I can't condemn my younger self for anything; we all grow, and this is the phase of life I'm in now. But I wish I'd known when I was younger -- even two or three years younger -- what I understand now about buying things to fill up my life instead of doing things to fill up my life. The desire for things that was actually a desire for a different aspect of my life. The wish for status, at the expense of the future.
Right now I don't see myself having any kids, but if I did, the thing I'd try to teach them (because who else would listen to me except, maybe, my own offspring?) is that the consumption machine is just that -- a machine, which we're fed through since we're conscious -- since we're 1 and 2 years old all the way until the day we die (and even after, if you want to buy a prestige coffin...). The work-to-shop, earn-to-spend ethos is so ingrained in our society that it's a wrench to get us out of it. But now I know: we do not need all the shit we're told we need, or even that we're told that we should want. You can be a classy person without the goods. You can be a smart person without the accoutrements. You can be attractive without all the product, even. That's what I know myself, now, and what I wish I'd known earlier.
In my 20s, I bought because I earned. I thought I earned it -- the word does more than imply it, the word tells you you deserve what you want to buy from the machine, because you work so hard. I'm not advocating stopping work and stopping spending. I wish I had thought, when I was 24, that I didn't need the $40 blouse I saw just because I could afford it. It's not the large things I regret. It's the small things -- all the small things, since I started full-time work in 1999. It was the comfort shopping, the shopping out of lack of anything else to do, the shopping because I was missing meaning and community. And then when I moved to San Francisco in 2001, I had meaning and community, but I also felt I had to shape up for The City coming from a smaller town where fashion was purely the domain of teenagers. Here, fashion was more for adults: people exactly my age. I bought into that, and I bought -- everything I thought I needed. I didn't spend $300 on a pair of heels; that wasn't my bag. I didn't buy anything much over $100, whether it was clothes or anything else. But it doesn't really matter about the numbers. I BOUGHT because I could.
Now I can't so much, and that's what it took. Now I know. I wasn't raised with materialistic parents, didn't grow up with the cheerleader gang, didn't go to an Ivy League school or move to a rich neighborhood. So even someone moderate like me still ended up buying the line: you need to buy, because you deserve it, because you can.
Well, now I deserve not to buy. I don't remember the last time I went shopping for something that was for me, and not for my wedding or a gift, in the last four months. Four months is not a long time, but I feel like there's no going back. Something final has shifted. I value almost anything now more than consuming.
But even with this knowledge, even with the forgiveness of the younger me, the line keeps running through my head, "Why didn't I know it then?!"