In the top drawer of my desk I keep a notepad solely for the following list: “Things I Want.” Currently on the list is: Yoga classes, a cheese cutter, a hair dryer, art, new pillows, fancy candles, make-up, sneakers, new bras, and personal training sessions at the gym. I look at this list periodically, add to it, and consider my finances. I buy one thing one day, and compromise on another, making an agreement with myself to wait to buy the make-up until the department store offers a free gift with every purchase.
Sometimes I am shocked by my urge to buy. I remember my first year as a teacher in an under resourced high school in New York City, I spent thousands of dollars on materials for my students. I bought class sets of books, lesson plans and worksheets off of the internet, art supplies, a photocopier, class room decorations, and snacks. I thought that if students had more resources, or if I used lesson plans written by people more qualified than me, that I would be a better teacher. I started to notice that while having materials was convenient, spending money didn’t solve anything. So why did I keep buying? I was trying to fix a hole by throwing money down it, without examining the hole. I knew had to start looking for meaningful ways to make a difference in my students’ lives.
I believe that examining my drive to purchase and consume can help me live a more satisfying life.
I can’t stop making the “Things I Want” list. The urge is too resilient, but these days I look at the list in a different way.
I want a cheese cutter because I imagine that if I had one I would entertain more, serving my friends beautifully cut cheese and crackers on a brightly colored ceramic platter. Should I add the platter to the list while I am at it? Or maybe what I really want is just to have my friends near me, to enjoy their company. I could have a potluck just as easily.
When I think of buying fancy candles and fluffy pillows, I imagine transforming my bedroom into a spiritual sanctuary where I can go to be reenergized. I look at these items on my list and know that what I really crave is a peace and centeredness that no purchase can satisfy, that I will have to take a journey much more complicated than the 6 train to Bed Bath and Beyond. It’s amazing how the impulse to consume can make me aware of such needs.
Other times it’s more simple than that. It’s the middle of winter and my hair dryer broke. I need a new one so that I don’t catch cold.
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