mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In praise of intelligent consumerism...

Today being Black Friday, the day often considered the start of the Christmas/Holiday shopping season. It's also the day that hippies like to protest by celebrating Buy Nothing Day, generally by not going shopping on a day they weren't planning on going shopping, and then acting like they did something special.

I thought of this because a few months ago I read Not Buying It: A Year without Shopping (which, ironically, I bought for fifty cents from The Big Tarp, an odd-lot closeout store). It was a pretty awful book - goodreads is full of reviews by people who agree with the author and didn't like it. I don't agree with her, and didn't like it - and not just because she couldn't make it through the first chapter without complaining about how evil George Bush was. She comes off as a cheap, elitist jerk with a sense of entitlement, a superiority complex, and an inability to grasp that other people may enjoy different things than she does - at one point she contemplates that she can't grasp why anyone would rather buy a quad than give money to a puppet theater. While I've never ridden a quad, I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't want to ride a nimble, powerful vehicle through the woods if given an opportunity - and why anyone would want to watch puppet theater.

But I still think I got my fifty cents worth out of it, because it got me thinking. While I don't agree with her about the evils of consumerism as a whole, I do have a problem with people who consume more than they can afford. I hold no sympathy for people who are facing foreclosure because they bought a house that was well out of their means, who can't understand why they can't save any money while they run up giant credit card bills and pay the minimum every month. I like to think I'm a fan of what I would call "intelligent consumerism". I do, in fact, believe that the stuff you own can make you happy - maybe not in a spiritual, enlightenment sort of way but rather in a makes life somewhat easier and more enjoyable sort of way. But I also believe that such desires need to be balanced by other principles - savings, frugality, planning for the future. I also believe that, with proper time and effort, it's possible to own some very nice and enjoyable stuff without going broke.

I like to think I practice something resembling intelligent consumerism - I buy things I want, but only if I can afford them. I do research, comparison shop, buy used, go to auctions, and avoid taking on debt beyond my mortgage, some student loans, and car loans if absolutely necessary. I buy books, but usually buy them used. I have a 42" flat panel, but I shopped around and got a good deal on it. My house is full of cool unique items I got cheap at auctions and yard sales, including a couple Herman Miller office chairs, a "detoxify" neon sign, and a vintage typewriter. I've got closets full of clothes and a house full of furniture, most of it from clearance and as-is sections.

Now, there are other reasons to avoid rampant consumerism, beyond economic ones - if you really are expecting spiritual fulfillment from your purchases you probably want to rethink your worldview. And there are probably some legitimate environmental concerns to think about - but I feel like some people, including the author of Not Buying It are more interested in pointing out how good for the environment it is that they don't do something they have no desire to do, like drive an SUV, while having no qualms about doing stuff they want that's just as bad, like flying.

I also think that sometimes it makes sense to be a consumer - our aforementioned author feels she's a saint because she repaired the cord rather than buy a new toaster. But when you can get a toaster for $10, there is an economic argument to be made that buying a new toaster is the smart thing to do.

So I, for one, will continue to buy it - but only when I can afford it and can get a good deal on it.


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