American Public Media's Marketplace recently aired a series called "Consumed," in which it asked the question: Is our consumer society sustainable?
The series mainly focused on Americans' insatiable appetite for things: Pretty, pretty, things. Pretty cheap things. Lots and lots of cheap things. Things that once we own them never enter our minds again. Things that come packaged in more things.
Things that can't be repaired. Expensive things that are cheaper to replace. Things we can throw away without looking back.
For ages I've been looking at my buying habits and monthly credit statements, and vowing to make some changes. But now that these pretty, cheap things -- especially for children -- come with a toxic shadow surrounding them, I am trying to reform my ways in earnest.
But boy is it tough.
It's like a drug, these bargains that aren't really bargains. The Christmas-Tree-Shop thinking (Don't You Just LOVE a Bargain for some piece of detritus you don't really need in the first place) combined with a spend-or-the-terrorists-will-have-won mantra, which is apparently keeping the economy afloat, is drowning me.
Just saying 'no' isn't that easy in the wake of total submersion.
My mother reminds me that WE didn't have all these plastic toys when she was raising us. There just wasn't ALL. THIS. STUFF. She talks about how we were happy playing with creations of our own making.
We didn't watch a lot of TV not because she eschewed it but because there just wasn't a lot of children's television. Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo ... Saturday morning cartoons were pretty much all the programming there was; and movies for children consisted of the occasional Disney flick in theaters, and Willy Wonka and The Wizard of OZ, played once a year on the boobtube around Christmastime or Halloween.
Yet, I could list all the possible things I could buy, collect, watch, rinse, repeat, and I still would probably miss about 75 percent of the things available to purchase as a way to deplete the college fund for no good reason.
And you know what? No matter how I rail against it, I am guilty of perpetuating it. I pay so little attention that the reality of buying some $1 piece of dreck seems a bargain if it will just stave off whatever potential meltdown is brewing in the background.
"You just lost the battle," my husband scoffs at me as Ittybit leaves Target with a tiny basket of fruit bearing a Made in China emblem.
I try to protest, turn the tables and shine the blinding light of failure elsewhere. I tell him I am too tired to have THAT fight. I don't want to drag her from the store, kicking and screaming over something that is a natural desire: To have something new.
We are both guilty of those types of transgressions. He can't go past a hardware store and I can't get out of a discount store without buying something I don't need just because it was inexpensive-artfully placed-or-otherwise alluring with its shiny "Hey-You-Don't-Have-This" glow.
He looks at me with well placed skepticism.
"The only way to win this war is to leave her home," I say in exasperation.
"Or you could say 'NO,'" he responds.
"Leave me HOME?" Ittybit asks sadly from the backseat. "You’re not going to take me with you to Target anymore?"
"Yes, honey, that's right. I think we are going to have to go without you for a while," I reply.
"Because Mommy can't say 'NO' to you, and I really need to say 'NO'."