"And I'm knocking on the door of your Hummer, Hummer..." -- M.I.A.
I love to shop, and still sometimes harbor the secret wish that I am magically bequeathed with a gold card I can spend indefinitely and infinitely on without that ever becoming any sort of karmic shackle, but my approach to spending has changed considerably over the last year.
It is partly inspired by living in a convoluted, crisis-stricken Greece, as well as by an experience I had living in a tiny country cottage that studded a vast olive grove on an organic farm for four wintry months. Both experiences served to significantly affect my perception of what one really needs to own in order to get on. Yet I have also seen that many other individuals around the world are slowly but surely altering their outlook on spending, and consumerism overall.
This shift in focus has emerged chiefly as a result of how value is being defined. Of course there are still folks out there who buy $250 sunglasses, and throw $6 million parties (and I know this for a fact, as an avid reality TV viewer with a dreadful thirst for cringeworthy irony and a passion for anthropology); but I'm not talking about those who are trapped in garish '80s greed disguised as noughties minimalist sheen. I'm talking about those who have already moved on, and are continuously moving forward, and without really trying, bringing the majority of the world toward a refreshing new direction.
Do I really want to shop for a $2 chicken that has lived its insignificant existence barely managing to stand in its own feces while being pumped with antibiotics to fight the hundreds of septic diseases it's susceptible to because of its filthy living conditions at the "farm," and with hormones to make it double its natural size so it can provide more, cheaper meat for my Thai curry? Do I really need that glossy pair of pumps sold for 8,000 times more money than the 10-year-old factory slave who made it in one of China's thriving factories could possibly ever even dream of? I think you know which way I'm heading. These are some of the obvious ethical considerations more people are taking, thus reassessing the worth or true need of what they buy, and are sold into.
Another reason for the re-evaluation of value today is that we are seeing governments, corporations and banks around the globe screwing up more and more at the cost of everyday people who have dedicated their lives to "doing the right thing" by society. As the ugly truth about their destructive purposes and practices increasingly rises to the surface of a boiling socioeconomic melting pot like scum, a new possibility has dawned upon us: If in fact for them it's all about things like oil and gas, human trafficking and slavery, gold, diamonds, weapons and cocaine, then it's apparent that all our governments really care about is money.
We always knew that money was of prime importance to our governments, but many of us never believed (or wanted to believe) that it was their driving force, their raison d'etre. We would have liked to believe that their driving force was to realize ideals that can make everyone happy, functional and progressive, as individuals, societies, nations, as a world, in an organized, honest, fair and pragmatic manner; that wars were only the very final answer at the most final of hours, and even then should be diffused before it has really begun.
Since we realize that essentially money is what directly interests, directs and secures the super-powers that rule our lives, we could start recognizing another dimension to our spending, with a new kind of awareness. We could begin considering that if local and world politics alike revolve around our spending, then there exists an infinite potential to where and how we spend, so that where we put our cash directly becomes our vote. If we resolutely don't buy it, we can push for producers to come up with something we will be interested in investing in instead.
And yet another catalyst for the redefinition of value is that by now we all know enough about the cocky strategy of advertisers and the tricks (and results) of consumer brainwashing, and we don't like feeling stupid or manipulated. A yogurt will not make you look like a toned model who goes on a lot of hot dates, a chocolate bar will not make your kids stop shrieking or give you an orgasm, fabric softener is sweet-smelling chemical sludge and has nothing to do with bright spring days, blooming daisies or fluffy teddy bears. Even if adverts have become more intelligent, witty, emotionally evocative and visually sophisticated, we can still work out what they are selling and generally know what manufacturing that product involves.
Most of us know this and still outright ignore at least some of these itchy realities, because after all, spending on a feel-good dream can feel utterly rewarding. But more and more people sense a growing discomfort when they hand over their credit card at the till, at least sometimes, and it's not just about their gilded guilt over spending money they should be saving/spending on far more pertinent things, but also about a sense of knowing they don't really need what they will be bringing home with them, as it is eventually going to just sit there taking up space. Breathing and living space.
I mentioned the farm experience earlier, and now I would like to elaborate on that a little. Before my husband and I moved into the cozy cottage in the olive grove with stunning skylines, we were living in a prime spot of Athens overlooking the city from an apartment three times the size. We managed to fit some of our furniture and decorative knickknacks into the cottage, but there was only room for our essential belongings. We didn't miss anything that we had left behind in Athens, as it turned out there was nothing more we needed. It was also exhilarating
to be recycling almost everything we used and putting all our food scraps into compost or chicken feed. We had also once lived in an apartment in the stunning W Hotel in Doha, Qatar, on a four-month work project, where we had even less of our stuff, just clothes really, and the experience had been the same -- easy. A particular event that happened while we lived in oliveland propounded this liberating new awareness of minimalist living: On one of our visits back to urbanity we arrived at our apartment to find the front door had been hacked open and every one of those spacious rooms was completely covered in our stuff, thrown onto the floor by thieves, who had emptied out every drawer, cupboard and wardrobe. It was not only a chilling shock to have been robbed, but also to realize just how many things we had gathered, hoarded, more like, and tucked away over the years, stuff we had to go through one by one to then finally discard or clean and put away again.
I am not trying to advocate a Spartan life -- in this sometimes humdrum life, a super-comfy designer armchair, a succulent delicacy at a trendy new restaurant, a glossy book, a rare quirky wine or a trip to an exotic location and other such things can be extremely valuable additions to one's state of inner balance and bliss. If something brings us pleasure, comfort and joy, we should reach out for and enjoy it.
But not at all costs, and not at any cost. Not for the sake of achieving yet another momentary indulgence that we don't really care about, because then it is no longer of real value. Then it becomes no more than a cheap thrill.
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