need

I have an uncle who is known for his unique way of expressing himself. He has a pseudonym for so many things, including his basement, (the bunker), his home (the shack), and his camper (the roll-away shack). One of my favourites among his phrases comes up when you ask him what he and his wife did on their vacation, or over the weekend. His recollection will often include. "Well, first, we went shopping for everything we don't need..."

My aunt is fond of telling people that when she was a girl, getting an apple was a real treat. They were poor prairie people, and often didn't have a working car. Getting into town to shop was difficult, and often the money only covered the basics of flour, rice and soap. There were certainly no credit cards, drive thrus or shopping malls.

Things have changed a lot in sixty years, and at the top of the list seems to be what people think they need. For example, do a search for 'baby needs' on the Internet, and you will probably find something like this:
  • Complete layette (including 5-10 onesies, 5-10 sleepers, socks, hats, footed pants)
  • Diapers and wipes (cloth or disposable), change pad
  • Diaper pail
  • Baby bathtub with baby towel, washcloths, shampoo, lotion and powder
  • Baby thermometer, nose bulb, nail clippers, hairbrush
  • Breast pump, pads, nipple cream and nursing bras or bottles, formula, sterilizer
  • Crib or bassinet, sheets, blankets
  • Car seat (with bunting bag in cold weather)
  • And more - Baby carrier, diaper bag, stroller, monitor, swing, soothers, bibs, mobile, bouncy seat, jolly jumper... The list can go on and on, and all this will be used in the first 6 months of life.
My oldest aunt was born early, and at home. They put her in a dresser drawer by the wood stove. Clothes, blankets and diapers would have been homemade. Everything else, they did without.

I am not pretending that they were so much better off in a drafty homestead on the harsh Canadian prairie than we are now. Certainly, I am not pining for a life with no money, no car and sometimes no food. And I am far from immune to the spirit of materialism! I have plenty of baby gadgets, and still new ones are catching my eye. My mind is full of thoughts like, "I know I have that fitted sling already, but those gorgeous Zolowear ring slings at the local store are on for half-price..." and "the Magic Bullet was great for Nik's baby food, but this Baby Bullet is truly awesome. I wonder if we could afford it..."

Still, I see the appeal of the 'less is more' mentality, and stories about my aunt in the dresser drawer help me to remember how much we already have. With a small family and a modest income, a move toward seeing the store in terms of 'everything we don't need' is a healthy change. I am trying to remember that the benefits of retail therapy are short-lived, while the negative effects can stick around for a long time. If we live beyond our means trying to fulfill the ideals of what we think we need, we will only leave a legacy of debt, and communicate to others that what we value in the end is things over all else. Not exactly what I want on my tombstone.


Sconi Mommy said...

I posted a short time ago along a similar line of thought. I thought we would never manage to pay for our son for how much the internet said he would cost us in our first year. He'll be a year old in a couple of weeks and I've found that not only did we get by on very little, I never needed and ended up not wanting most of those extra things. My aunt also slept in a dresser drawer, and my g-pa's mom thought my g-ma was a snob because she wanted hot running water in their first apt. It's funny how times change, eh?

Scrappycook said...

I have been spending time every week packing in anticipation of having to move out of our home this summer. It is interesting to see how much of the stuff in my house we just do not use or need. This is going to be a big year for cutting back and making do with much less. Instead of being sad, it is almost liberating to take boxes to the Goodwill.

mel said...

this is a great post.
i forget to think like this from time to time (usually around christmas) and get into a shopping habit.
when i was in high school we visited a 3 world country, not to build or teach them, but for them to teach us.
"live simply so others can simply live"
i should put that in my wallet...

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