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