Ciao intern and highschool student, Tina Nguyen, relflects on the pressure to make shopping a way of life.
Shopping almost became a hobby of mine. I love the kiss of the air con as I walk through the automatic doors of the shopping centre, the sight of mannequins in shop windows dressed in a multitude of colours and textures, and the bustle of people around me.
I love being greeted by the chirpy sales assistants as I walk into the store, trying on the garments that I carefully picked out and in particular, the satisfaction I feel after paying and walking out of the store knowing that the garment in my hands is mine. I am the owner of this beautiful thing. But time passes and the garment ages and it loses its beauty. It is no longer a beautiful thing – it is now just a thing – yet another piece of fabric taking up space at the bottom of my closet.
I realised I am surrounded by things: things in every room of my home; things I lug around in my bag; things worsening my increasingly uneven shoulders; things stealing my money, my time, my space – things I don’t need.
But just because I don’t need these things, does that mean I shouldn’t have these things? Should the only things in my home be a mattress, a near-empty fridge and a few changes of clothes? Should I deprive myself of something I want because money can’t buy happiness?
Sometimes things can be beneficial. Things can help us create a more comfortable lifestyle. They can enhance our experiences. They can drive progress.
The danger lies in the fact that we buy too many things for the wrong reasons.
We cannot rely on “things” for our joy.
We cannot rely on “things” so that we can be seen in a certain way.
There’s a verse from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem, ‘A Season In Hell’ that I think accurately describes our ever-growing “consumer culture”:
The wolf howled under the leaves
And spit out the prettiest feathers
Of his meal of fowl:
Like him I consume myself
As we consume things, whether they be tangible things like the pieces of fabric I buy from the shopping centre or intangible things like information (read: bad reality TV), in a way, we consume ourselves.
When we choose to wear certain clothes and choose to watch certain TV shows it appears that we are exercising control…but we may be doing the opposite. We will never reach the point where we have “enough”, and instead, will fall into a cycle of relentlessly accumulating things. There will always be something more, something better. And before we know it, we are slaves to pictures on billboards, slaves to clothing trends and slaves to TV guides. Our lives are filled with things, but empty in other ways.
But our lives don’t have to be empty. We are lucky these days that we the option to buy other things: that don’t do damage to the earth, societies or our own principles. Those of us who are priviledged enough to already have a lot of things also should recognise the priviledge of not having to buy anything more. Instead, let’s invest our money into “things” which align with our values and the world we want to live in.