For the first 30ish years of my life, I enjoyed stuff as much as the average American. I bought a lot of it, and used it, and got pissed off when I had to dust it. When my stuff got a little long in the tooth, I tossed it out and bought more stuff.
Several years ago I had a revelation that started me on a path of buying and consuming less. This revelation came about a bit before the entire economy bit the dust, so I guess you could say at least my head was in the right space when the inevitable belt tightening took place.
I was in my bathroom, looking at cabinets full of organizers that were, themselves, full of stuff. I had lotions, cleansers, tonics, acne creams, wrinkle creams, eye creams, under-eye creams, exfoliaters, moisturizers, day creams, night creams and all manner of snake oil. These potions promising me un-aging beauty, the adoration of my husband, the envy of my girlfriends and – here’s the thing – happiness.
Now if a salesperson at a cosmetics counter were to say something like: “You really aren’t good enough without baby-ass smooth under-eye skin, so this $45 cream is your ticket to a totally self-fulfilled, balanced and happy life,” you would probably laugh at the ridiculous of it. Or maybe you’d punch the 17 year old salesgirl in the face.
But this is exactly the pit of flawed-logic I (and millions of others of otherwise sensible, intelligent people, I suspect) had fallen into.
I had been throwing money at creams that offered the hope of flawless skin and the collagen levels of a teenager. I was actively pissed off at the indignity of having to deal with pimples and wrinkles at the same time and I was sure there was a solution…if only I could find it, and buy it.
Then it hit me, staring at all those little vials and tubes and tubs: all I was really buying was the hope that I would get the skin I had in 1998 back. And that clearly wasn’t happening. I was buying Hope In A Bottle.
I was trading my money, which itself was a stand-in for time, for an unfulfillable promise. It wasn’t the newest advancement in moisturizer technology, it was fairy dust and unicorn tears and hope in a bottle. And I was doing this over and over again in different areas of my life.
My mud-room looked like a janitorial closet, jammed full of Costco-sized containers of brightly colored cleaners that offered the hope that I would become Someone Who Likes Cleaning and Keeps A Spotless Home. The logic could only have been, “Maybe if I just buy this type of glass cleaner, I will become inspired to become the type of person who cleans her windows weekly.” (Or daily – I have a friend who does that). Hope in a spray-bottle.
I have a hall closet jammed full of scrapbooking supplies because I bought the illusion that if I just owned the right paper and stamps and precious heart-shaped hole punches, I would become A Good Mom Who Organizes The Baby Photos. Well, the first baby’s seven and it hasn’t happened yet. Now my daughter uses the 12″x12″ paper for crafts and giant origami. Hope in a craft closet.
I just parted with a half-dozen pairs of really cute designer high-heals because I was finally able to let go of the delusion that I would become Someone With A Very Cool Life. Preferably, a life that involved fetching my permanently clean and adorably dressed children from their French-speaking Montessori school after having a cup of cappuccino and scintillating, worldly conversation (in French, which I don’t speak) with an equally fabulous looking and put-together friend.
Since most days I don’t shower and the vague, sour odor of baby vomit follows me wherever I go, it is particularly strange that I should have clung to the shoes for so long. Then again, maybe the unglamorous reality of my life is precisely why I held on to those totems of impractical style for as long as I did. Hope in a 4-inch heel.
Now when I am faced with purchase situations, I ask myself, “Is this Hope In A Bottle?” What is the hypothetical salesgirl (you know, the one with the fat lip and the black eye) really promising with the $45 cream? In other words, why do I really want to buy this?
I try to look at my home and my life and my purchases and my quirks and hang-ups with eyes wide open about my own purchase motivations. It doesn’t always work, particularly where garden supplies are concerned (“Of course I have room for three varieties of chard!” “Absolutely I need 18 cubic yards of topsoil”), but looking at all the stuff that competes for my time and money through the lens of Hope In A Bottle has totally changed my consumption patterns.
What about you; what’s your relationship to spending and frugality? Do you buy Hope In A Bottle?2