The new iPhone became available for preorder and my coworkers were chatting back and forth about wait times and problems with the online ordering process and everyone was very intent on having a brand new phone in their hands the day it ships, June 24. Our company pays for a new iPhone every calendar year so I could have been ordering mine too but I managed to stop and ask myself: is anything wrong with my current phone?

No. My phone is fine. It makes calls and it talks to the internet and it takes photos and jesus, it’s fine.

I am trying, lately, to step out of the cycle of want. Shoes makeup clothes hair products skincare bags gadgets stuff crap things. I’m trying to look at our current situation and see past the discomfort and stress to a deeper message about values and how happiness isn’t tied to objects.

I’m thinking about the things that are meaningful to me and how they are experiences or interactions, moments and conversations and feelings, and they don’t come in a box and I don’t need a new one every year to supplant the old one.

My boy Riley is obsessed with getting new toys, it’s all about tearing something out of a package and playing with it for the first time. A day later, its charm is diminished, it’s tossed in the toy box with everything else. I don’t know how to help him see that it’s a broken system, always wanting new things. That you’re custom-designing your own dissatisfaction when you live this way. I get it, after all. I like new things too. I like to open the package and touch something for the first time too.

I’m thinking how my job has always been to drive the cycle, to convince people they need new things, and how what I really want, instead, is to have someone tell me I made a difference. That I helped.

It’s all tied together somehow, lately. All of it in a complicated tangle and I know there’s something underneath that I need to get to. I don’t know what to do to make progress other than listen and think.

And for now, not buy a new phone.

Comments

93 Responses to “Shiny”

  1. Kate on June 17th, 2010 6:44 pm

    If only more of American felt this way.

    Good for you Linda.

  2. willikat on June 17th, 2010 6:47 pm

    Wow, you said a mouthful. All of it totally rings true. Just know that your blog is a place where a lot of people feel like they’re understood, and that’s a lot more than a lot of people do to help the world.

    Also. I went through this too, and my job also necessitates creating some want and desire. I’m actively working to change that. And when I got laid off I was forced to learn A LOT about want vs. need. I feel like I’m better now, but I’m not totally cured.

  3. Jennie on June 17th, 2010 6:59 pm

    I have a long, running wish list but Mike and made a pretty hardcore budget a few months back and we each get a set (very small) amount of money to do whatever we want with: eating out, new clothes, going to the movies. Anything that’s just for us, comes from that budget. And it’s helped me immensely. When I want want want something — shoes! a dress! jewelry! — I ask myself if I’d rather spend the money from that account or save it for a trip one day. The trip always wins.

    Also, I went through a phase recently about NEEDING! a new dress for BlogHer. How would I make friends if I wasn’t wearing something new! And shiny! And fuck that. I’ll wear something I already own and hopefully whoever I talk with could care less.

  4. Anonymous on June 17th, 2010 7:05 pm

    It looks like I am not the only one here who feels that your comments strike directly at issues I’ve been struggling with myself lately re: spending and consumerism. My major weakness is a “great deal” — a shirt at H&M for $4.95. WHAT? That’s less than the cost of a lunch! Thing is, do I really need another shirt? It’s very hard to break that cycle.

    I also want to add that your blog definitely makes a difference. Others have stated this, and I know it has been inspiring, entertaining, fascinating (I still tell people about how cats will eat their dead owners’ corpses, starting with the nose!), heart-warming and heart-breaking.

    Perhaps you would like to get more immediate or direct feedback for the enjoyment and benefits so may of us receive from reading your posts; still, we are out here, the invisible masses, benefitting from your writing. Pathetic as it might sound, probably the greatest benefit I have gained is that there have been some very dark times in my life during which your blog was the only “friend” I had, and reading about what was going on in your life provided a lifeline for me. Your blog was a link to normalcy and an escape from what was happening in my own life. I don’t intend that this compliment should turn into a source of pressure for you, but I want to assure you that if you doubt that even writing about mundane or trivial things (aside from the inspirational example you set with your struggles with alcohol and your running endeavors) could help anyone — you are wrong. Very wrong.

    Thank you for sharing yourself so freely. My life is much richer for it.

  5. allison on June 17th, 2010 7:55 pm

    thanks for sharing these thoughts… I’ve been thinking about clothing like this — consignment, etc. but I’m impatient about shopping sometimes…

  6. Sarah on June 17th, 2010 8:27 pm

    I just loved this post so much. It has been so eye opening in the last few years for me to step back and realize what a horrendous, brain washed cycle most of us are in, starting from infancy, that NEW and MORE equals better and equals happiness and… well, equals more. And it so often works the opposite way. Big applause for the way you have so often brought up this subject in a gentle yet thought provoking manner.

  7. ElizabethZ on June 17th, 2010 9:28 pm

    I have been dealing with many of these same issues for awhile and am also trying to kill the consumer within me. So much stuff I just don’t need, so much wasted money. If we all felt the same, I don’t know what it would do to the economy, but I bet a lot of us would be a lot happier with a lot more cash in our pockets or savings. This was a great post!

    And Amy, your comment was a post in and of itself, I enjoyed reading your story and thoughts, thank you for sharing them.

  8. Laura M on June 17th, 2010 9:46 pm

    Hallefreakinlujah. Isn’t it awesome to learn that you can choose to got off of the work to buy stuff treadmill.

  9. lisa on June 17th, 2010 10:20 pm

    oooh….touche. Im having a terrible time with Nathan who is also in this constant want cycle. We’re trying with allowance and the ‘envelope’ method how to save/give/spend and save up for something he wants. But we’re stuck in this “id rather buy a $1 piece of junk than save up $10 for a transformer’. Its so hard and I think American society is just so…. I want/ Im entitled/ I deserve/live for the moment who cares if we cant afford it and deviating from that takes will power.

    We leave Japan in one more year and part of me is thinking “I want to buy this and this and this and one more piece of antique furniture and dishes and X and Y and Z before we leave.” And then I ask myself WHY? I already feel so trapped by our crap and I can’t understand why I would want to add to it but I think its maybe some way of capturing the experience- our time overseas, the trips we’ve taken and the places we’ve gone. But really– the jar of seashells I have sitting on the table accomplishes that– so many memories of little hands grabbing at shells and rocks (uglies and pretty ones alike), memories of days spent at the beach and how those simple things are what make life so rich. I should just be happy and content with simple things like my jar of shells but the cycle of want never really goes away.

  10. Melissa on June 17th, 2010 11:53 pm

    We always make cost comparison with our kids. We will point out that something they want, an Xbox for example, is half of our food budget for a month and each individual game costs as much as our car insurance for a month. We try to reference something they want with something that is a basic necessity they we need as family. We hope this teaches them to have realistic expectations about the costs of life and how to balance needs and wants.

  11. New Apple iPhone 4 has twice the memory. Shiny! – Computerworld (blog) | Apple Product Tips And App News on June 18th, 2010 3:57 am

    […] Shiny : All & Sundry […]

  12. JMH on June 18th, 2010 4:17 am

    Fantastic post. That is one thing I love about living in a small farm community in Ohio. We don’t have many places to shop and I hate paying for shipping when purchasing things online. It helps to keep the constant shopping to a minimum….and I won’t by an iphone since we don’t get any cell service for them here. Whenever I visit my friends in the wealthy suburbs of a larger city, I always leave there thinking I am glad that I don’t have to worry about have the “right” clothes, car, house, toys, classes for my kids, etc. Also, we have a LOT of people living in poverty in my community…definately helps to put it all in perspective.

  13. sandra on June 18th, 2010 4:34 am

    how bout you take it anyway and sell it to *ME* for 50 bones? lol.

  14. Lori on June 18th, 2010 4:47 am

    Great post. So important to remember, especially since I don’t always do a great job of avoiding the pretty, shiny things.

    Melissa, your comparison strategy sounds like a great way to teach kids about money, so obvious, but I never thought of doing it that way. I’ve had such a hard time explaining the value of a dollar to my little ones. When I say something’s “too expensive,” I get, “Mom, just go to the RayTM (ATM) and get some more money.”

  15. Shanna on June 18th, 2010 5:16 am

    Good for you!!!! I want to hug you for this post. In a non-creepy Internet stranger kind of way, though…

  16. Kristin H on June 18th, 2010 5:22 am

    I think the best way to teach your kids any value is to live it, and it sounds like you’re making moves in that direction.

  17. Erica on June 18th, 2010 5:56 am

    Well written. I’m there with you. Despite already living a relatively simple frugal life, I’ve been trying to simplify even more so I can find time to do the things that really matter– be a good mom, friend and family member, and re-discover myself. Now that I sit back and watch the Facebook posts of my friends of “I got/I want/I need ” I feel liberated that there’s no pressure to compete and ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

    If you ever really want to evaluate want vs need, just move (yourself, no movers). A brilliant way to open your eyes to what you really don’t need.

    Thanks for your wonderful writing. I get so excited everytime I see the email notice that there’s a new post! Those 3 minutes of my life spent reading really does wonders for my state of mind… and it’s always good!

  18. Brooke on June 18th, 2010 6:50 am

    I went through this about a year ago. We got rid of cable, threw out what seemed like two housefulls of junk that we never use but just wanted to ‘have,’ and stopped saving for stuff. Now we save for experiences – day trips, vacations, etc. I’d rather have memories of DOING stuff with my kids than my kids HAVING stuff.

    At that time, I also threw myself into a bunch of volunteer work. It’s hard to make time for it with two little kids (I have a 4 y/o and an 18 m/o), but it helped too.

  19. Regina on June 18th, 2010 7:33 am

    This is a good short movie that relates:
    http://www.storyofstuff.com

    Helped inspire me to be more concious of my spending decisions and lifestyle. Listening and thinking is a great start to getting to the heart of what really matters to you.

    Enjoy the journey…

  20. June on June 18th, 2010 7:45 am

    Sounds like you might want to work for a nonprofit, seriously. I was an academic researcher until my early 30s, then I switched careers but remain in an academic position. All my jobs have been at nonprofits. It’s great to be part of something that is bigger than yourself, all of us working together to advance human knowledge, improve health care and understanding of mechanisms of disease (in my case), and not be driven by shareholders. Our group still has fiscal issues, as does every business in this country, but that kind of decisionmaking is above my pay grade, so I don’t worry about it.

    Wrt “shiny,” Hubby and I aren’t particularly materialistic now (well, I say that, but we are relatively quite wealthy, having been DINKs for many years) but we had plenty of time to buy what we wanted and got it out of our system in our 20s. Now, we replace things when they break, no longer fit, etc, but no longer buy weekly for the thrill of shiny, and the extra money goes to the 403(b) (nonprofit equivalent of 401[k]) and/or daycare. With 3 anticipated in daycare next year and the requisite purchase of a car that can simultaneously hold 3 car seats, we have scaled back our consumerism even more this year. Hubby (from NJ, I swear he has shopping genes) sates his urges by window shopping, and I’m too busy gestating and feeling like crap to go shopping or pursue my hobbies that require new supplies. All told, though, it did take us a while to go from buying “stuff” to buying “experiences” (or “memories,” if you will).

    Good luck! It’s so hard to change how you think, but surely it is worth it.

  21. Kathryn on June 18th, 2010 7:51 am

    Geez…you are in my head. You do make a difference, whether you realize it or not.

  22. Liz on June 18th, 2010 9:58 am
  23. lisa on June 18th, 2010 10:11 am

    @anne – you took the words right out of my mouth.

    You have made a huge difference Linda. Dont forget it

  24. MEP on June 18th, 2010 10:17 am

    Have you seen those commercials with Alicia Keys, where the camera has a display on the front, by the lens, so that you can center up and take a picture of yourself? The fact that there is a market for this camera, and Facebook, has really made me think about what it means to have an experience for YOURSELF, rather than to have an experience in order to show it to everyone else. It’s all keeping up with the Joneses, whether it’s showing them your Beamer, or showing them your kick-ass party fun time.

  25. Cheri on June 18th, 2010 10:22 am

    My book recommendations (that you can get at the library):

    _Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping_, by Judith Levine

    _The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health—and a Vision for Change_, by Annie Leonard

    Also, Leonard’s site is worth checking out: http://www.storyofstuff.com

  26. Maria on June 18th, 2010 10:33 am

    When I worked for a media agency helping market the world’s biggest retailer, I started to feel dirty after a while. Like I was part of a problem.

    The shiny gets me too. It DEFINITELY gets my four-year-old.

    It’s a crazy difficult cycle to break out of. It’s cool that you’re thinking/talking about it. Gets me thinking too.

  27. helping is hard on June 18th, 2010 11:17 am

    Linda, I’ve been cheering you on silently from the cyber-sidelines as you’ve been on your journey…a stranger who is proud of you and inspired by you as you become Linda 2.0 – a better, more glitch-free version of your own true self.

    As someone who is also feeling the yuck of my career path. I just wanted to give you some input about the other side of a “helping” career. You are hoping that someone will tell you that you made a difference or that you helped…that has not been my experience. In 15 years I have been told twice that I helped and thank you. Now I know that I’m very good at what I do and often I’m the only person helping and I know that I am helping but that has to be enough because I don’t hear it from the people that I’m helping. It is a thankless job and it absolutely taking too much from me. I wish I had a job like yours that was a paycheck without any soul attached that I could leave at 4:30 instead of giving pieces of myself away (thanklessly) and have very little left over for myself and family. I’ve just had babies and I don’t think I can return to my line of work because my babies need what I give to others.
    Just wanted to give you the flip-side. Hopefully coming to it later in your career life you will bring more balance to a helping type career. Also if you are helping with fitness/nutrition you might receive more gratitude because people are in a place of being more collaborative and appreciative. It is all too hard to figure out at once but the growth potential is amazing!

  28. Sunshyn on June 18th, 2010 12:56 pm

    I’ve gotten to where I don’t want new things. I want my old things to keep working, and work well. I don’t have the time or energy for a new learning curve. That said, my son downloaded (uploaded?) a nasty virus on my PC last night, and none of my files are backed up, because he borrowed my external hard drive months ago and never returned it. I just hope his girlfriend, the computer whiz, can retrieve my files and fix my system. That said, I wouldn’t mind having a new Droid, but not enough to actually BUY one…

  29. Jenna on June 18th, 2010 1:11 pm

    I know you weren’t particularly fishing for compliments here, and I applaud your questioning of the cycle of want, but I just have to tell you how much you have made a difference here, on this site. I found such solace here when I was home alone with my newborn and had no idea how to function and what would happen if I stopped checking her breathing every five minutes. I read every post about Riley’s early days like it was divine truth chiseled on a tablet. Your humor and warmth and intelligence come through every post, even, ESPECIALLY, the dark ones and that is a gift. Thank you.

  30. Lauren on June 18th, 2010 4:29 pm

    “I’m thinking how my job has always been to drive the cycle, to convince people they need new things, and how what I really want, instead, is to have someone tell me I made a difference. That I helped.”

    aaaaand, after 8 years of reading your blog on a couple times a week basis (i’m 26 and randomly found you on diaryland my senior year of college) you just summed up what I went through after experiencing a life-threatening, years-long, in and out of hospitals illness in college.

    I started out at age 6 with my copywriting portfolio – no joke. I was a kid with a passion for advertising, at least the creative side. I loved it because it was fun, and I still love it to this day. I even got my degree in it. But the closer I got to graduation, and the more I went through my illness, well, the more that that paragraph you wrote kept resonating in my heart. I started taking service learning courses in the honors college, started volunteering. Went to support groups, and eventually lead support groups.

    The end of the story is that I’m meeting with a lawyer next week to get my non-profit certification. And going to graduate school for social work, to eventually combine my copywriting/advertising degree to do non-profit advertising. Because, like you said, I want to DO something. I want to help.

    Thanks for once again being not only talented, clever, honest, human, courageous, interesting, guffaw-inducing, and raw, but also inspiring. motivating. and perpetually on the path of self-betterment and self-fulfillment. We could all use that kind of agenda.

  31. vickey on June 19th, 2010 4:26 pm

    I am writing this quickly (i.e. didn’t read other comments yet – sorry!) I just read a good article – I think in Wired magazine – about the founder of Patagonia. It was interesting, because even though he sells “stuff”, he is thinking of ways of changing our habits of consumption. Made me think of changing things from within the consumption cycle…

  32. Shin Ae on June 20th, 2010 9:59 am

    I really like this post. I get tired of hearing people whine about how wrong it is to buy stuff, about their guilt, about how I should feel guilty, with the undercurrent of oh, how BAD we all are. SO TIRED. But even though I want to put a piece of tape over someone’s mouth every time they start spewing all the old crap, there is something to realizing that the process of consuming can be really unfulfilling at times, particularly when we’re consuming just for the sake of consuming. I liked it when you said, “you’re custom-designing your own dissatisfaction when you live this way.” Yes. That resonated with me. So, thanks for bringing the “stop and think about it” in a way that doesn’t make me want to heave a big, loud, exaggerated sigh and walk away. Because I needed to hear it–in a way that I could hear it. It’s time.

  33. MyFrogs on June 21st, 2010 7:18 am

    That’s why my kids don’t get many toys for Christmas or bdays. They don’t play with them. So instead they get art stuff or giftcards to bookstores. Things they can DO!

    I still want the new Iphone, only because I have version 1 (the gramma version as I call it) and it’s about to become un-upgradable with the new software that won’t work on it.

  34. Amy on June 22nd, 2010 10:27 am

    Oh HELL no. Your company gives you a free phone every year. Get the new iPhone! The cycle of want is OK to observe and perhaps, curtail, if you are broke and really can’t afford to buy said iphone or any gadget for that matter OR you are narcissistic and ungiving and “wanting” something more for youself is over the top. You are NEITHER of those things. Enjoy these things given to you for a job well done. You can donate the old phone to halfway houses for battered women if you are feeling so inclined. Love your blog immensely. That is all.

  35. Amy on June 22nd, 2010 10:28 am

    Oops! I thought Apple gave you guys the new phones for free – I thought I remembered reading something about that in an earlier blog entry. So….if you have to buy it….eh….I don’t know. You kind of deserve it anyway, so I think my original comment might still stand.

  36. Steph on June 23rd, 2010 8:04 am

    I have an IPod Touch because we don’t have Qwest cell service here. The new IPhone is pretty moot for me for that reason.

    This post resonates for different reasons though. I grew up really spoiled. We wanted it, we got it. My mom was poor growing up so she wanted to give us what she didn’t have. My brother is pretty materialistic and so is his wife. They like their toys and shiny new things. I am not like that. I enjoy something new if I need it and want it and actually get it but I don’t have to have it. If I spend money it’s on my kids. I rarely spend money on myself. My husband has to force me to buy new clothes or makeup or go get my hair done. When I do I enjoy the time so much but it just never sticks as being something I go back and do continuously.

    My husband on the other hand. OY. His mom is the most materialistic, selfish person on the planet. She’s actually gotten herself in trouble and filed bankruptcy twice, both times because of credit card debt she ran up supporting her “wants”. As a result my husband is exactly the same.

    The only difference is he has a wife who worked in finance for years and HATES credit. If I let him he’d do exactly what she does. He loves shiny new things. New phones, new tech, new clothes, toys, etc… He wants my son to have the most expensive sports equipment, clothes, etc… It’s a never ending battle. I wish he’d have an epiphany like yours!!!

  37. wordygirl on June 25th, 2010 2:20 pm

    Oh my. This post gave me shivers. You are on the edge of something profound here, for sure!

    And by the way – YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE. Thank you, for all that you do.

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