From Overspent American, by Juliet B. Scher, p.148-9
On the possibility of making exclusivity uncool:
“…Indeed, it is rarely even noticed that companies advertise these commodities to a mass consumer audience, large numbers of whom cannot afford them and will go into debt, sacrfice everyday needs, or turn to crime in order to obtain them. When we stop to think about it, WHAT MESSAGE ARE WE SENDING HERE? That being middle-class isn’t good enough?
That it’s okay to wreck your personal or family finances to confirm your social accessibility?
…If there’s something you really want but don’t actually need, there’s a good chance that a recurring symbolic fantasy is attached to it…Americans will not gain control over their spending habits until they begin to confront that symbolism head on.”
“Today a person is more likely to be making comparisons with, or choose as a ‘reference group,’ people whose incomes are three, four or five times his or her own.”
“…the more TV a person watches, the more he or she spends…what is seen on TV inflates our sense of what is normal…viewing results in an upscaling of desire…”
On “the Diderot effect”: you buy one thing and it makes you want to buy the next thing. Inspired by Denis Diderot’s essay Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.” Diderot received a new evening robe and then felt the chair he regularly sits in should be upgraded and on and on until he regrets the first spark. A spark the “downshifters” or “simple livers” avoid by not going to expensive stores and not receiving mail order catalogs that bring the temptations right into the living room.
Part of the idea is that one buys in order to attain a sense of confidence and social acceptance. I have the book in front of me although haven’t found the part yet where I was told it quotes a study showing the average american spends 6 hours a week shopping and 45 minutes a week playing with their children. Wow.
For a long while I kept a personal electronic journal on my own spending habits and more so on the thinking behind the spending, that was much more interesting to look at and I think looking at your own specifics with a compassionate and kind heart is empowering ultimately.
Exploring wanting mind is fruitful.
It becomes pretty easy to trick ourselves into believing extra spending means extra happiness when really filling the void may lie elsewhere. A real sense of social acceptance may be found by getting together with a particular friend or some other activity that has yet to be thought of and is particular to you. Painting, writing, reading, biking, gardening, playing music, taking a class, volunteering, blogging, etc.
Thinking about shopping wants can be as addictive and take over your life, pushing out important things, just as well as alcoholism, overeating or any other habit of thinking. It is the same at its core in that it is about how much time your mind spends thinking about a thing. That is what we can get curious about and see how it changes through out the day, moment to moment just noticing.
Will Consuming Less Wreck the Economy?
In the books epilogue p.170
“Among the fifth of the population that downshifted in the first half of the 1990s, 30% cut their spending by 1/4, and 30% by 1/2 or more. Meanwhile, the economy is roaring along.” Then she talks about how it isn’t a simple question to answer, involving questions of how much less people work and spend and employment and on and on…
Listen to an interview with the author on NPR on her new book Born to Buy.
And another interview can be listened to here. I had an easier time accessing this one than the NPR one.