Sunday, October 9, 2011

A wasteful generation



Consumerism, I gathered from Wiki, is “a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts.” I have been asking myself this question: Am I am consumerist? Do I buy goods in ever greater amounts? Am I driven by greed and the desire to own things in hoards?

I confess, once upon a time, when I worked in the city, I bought something nearly every other day – from the shops. Once upon a time, I was always in need of a new serving dish, a new spatula, new cookbook, a new wok, a new pan, a new blender. The list has no end. My desires have no end.

When my kid was growing up, and while we lived in Singapore, we had a wall lined up with toys….We had cupboards choking with clothes for our kid. We had CDs running out of a space on the CD rack. We had books that were bursting from the shelves. Our clothes kept filling up the cupboards. The situation is pretty much the same in NZ.

A few years ago, I made a resolution to stop buying things. I have been partially successful. This year, I haven’t bought anything I didn’t truly need – I have prevented myself from buying a fruit juicer although it does look a bit dated. I am still wearing T-shirts I bought 10 years ago. I should feel so proud of myself. But then, how did I go so wrong with passing on this to my kid?

Have my bad habits set up up my kid into a consumerist? My child threw out a whole of clothes into the “pink bag” for recyling. “Why,” I asked. They looked perfectly good and were barely worn. “Last season’s clothes, mum,” was the answer. She has been through 3 handphones since she was Yr 6. She is in Yr 8. Her fourth one has just been ordered -- using her birthday money from family/friends.

Consumers are driven by their need to ever possess the latest in products and services. Our society is built upon growing at all costs. The “small is beautiful” economic theory propounded by British economist E. F. Schumacher doesn’t go down well in our consumerist world. Isn’t every country after greater GDP growth; every company after greater profits; every household after the latest iPads, iPhones or iWant! In this arena, the Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s Gross National Happiness pursuit is definitely a worthy cause. Bhutan's macro economic policy is built upon attaining GNP, which encompass Buddhist ideals of spiritual wealth and health rather than pure materialistic wealth/health.

My teenage kid has never been through a single day of “lacking” in anything. I have to keep reminding her that there are people who have no food to eat. “Mum, what are we having for dinner,” she quips. “Fried rice,” I answered. The disappointment was evident. “Can we have something nice!”


Every generation needs a war, some wise person once said. This is so true. We live in a world where we have everything we want -- instantly! If we had to grow all our food, would we still be throwing our so much food into the compost or bin? If we have to draw water from the well, would we be having long showers? I read in Moa's Last Dancer -- the Chinese village folks were so poor, they ate everything that moved. They were lucky if they had meat once a year, for Chinese New York, even then, with more fat than meat!

The struggle for me has, and always will be, to live a moderate life -- one not driven by the need to own and consume, but a life based on moderation.

Every day, I become more aware that my teen has an extremely different set of values. Is my generation so different to hers? Am I out of whack in that I can't see the point in having so many pieces of fashionable clothes, all the nail polish, all the hair products, eye shadow, Chucks, Vans, Supre. Is this just the way the world is going and am I am fighting a losing battle?

9 comments:

  1. "...[A]n extremely different set of values...." explains much in life.


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  3. What I can add is that we, as parents, made our kids the way they are. We have been hungry and poor before and saw to it that the kids do not have to suffer like we did. I went to China (Xi'an and Beijing) last month and was surprised to see how well the children were fed and clothed. And there were mostly boys, very few girls, as a result of the one-child policy. BTW, your children look great.

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  5. Hi I would just like to say i'm a teenages and I 100% agree with ur blog I think I definatly do buy way more makeup and clothes that I need but I have made a new resolution to my self to use up all my things that I dont use, to make sure I wear all my clothes and not so they can all get used and to not but stuff unless I dont need it and also only if I can get it for a cheap price

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  6. Hi - I just wanted to make a comment...
    How would an 8 year old know of "last seasons" clothes? She must have learned that from someone or from somewhere. Either it's something she has heard within the home or from the media, which I think children's consumption of should be completely controlled. I don't know, I would be appalled if my child did such a thing. Actually, I just wouldn't allow it. Children these days have too many choices - cut back the amount of choices they have and then they won't be so greedy. It's great to have a variety in life but sometimes you are just creating a person who ends up never satisfied - or appreciative. Just my opinion.

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  7. Hi Fluff Master, many thanks for your comment. My kid is 13 years ago...her peers are all into shopping and having new clothes...They all go online and look at sites that sell clothes, makeup etc...Yes, I agree, consumption should be controlled. My husband and I are trying to cultivate some discipline in how she manages her spending money -- it is a lifelong skill...And yes, I agree totally about not being contented. A lot of adults too are not contented, so teaching a child or a teen to appreciate the little she has is a real worthwhile lesson. We live in a different world to theirs -- our teens, they have commercialism thrown at them everyday! I used to one pencil which I sharpen till the very end...now our kid has boxes of them! We keep trying and we keep believing that our kid will one day have our values because we taught the values well...Wish me luck :O)

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  8. I am glad you didn't take my comment as being harsh - after posting, I reread it and thought, "I hope she doesn't think I am attacking her parenting!" My annoyance is towards the media and the commercialization of everything these days and it all being aimed at our children. I know my husband and I have been guilty of, at times, over indulging due to wanting to give all we never had....and a lesson we have learned!

    Good luck on your journey through parenthood! Bring snacks - it may be a long one ;)

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