Life After Consumerism

I was born in 1981 and for every year I’ve been alive, I’ve been marketed to. I feel as though while I was an infant, the ads targeting me were in their infancy as well. They were priming me for the future, training my brain to want, desire, and need. Many years later I was in tune with them. They knew how to advertise to me but then the Internet came and with it came cookies and tracking. It’s as if they WERE in my head. They knew I loved supreme thin crust pizza, they knew my pants size had grown over the years, they even knew what I didn’t expect them to know… my search habits, my preferences in politics, women, and my unhealthy penchant for starting my life over with the PC Game the Sims.

Not only did they know my brain, but they would also eventually create a profile of me, match me up with other people that had similar tastes, searches, and proclivities. They would harness the power of gods and build a model of what to advertise to me and my virtually modeled “twins.” If I looked up what ‘lemon party’ was one time did this make me a weirdo or just inquisitive. If I searched for ‘how to make bread’ was I suddenly a baker? The ads that would follow me after these searches seemed to think so. It’s really not the advertising agency’s fault… business owners want to sell their product and they want to do it effectively. From a business perspective, it’s better to throw your money into a known market of ‘how to make bread’-ers instead of out into the wild on the radio or television. It’s just smart money.

That phrase though, ‘It’s just smart money’, is it smart money to continue down the well-beaten path of the consummate consumer buying up all the targeted products flung in my face? Is it smart money to continue down the road of ingrained habits when you have a spouse? A child? Four children?

I grew up very poor, one day I’ll write about that as well, but trust me. We were poor. I, like many, in a poor upbringing that breaks from those bonds tend to promise themselves, “When I have kids, they’ll have more than I had” or something else cliche like that. Yes, it’s cliche. I know because I thought the same way as you do. All the toys, the hopes, the dreams, all the “You can have anything you want my child!”

The thought of “When I have kids, they’ll have more than I had”… was that consumerism’s deep grasp on my brain? I mean, not only did I grow up in a poor house, my father wasn’t exactly “there” for me and when he was there he was never really “THERE”. My mom did the best she could, but alas, we were poor and poor people don’t have many things and the things we had were typically hand-me-downs, something found on the side of the road, or a gift from a distant relative that didn’t know my dad would pawn it for beer money. Ah yes, growing up “deprived”. Would I have felt deprived if I had a rich life with my parents… rich in the emotional, caring, and loving supportive way… not the money way. If we were poor and spent most nights playing, reading, or taking walks together we were never really poor in the first place. Instead, we listened to our stomachs growl and constant yelling of our parents.

As I grew up and came into my own, had my own job, my own money I learned early on that “things” were a replacement for feelings. I learned that things and hobbies that required other things were a distraction from the true emptiness I had echoing inside me. I was not just a market group, I was the target. It worked, for a long time, it worked. Then, I had kids…

“We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”

Rod Serling

Think of the Children!

I grew up wanting everything everyone else had. I grew up hiding my valuable things in a false wall panel so my dad wouldn’t find them and pawn them. I was a prisoner in my childhood through no fault of my own. So like you, I knew I would have kids one day and I knew that they wouldn’t feel this emptiness that I felt for most of my adolescent life.

Fast forward, I have an amazingly supportive wife, I have one son from a previous relationship, a step-son from my wife’s previous relationship, and we have two little trophies of our very own. My children are my world. They are, currently, 7, 6, 2, and 1. It’s a perpetual pandemonium. My old habits live on, my children want for nothing but there is something very wrong.

My kids have the things, the toys, the video games, the bikes, the etcetera… all the etceteras. The problem is, I can’t shake the feeling that while mommy and daddy work so hard to provide the things we never had… we are giving them tools and toys to distract themselves from their feelings, their emotions, and even their parents. I flashback to my childhood and I wanted things to keep the mind off my empty relationship with my father and to a lesser extent my mother. I see my children’s lives full of all the things I would’ve died for 30 years ago and can’t help but think that our relationships are a direct inverse of my childhood. Will they grow up 30 years from now and wish I spent more time with them instead of just buying them the game/toy they want. I think they will.

Spend Time Not Money

All of this came to a head when I was looking in the garage for a specific tool. We’d recently moved into a house that worked best for us. It’s a big house and much larger than the trailers I grew up in. It’s a three-car garage and it’s packed to the brim in crap I forgot I had. It took me too long to find this tool so I thought, I’ll just order another one off Amazon. It’ll get here faster than I could find my old one. That’s when it hit me.

I was spending time in the garage, away from my wife, my kids, because I wanted to find this special little Allen wrench connector for my drill so I could put the desk together faster (hint: the time I took looking for the tool, I’d have already put the desk together twice). I flashed back to earlier days when I had less stuff when I had what I needed… not what I wanted. I flashed back to my childhood where I had clothes and sometimes they were clean. I had food and sometimes it was good. We had heat but sometimes we needed blankets. I SURVIVED! Somehow, I survived, without having the iPads, the Nintendo switches, and the big-screen TVs. I just missed a real relationship with my parents. Flash forward as I’m about to click the button on Amazon to have them teleport the tool directly into my hand the next day. I stopped. I emptied my cart. I waited til bedtime and finished putting the desk together by hand.

The Minimalists

I remembered “The Miniamalists” the Netflix documentary that most of you probably already know. I remembered Marie Kondo and the houses of clutter on her tv series. I remembered my poor parents, my frugal grandparents, and thought of my loving and caring wife and how we’ve grown apart through mountains of worry and valleys of arguments. I had some pretty dark thoughts that I’d never had before… or at least since I was a teenager living with my parents. I was desperate.

I cleaned out my office, my clothes, some stuff from the kitchen. I started cleaning out and donating all the things around me that I haven’t used in a while, that I never used, and that I wouldn’t want to use any more. I gave some old nerdy star wars toys to my oldest son (he’s just like me when it comes to Star Wars). I gave some books to a colleague and a good friend of mine because he might actually crack the spine with their use. I schedule the first date in years with my wife, arranged for a baby sitter, and I spoke to her for the first time on our date like the woman I married.

The clutter I had around me served its purpose, it distracted me long enough, now I have 5 lives in front of me that is all the distraction I need. From the corporate world, from the consumer world, and from the darker times that I never want to visit again. I feel so full and happy most of the time now and my entire perspective on life, marriage, and parenthood has shifted. I still feel that my kids deserve some things to allow them to be kids but I’ll be there with them so we can both experience being a kid for the first time.

“Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?”

Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

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