It’s a cool day for November. I stand with my back against a counter, hugging my little coffee thermos that my brother got me in Germany fourteen years ago. I am wearing my favourite Country Road jeans that I got at St Vinnie’s for $7 and my warm RM Williams zip-up jumper which was also second hand and cost $20. In the uniform shop with me, two Mums are talking. A house sold, down the road, for over $2 million dollars, I hear. One Mum says: “The kitchen was pretty crap, you know. Just an IKEA kitchen, and not even a double oven.”
As I walk home, my handbag slapping my hip and the wind rattling through me, I wonder about that double oven. Do people use them? Do people have big dinner parties where they need more oven real-estate?
Three or four years ago, we did some pretty serious house-hunting. I got addicted to the home sales websites and, like playing the pokies, I anxiously waited for all our priorities to line up in one house. Every night felt like a new chance to win. The pictures never did line up. But I learned that I didn’t like new houses even although they generally had better energy ratings (one of our biggest priorities). P was never satisfied with the garage space and I was always disappointed in the windows. But what they lacked in glass and garages, they made up for in bathroom and kitchen pizzazz. I remember seeing my first “his & hers” bathroom and laughing out loud. I couldn’t believe it was a thing. And the dinner-plate sized shower roses. And the Butler’s Kitchens which are like a mini kitchen where you hide your mess so that the big, glitzy kitchen stays glitzy. I loved those!
For a few months, we kept going back, trying to find a version that we could afford. I wanted the space and the smooth, luxurious skin that those sales homes offered. I wanted to hide my mess. However, our battle axe block didn’t suit the standard designs and custom designs were beyond our budget. The ready-built new houses we looked at were on blocks we couldn’t stomach. And the old houses that matched our wishes were way out of our price range. So we are still in our relatively tiny house with the IKEA kitchen that P and his Dad installed themselves and the wonderful north-facing park views and the enormous garage that takes up half the backyard and every energy saving trick we have thought of over the years to make this old house as efficient as possible. The new houses are pretty but they are not my skin. And I have made peace with it because I think it’s more sustainable and (I tell myself) because if I hate cleaning all the time so why would I want a bigger house?
Every year the school has a “Book Fair” to raise money for the library. This year, I prepared the kids by telling them they could choose one book each and that was all. When we got there, I regretted even that. At least 90% of the books for their age brackets came with gimmicks – watches, toys, holographic covers, pens… you name it. “I’m sorry,” I said to my children. “But I’m not buying anything with plastic attached to it.” Those gimmicks are fun for maybe a day or two (if you’re lucky) and then they’re landfill. Sometimes I’m a real party-pooper mother.
Of course double ovens and “his & hers” bathrooms and butler’s pantries will not end up in landfill any time soon but to my mind, they’re like the adult equivalent of the gimmicks. They enchant us and seem to lure and beseech. My question is (just as with everything else), how useful are they, really? I think we are marketed into wanting things. I don’t know how, exactly, but I feel the siren-like tug.
My mother tells me how she has 36 unread emails in her inbox – how she doesn’t have time to read everything. It sounds like a burden and it seems crazy to me that she should be burdened in that way, especially since she is retired. Her inbox should be “choose your own adventure”.
No. Forget that. Our lives should be “choose your own adventure”!
This is not my idea, of course. It came from The Minimalists and from Ted Talks along a similar line. The Minimalists advocate for taking control of your life, beyond the reach of the big Corporations who are behind the marketing. They say that just as, in most cases, we can unsubscribe from those annoying emails we struggle to find the time to read, we can also choose not to spend our hard-earned money on things we don’t really need. By being more aware of the marketing machinery, we can free ourselves of the burdens that the marketing sirens put upon us. Their argument is that these objects we desire are only satisfying in the short term, to some degree, our desires (driven my marketing) make prisoners of us.
The one habit I have picked up most successfully (after all the videos I watched) is to ask myself “do I need that thing that I want?” Every time I am lured by a pretty saucepan in Aldi or a beautiful dress I see online, I interrogate myself about whether I need it, where I would store it, how often I would use it, and when I stop using it will it be a burden on the world? And most of the time, I persuade myself out of buying it.
I think it has taken me nearly 18 months, so far, to find the questions that work for me. My unsubscribe questions are about plastic and storage. They ring alarm bells in my head and drown out the sirens. Our house is still chaotic. I still have to move two or three things before I can open the laundry cupboard. I didn’t succeed with Marie Kondo, despite a 3 week effort. We are not noticeably richer than we were at the beginning of the year. But I can see a narrow trail in the grass. I think I am making progress. I am learning to hear my own voice above the hubbub of the sirens.