Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do You Need the Things You Want?

I had to go to Wal-Mart yesterday. I try really hard to avoid that place. I want to stand in solidarity with the workers who are exploited all over the world (including their own stores) in the name of lower prices. But I had no choice. It was that or drive 30 miles round trip and stop in four different stores. So I tried very hard to focus on my list and keep my blinders on as I pushed my cart through the newly renovated local store.

It is hard to move about with blinders on, so I couldn’t help by notice all the “crap” (for lack of a better word) for sale. The shelves were loaded with so much excessive junk that no one really “needs”. They allot an enormous amount of shelf space just for plastic containers. I guess if you buy all the crap they’re selling you need lots of containers to store it in.

Several shelves had big signs that said, “As seen on TV” which means all those high-pressure ads that tell you this super-duper-do-it-all bacon separator is only available by calling right now are truly selling you a line. Can I tell you now that you do not need a S’mores maker? Really, no one needs this appliance. If you haven’t got a campfire handy, an oven or a microwave will work just fine. Plop the marshmallow on the graham cracker, heat it until it’s hot and goey and then plop on your chocolate and your graham cracker top and squish. Promise it works – we do it all the time. So don’t spend $34.95 on a machine that will end up in your basement.

Same goes for an Ice Tea Maker. You need a huge plastic appliance to make ice tea? Really? Again, let me save you the $24.95 (this one’s cheaper) – boil some water, pour it over tea bags (I use six) and steep it in your tea pot (or any old pot for that matter, you don’t need a tea pot) for five minutes. If you have a pitcher that can handle the temperature change, (I use a clay pitcher I bought at a college art department sale) fill it with ice and pour the hot tea over it. If you haven’t got a pitcher that can handle the temperature change (glass is not safe and you shouldn’t pour hot water in to plastic), remove the tea bags and let your tea cool a bit before you pour it in your pitcher of ice. I make a pitcher of ice tea most mornings when I brew water for my hot tea. It’s not rocket science and it certainly doesn’t require a special appliance that will most decidedly end up at a yard sale some day. That said, if you think you can’t live without an Ice Tea Maker, look for one at Goodwill or a Yard Sale, there are plenty there looking for good homes.

Wal-Mart irritates me, so I try to see how little I can buy, but there are other stores where I am sorely tempted to buy plenty of things I don’t need. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Borders are two of them. Ever since reading the book, Not Buying It by Judith Levine, and seeing the movie No Impact Man, I’ve been contemplating a shopping fast. I would not starve my children, much less deprive them of their Cheezits, but I’d like to try going a month, or a week, or maybe even just a day without buying anything we don’t truly need. I’d allow myself to buy food and pay the bills, but other than that I’d lock-down the credit card and avoid the ATM machines. I think it would be easy until I think of how difficult it is for me to walk away from a rack of clearance priced Life Is Good t-shirts.

I’ve been mentally practicing for my upcoming fast by seriously considering everything I buy. I ask myself, “Do I need it?” and if my answer is yes, then I ask myself, “Do I really need it?” and that usually makes me say maybe. Then I stand there thinking of whether I have something else that already does the job of my potential purchase. And I think about where the potential purchase will live in my house and then I think about how I’m trying to live simpler and lighter on this earth. I can usually talk myself out of the purchase, but if I can’t then I must really need it. It’s heavy mental gymnastics just to buy a pair of nail clippers or a ream of good paper or even a used book.

Actually I’m lying about the used book. I can always justify a book purchase. I consider books to be in the same category as food. They are a necessity, not a luxury. I know the library is just down the road, but by the time I pay all my late fines (x4 because no one else in this house is any better than me at returning things when they are due), I might as well have bought the book. Besides, most books in this house get multiple uses since we are a family of bookaholics.

What do you really need? Could you spend a month or a week or a day “not buying it”? I’m thinking of picking a week after school lets out for us to “not buy it”. But before that time comes we have to seriously consider the difference between a “need” and a “want”. I’ll let you know how it works out.


  1. And now that Walmart has redecorated (really, who chose that awful egg yolk yellow paint?) they have even less of what you need and more of what you don't. It's easy not to shop there, Target not so much...

  2. I had a VP of sales tell me that you could sell 10,000 bags of dog poop if you could get it on a hook in the power alley at Wal-Mart. I don't think he was kidding.