Cover photo


Day 5 of writing down my random thoughts in public.

Today, I've been pondering the concept of consumption. Of course, this isn't the first time I wonder if the things we have or buy actually fulfill us.

Years ago, I read a book called Stuffocation about how people accumulate too much stuff. Some to the degree that their flats turn into fire hazards. A memorable fact was that the more stuff we have, the more quickly a fire turns into a raging, uncontrollable flame, a so-called flashover that'll burn everything in its way, including the owners of stuff. Firefighters can't help you then.

It's kind of ironic if you think about it when someone dies in a hellscape caused by the products that were supposed to fulfill their deepest desires.

Anyway, I didn't want to go to that dark of a place, but it's Monday.

The reason I am back thinking about consumption is that I visited my family this weekend, and there were at least two things that nudged me toward it:

  1. My mum is currently reading a book titled "The Day We All Stop to Shop."

  2. Throughout the weekend, I was tasked with picking a movie for family movie night. As if this wasn't hard enough to accommodate an age range from 12 - 50+, it's further complicated by the vast selection on Netflix. Fromm's comment that "Freedom doesn't make free" comes to mind. Eventually, I settled for a movie called "100 Things". The premise is two friends enter a bet that they cannot manage to live without their things for 100 days. Starting with nothing, after each day, they are allowed to recover one of their things. Needless to say, this was a movie criticizing consumerism.

The movie is fun, and the idea is, even though executed a little extreme (they sleep naked on the floor the first night) does inspire some thought. If I had to pick just 100 things, what would it be?

What are the things that I wouldn't want to give up and why?

What are the things I desire, and why?

We're constantly prompted to buy new things. Instagram bombards us with the newest fashion trends to follow, and places like Temu offer discounts if many people buy simultaneously, encouraging customers to convince others to buy more, too.

At times, you can't even escape buying something as products aren't designed to last forever. This was another conversation I had while at home. Back in the day (we watched a documentary about French impressionists, and I remarked that they were all well-dressed back then), clothes would even be passed on to the next generation.

Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Renoir

Try that with a dress from Zara. If it survives one season, you're in luck.

Plus, if you just wear whatever the dress of the season is at Zara, it's no surprise everyone looks the same.

If you believe Lacan, the things we buy to fulfill our cravings don't ever fulfill our actual underlying desires. Capitalism, then, is just a perfect way to run this perpetual mobile where people never cease consuming.

There's a perception you have to consume to be happy. Try all the newest hype foods, get a fancy coffee every day, go shopping - I'm sorry, but I still find it weird when people tell me their hobby is shopping. How does it feel to be a consumption slave? Is this some kind of Stockholm syndrome where you end up loving the despised activity?

The only type of shopping I enjoy is book shopping. But that tends to be a short affair. I walk in, see at least five books I want, negotiate myself down to three, and leave before I get tempted to get more.

The less time I spend shopping for books, the more I have to read them. Libraries are a different story, but there no goods change hands lastingly.

The act of buying stuff doesn't make us happy. And having something new quickly becomes a new status quo - and opens up new desires.

Life isn't about hoarding as many things as possible, neither digitally nor physically. It's in finding the right balance and focusing on buying the things that enable us to use them more than once.

The things that'll "spark joy," as Marie Kondo would say.

Not all desires need to be fulfilled, either.

Sometimes, the act of still having something you wish for is the greatest gift.

Cover of my edition of the Fairytale of Luck

There's a short story by Erich Kästner, "Das Märchen vom Glück" (The Fairytale of Happiness). It starts with a conversation in a pub. A 70-year-old man telling the tale of how he, when he was young, met a guy offering him three wishes.

Since he was annoyed by the guy disturbing his newspaper reading session in the park, eventually, he said, "Go to hell." Suddenly, the other one disappeared. With a bad conscience, the first realized that the wishes weren't just some joke and imagined the other in hell. He wished him back and, as the second sat next to him again, registered the burnt smell coming from his clothes.

Illustration from Fairytale of Luck - man in hell

The anecdote ends with him having one wish left.

The 70-year-old closes with, "The last wish I've not touched for 40 years. Sometimes, I was close. But no. Wishes are only as long good as you still have them ahead of you."

In the end, the narrator never receives an answer to his question if the old man is happy now.

I'd strongly assume so.

In the end, as long as the basic needs are covered, I think it's not the things that make us happy. It's in the time we have to live, to feel, and to share our experiences with others.

"Time is life. And life lives in the heart"

Michael Ende

And not in the wallet.

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