Since I was a child, I have loved toys. I loved the doll that opened and closed its eyes. I loved the Meccano set and the Lego blocks. As I morphed into a teenager and a young adult, the toys changed too: a bicycle, a guitar, a turntable, and lots of records.
My coming to the United States was like a kid entering a candy store. Toys everywhere, and permission to buy granted through ads and commercials in newspapers, magazines, billboards, radio programs, and TV shows. Nothing to stop me but my wallet.
Yes, I am a product of my time. Call me Mr. Impulse Shopper. I have made purchasing decisions based solely on the color of the packaging. I’ve had my share of toys: four televisions, three cars, two stereo systems, two PCs, three laptops, two printers, three cameras, one camcorder …
Over time, it has become clear that not all toys are equal. Some provided years of service and satisfaction, others were consigned to the closet or garage after just a few months of use. Last year, Ashok cleaned out the garage, and it was embarrassing. Most of the stuff was mine.
Ashok is my polar opposite—slow to acquire, quick to discard. He is happier reading a book, going for a walk, or just laying on the swing. I am slowly coming around to appreciate his outlook. When considering a purchase, I now ask questions I never thought of earlier. How long will it last? How long will I use it? What will happen to the packaging? Can I buy it used? If it breaks, can it be repaired? If I don’t need it, will someone else want it? The last thing I want is to produce more waste for landfills.
When I hear about simplicity circles, or the slow food movement, I have a better appreciation for them than I did earlier. Buy less, consume less, grow your own. Barter, trade, reuse, recycle. Unrestrained consumerism and capitalism are sucking the earth dry and leading us to our collective ruin. Our downfall will not be caused by communism or Islamic radicals; we will be leveled by the Katrinas and global warming engendered by our beloved SUVs and Hummers.
I feel a little bit like Neo in The Matrix. The elaborate, enchanting, beguiling façade of the mall is just that: a façade. It exhorts me to buy, buy, buy. But what if I saw through the pitch? What if I stopped buying stuff I don’t need? What if I started consuming consciously, mindful of my true needs and the impact of my choices? The world would change, of course.
In the meantime, I’ll see you at the Farmer’s Market. I’ll be driving my new Prius.