Consuming life instead of living it

Last Sunday in church, someone described consumerism as a system in which we are valued based on what we can afford to buy. It wasn’t the focus of what he was talking about but that hit me so hard, I got my pen out and wrote it down. It articulated the trap I often get caught by.

For me it’s not really so much about buying things to match other people. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t often buy things and certainly not new things.

Most of my clothes come from charity shops. Apart from the buggy and the car seat everything we’ve bought for the baby so far has come from Freecycle, Gumtree and the NCT Nearly New Sale. Although I’ll occasionally buy books, I’m far more likely borrow from the library. We’re also all about the re-using around here.

None of this is some bizarre type of eco-thrift boast. If anything, these little efforts have successfully blinded me to the places where consumerism has its grip on me.

We’ve been talking through our finances recently and I often sigh over “When – if ever – will we be able to buy a house?”, “When will we be able to go to India?”, “Will we be able to afford ballet or football lessons for the creature?” and the list goes on.

But the question that trumps all of those is: “What will happen to my career?” Like so many of us who graduated in the last two or three years, the going’s not been easy. To be sure, I’ve been fortunate with a lot of the opportunities I’ve had but I hardly feel like my writing career is firmly established. And now, I’m getting ready to take a break!

I applied for Maternity Allowance this week and it put me in a foul mood. At first, I couldn’t work out why. I know it’s necessary (I’m going to be bloody tired those first few months) and actually, I want to stop working for a bit because I want to concentrate my energies on the creature. For me, the consumerist trap isn’t about actual items I can buy so much as it is about commodifying my life. It’s about image. It’s about wanting to have it all – right now. It’s about consuming life rather than living it.

I can hear people saying that maybe I should have waited until I was older and more firmly established. But I hardly see how that’s the answer. Surely that would have only given me more time and ammunition to boost my consumerist obsession. The problem is buying into a false idea of how life is supposed to be. It isn’t not having enough money or a settled enough career.

Despite my worries about the future, I am just as convinced that this is the right time to welcome someone new into our family. While I fully respect the decision of those who do wait, and maybe I envy the things they’re able to afford that we won’t, I do think some things might be easier for us in not having waited.

Having a baby can be an unsettling thing. But then my life was pretty unsettled to begin with.

Image: Milena Mihaylova

[she/her] • writer • unschooler • team Soul Farm • Revillaging podcast • breastfeeding counsellor • Trinidadian in Cornwall

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  • One of the things i have learned from my kids is that to live here, right now, is an amazing gift. Be immediate. There is no tomorrow, just right now. What are you doing? Are you paying attention to it? Enjoying it? Living for it right now? Be happy, like a child is happy, and that image of what you SHOULD be doing/consuming will fall away. SHOULD is the worst word in the English language. Perhaps I SHOULD own a house, but I don’t. I’m playing hide and seek instead. Ooops, must go, my turn to hide. x

  • As young as you are, or as old as I am (!), I think, post-child, I realised there will never be a ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ time, as Lizdawes1 says, it’s important to ‘live’ right now.
    I resonate with your consumerism (or anti-) thoughts, however, coming over from Asia, where everything and anything was ‘face’ driven, the relative wealth we live in here, does make it easier to have and own ‘things’, but I think also that it is really up to us, whether or not we let brands dictate what we buy, how we live, even what we eat.
    Slowly, slowly….you, creature and laurence will be fine 🙂

    • That’s what Laurence always says: “There’ll never be a perfect time”. I think for me it does have a lot to do with ‘face’ as well as I’m constantly thinking about what my parents think of my life and whether I’ve given them enough to be proud of in talking to their friends and relatives back home. I realise, though, that they don’t value me based on what I do for a living. And they’re also very proud grandparents-to-be!

  • Ha! Can’t EVEN remember THAT word unless it’s in a sentence like….’the car almost careered off the road as I tried to hand a child a tissue/her dolly/his school planner/an apple…..’

    Thanks for stopping by my site. xx

    • Haha, fair enough! I was talking to my mother the other day about how worried and stressed I was about the career thing and she said, “Well soon you’ll be a mother.” At first I was annoyed with her because I thought she was saying that the two didn’t mix: motherhood and career. What she was really saying though (upon reflection I realised this) was that motherhood will help put it all in perspective, which is what I get from your ‘careered’ sentence too. 🙂

  • I’m with you on the house comment – we’re in a flat, and hubby wants a house, but till now I have said no as I am on SMP, but in 2.5 weeks I am back to work… but we haven’t chosen an area and I HATE upheaval 🙁
    Liska x

    • We recently moved to a house but we’re renting. I can see the benefits of owning but it’s just not going to be a realistic move for us for a long time and I’m oddly not that bothered by that – most of the time!

  • I think people live far beyond their means these days. Take my sister for example; she and her ex-husband bought a beautiful house in Ireland for 750,000 euros and ended up in so much debt it wasn’t worth mentioning. The house is now worth 500,000. They’ve divorced but she’s still in debt and has no money, all because she wanted to keep up with the Jones’s. It’s all about status with so many people, and unfortunately, my sister fell into that trap too.

    CJ xx

  • I think when it feels right – it’s the right time.
    I decided a year ago I wanted to move and cut drastically back on spending, and actually realised how much of what I spend it pointless and frivolous and not needed.
    Consumerism certainly does have grip, to be aware of that when you have a child and to attempt to instil the opposite is a good place to be in.

  • The other day a young student placement girl in our PR team asked me what it was like being a mother and what I’d do differently – I told her if I could do it again I would definitely have started having children much much earlier, like her age twenty-nothing. She looked at me like I was totally nits “but I’m having so much fun!” – well, so did I all through my twenties, then grafted to get to somewhere in my career where I’m happy and challenged and have a decent status in what I do…. And now, as a mother, I am having to put the brakes on, as “we don’t do part-time here” was the response to me wanting a bit of work-life balance. So, I reckon, you’re making the right choices – go for it early, enjoy your time with your little creature, and then when they are older you can really refocus on your career and drive it forward, not feeling like you are missing out. Plus, being a mother will inform and add wisdom to what you do. Win win!

    Great post title by the way x

    • Ha! I can imagine her reaction. I saw a girl on TV the other day balking at the idea of getting married at 23 (which is what I did!). I don’t think it’s the right choice for everyone but becoming a mum now is certainly the right thing for me. Who knows – maybe as you say, it might help my career later on. There seriously needs to be more flexible working options in place for parents.

  • Very, very interesting questions! I think you’re right about waiting longer and having more cash – the more money and stuff you have, the more you want, I find. I do occasional freelance writing and stuff, but very little to fit around the kids, and we have much less money than we used to. But my priorities have changed too. The only thing I’d really like more money for at the moment is to improve our house. BTW, if you want to buy a house, you could always move to the north east. 😉

    • That’s a good point about priorities changing. I guess it’s one of those things that you can’t really predict until they happen. You’ve actually said what I was trying to say about waiting longer far more clearly than I could have. Haha, well we moved from the South-East to the South-West – bit by bit we’re moving away from expensive real estate!