Thursday, August 20, 2015

Martyr of a materialistic world

I tell people I'm a frugal Non-consumer, a minimalist, a proud re-user. This is my way of explaining stuff like our ratty recliner that smells like breast milk cheese, our table that looks like its surface was featured in a horror film, and the blocky, two-ton television that for a long time commanded our living room like a time machine designed to drop you back into the 1990's.

One of my oldest son's friends, over for a sleepover, asked why we didn't get a new, sleeker television.

I'm always ready to teach the "everything-released-this-minute-is-better" generation about not being a mindless consumer, so I replied, "Well, in this house we don't believe in replacing things unless they're broken. If they still work, even if they don't look that nice anymore, we keep them around until they break."

The friend responded, "Oh, is that why you've stayed in this house?"


I have lofty ideas about living small, re-purposing and conserving, but these lofty ideas somehow have not protected me from real world derision or from my own self-doubt. Am I really against consumerism, or am I just a homebody who hates to shop? Is it really unreasonable to want a bigger house for our large family, or do I just dread moving? Do I really support re-purposing or do I stink at picking out my own furniture?

I may say that I don't believe in buying things just to have something fresh, sleek, and odorless, that I don't believe in replacing my burgundy couch just because the dog threw up on it three months after I purchased it, but living with my haphazard, used and sometimes stinky possessions gives me anxiety about judgement every time a stranger walks in my door.

Similarly, I routinely say that we're blessed to have our cramped home, that we could stay here until we keeled over from the fumes of rotting furniture and still be incredibly blessed, but the moment I walk into another person's larger, grandly furnished castle, I am ready to pass out in pure, unadulterated envy. How do they make it look so nice? How on earth do they design and maintain their large home so beautifully?

By cavorting with those alluring devils called credit and consumerism, darn it!

New furnishings, tasteful art work that actually contributes to the design as a whole, expensive photography, home remodels, constant cleaning - I have sworn off all those things; they all cost money and require accumulating things. Except the cleaning. I would love to actually pay someone to do that, but only with the currency of cranberry scones and chocolate-chip cookies. And only if they cleaned up the kitchen afterwards.

I'm not a spender. I'm a saver. Not sure exactly what I'm saving for - the apocalypse, investment in the chocolate black market once the world runs out of cacao, a backpacking trip to Ayers Rock in Australia - but it's certainly not a fancy bedroom set. My husband and I have slept on a mattress on the floor and kept our clothes in his childhood dresser for many years now, and we're getting along just fine, thank you.

Yes, I know. Is that called being a non-consumer or just plain cheap? If my therapist and I ever figure it out, I'll let you know, but I certainly love to think I'm a martyr for my cause.

If I don't visit other people's homes, I am quite content with our choices, at peace in my little home. However, my envy in others' carefully crafted, newer, and bigger spaces is such that I am thinking about drafting a questionnaire to be given out to any potential new friend of mine or unvetted mother of one of my kids' playmates. Each question will require a simple yes or no answer.

Have you recently remodeled your home? Is this a habit of yours?
On your walls do you have thousands of beautiful, professional photos of your family in a studio setting looking happier than any human family could realistically be? 
Did you purchase your own decor? Or has it been thrown together from the castoffs of friends and family?
Does your home have a design or color theme that often changes based on magazine articles or the opinions of interior designers?
Do you regularly replace fixtures of any kind in your home, merely because they are "outdated"?
Is your home immaculate? Is that a facade for guests only or does it look that way at ALL TIMES?

Too many yeses quite frankly means that I cannot patronize your home. Not ever. I am really trying NOT to be a consumer here, and you're sorely tempting me with your grand lifestyle. I will become nauseous as I tell myself that I am a faithful representative of what matters and simultaneously swear never to allow you to see my own humble home.

I know I'm supposed to be poor, not just in habit, but in spirit, too. Unfortunately, I'm no saint, so let me know when you move to that tiny house to lesson your footprint on the planet. We'll stop by!

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