Thursday, September 19, 2013

Resisting the Joneses

photo credit: Smabs Sputzer
via inhabitat
Consumerism is a strong pull in our society, and avoiding the temptation of things we don't need is, for me, a constant battle. This was not always the case for me -- growing up in a frugal household, we had everything we really wanted, and not very many things we didn't really want or need.

Our family friends were of the same mindset, so this did not seem odd. Our New England town was full of well-off people who would roll their eyes at someone who had flashy cars or clothing -- this was simply not how "we" did things -- money was not something to show off.

What seemed odd to me as a child was when a schoolmate new to the town brought pre-packaged food to lunch everyday, but then told me her parents wouldn't pay for her to come skiing with us. I suppose priorities with spending was so instilled in us as children that even at 9 or 10 I knew it made no sense to pay a high cost for those daily treats at the expense of something, which seemed to me to be so much more worth the money.

My home town has changed over the years, with a small section of larger homes built on top of one another. As it always does, this change brought with it new townsfolk who value shiny and new over solid workmanship and keeping things until they are well-worn and have given their last ounce of usefulness. I remember being at a party in one of those houses and noting how the furniture was so new and shiny it could have been mistaken for plastic instead of wood.

Unlike when I was young, I now find that it can be difficult to avoid shiny and new. If one is not surrounded by like-minded people, consumerism can be a strong pull. New York often feels to me like the epitome of consumerism, and because of this, I find that it is important to remind myself that shiny and new is not better. In fact, as with the new wood furniture, there are many things that only show their beauty after years of use.

Yes, it's lovely to have treats like an expensive new purse from time to time, but not at the cost of things I find more valuable, such as travelling. And if one has too many new things, the combination ends up looking more tacky than wealthy, so in the end it is not only more responsible to be frugal and buy things wisely and slowly, but those who do will also be rewarded with better looking outfits and homes down the road.

It can be difficult to resist "keeping up" with those who spend a good deal of money, but if I remember that my priorities are simply different, I realize that I am happy with the choices I am making. I may be going against the grain of consumerism, but I do believe my resistance will give me rewards both today and in the future.

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