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

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
93 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
LauraC
12 years ago

If it’s any consolation, I just finished reading Your Four Year: Wild and Wonderful and one of the characteristics of the age is interest in anything new. New experiences, new things, new words. You could focus on the new experiences rather than the new stuff.

agirlandaboy
12 years ago

I’m pretty good about making do (because I actually kind of hate spending money on ANYTHING), but I almost always say yes if I can get something for free, even if I don’t need it. For me, the payoff is in the having, not in the getting, and although I think that’s slightly less nefarious than the cycle of BUYBUYBUY, it’s still worth a little reflection into what I actually NEED.

samantha jo campen
12 years ago

I have a Wish List. A lot of it is filled with totally necessary things that NEED to get taken care of that we’ve put off because of finances. The rest is Stuff. Stuff that I’m convinced will make me/us happier. Because “Once we get X check in the mail we can get THISTHINGWE’VEALWAYSWANTED!” and the list goes on and on.

We have lived without splurges for a long time. And that list gives me hope. It’s fun to click around the internet and wish for things. But our situation, what we’ve been going through, has TOTALLY reconfigured our priorities. Look where Stuff has gotten the majority of the American people? Is it worth it? We’re still not happy overall. We need to not be such a throw away society and it’s sad that hard financial times have helped people see that.

Theo watches a lot of Veggie Tales (a christian cartoon series) and the video the other day was about just that. Stuff doesn’t equal happiness. And there’s a song on there that goes “A happy heart is a thankful heart and that’s why I thank God every day.” I know you’re not religious, but that message really spoke to me and I started to cry.

I’m working very hard to have a thankful heart.

I love that you don’t want a new iphone. LOVE.

Terri
Terri
12 years ago

I’m looking forward to reading all the responses you get to this. I have been struggling with this lately, and wondering what exactly my example is teaching my children.

I get all excited at the prospect of something new, but getting that something never seems to fulfill me at all. So I go after another new thing. Something I obviously need…when what I really need to is to learn to distinguish between need and want. There is a hole somewhere that needs filled, I just don’t know where it is, or what to fill it with yet.

I hope you find your answer, Linda :)

Pete
Pete
12 years ago

Since the new phone doesn’t have anything that I need and my 2 year old iphone doesn’t already provide I’m not going to upgrade yet.

Anne
12 years ago

You made a difference. You helped.

The last 18 months have been hell for me for a number of reasons ($30K in OUT OF POCKET medical expenses for me alone! but at least I lived!), and your blog has been one of the places I’ve turned when I needed to laugh or cry or just feel something other than the chaos going on around me. Your writing, be it about lawnmowers or insecurities or horror-short-stories about body parts burried at the beach, always draws me in and makes me laugh/cry/vow to avoid the beach and that has made a huge difference to me in the past year. That has helped me A LOT. More than I can say.

So new iPhones or not, you do make a difference, and you do help. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
/end schmoopy comment

The Gray Panther
The Gray Panther
12 years ago

Looking back, and it’s a long view, the things that I am most grateful to my parents for are generally experiences: travel, the opportunity to risk my neck on horses, which they hated, an education, a bounty of library visits, unending love. Did it make me happy at the moment or satisfied with what I had? Probably not. There is always something more to want. Age helps to know the wealth in what we have.

cindy
cindy
12 years ago

I just saw this today, and your comments about the iPhone made me think of it:
http://theoatmeal.com/comics/apple

Bachelor Girl
12 years ago

How awesome for you, Linda. I’m kind of in a similar situation – I’m planning a wedding right now on a very limited budget. It’s very easy to get caught up in buying this, that and the other, and the next thing you know, you’ve got $10k worth of credit-card debt that’s nothing but wedding crap that probably just went in the garbage at the end of the night anyway.

So my fiance and I are evaluating every purchase thusly:

1. Will we remember this detail in five years? Will our guests?

2. Can we use it after the wedding’s over?

3. Will it add to our enjoyment of the day?

Clearly, this post really hit home for me, and in that way, I can assure you that you do indeed make a difference.

Anne
12 years ago

Non-schmoopy comment on the rest of the post:

With my pseudo-little-brother-and-sister (neighbors), what their parents did was all but get rid of wrapped presents for birthdays (they did always get something small-ish), but made a HUGE deal about planning a day for the birthday person. They pick the meals (two cooked at home, one out to eat), they pick the outting/activities (zoo, movie, boardgames, whatever). They made it a birthday DAY, vs. a birthday of STUFF. Pretty cool, I always thought.

Locusts and Wild Honey
12 years ago

I’ve been taking a hard look at our obsession with consumption lately and it is sickening.

I’ve been trying to focus on buying only what I really need and buying quality so it’ll last.

I was raised in a household that was like, All hail, Target! I’ve got to break the cycle.

Tangsongshan
Tangsongshan
12 years ago

You do make a difference. You just have to figure out how to make a living off of it.

Nolita Morgan
12 years ago

Love that phrasing “custom-designing your own dissatisfaction when you live this way.” Maybe you should be a counselor! Or life coach…you definitely make us think and you also capture our feelings so eloquently (and funnily too sometimes). Keep on…

P.S. Samantha: I cried while watching Madame Blueberry too…the first time. I’m so Blue-hoo-hoo

Stephanie
Stephanie
12 years ago

Oh man…I am SO right there right now. It took a paycut a few years back (a 1/3 of my pay!) and still haven’t gotten it back. But we’ve learned to live leaner and cut corners and stop buying things just because we want them (or because I want them..my husband is very simple).

Right now I’m having a blast selling stuff that I never use! Old baby stuff, DVD’s I don’t watch, stupid impulse buys. And people actually buy my crap. It’s wonderful!

Pinkie Bling
Pinkie Bling
12 years ago

I’m joining in on the love-fest: you have made a difference to me. The personal obstacles you’ve overcome, the challenges you’ve set for yourself and the goals you’ve achieved…they helped start me on a path to a better, healthier me.

Plus you’re really damn funny. :)

But I always wonder about it, too…do we just resign ourselves to spending 40+ hours doing something that doesn’t necessarily fulfill us as humans, and then try to make a difference in our “own” time?

Christina
12 years ago

I did last year after my MIL died of cancer. I watched as all her stuff ended up on the curb or given away and I thought for the love of gawd what is this life all about? Is it about the shit we acquire or the time we have and how we spend it.

I stopped caring so much about being hip and cool and really just enjoyed my life. Maybe I jumped more deeply into suddenly being more like my parents because my thoughts a year later are OMG I am becoming my parents, so not with it and unhip.

Anyway, one way that helps me not buy as much is to keep a wish list on Amazon where I put stuff I want that is fun and cool and I probably will never ever buy but it is still nice to dream. I do the same with online shopping. I like to look and add things to the little bag and than delete and it is gone.

I am more conscious about how and what I spend my money on. The kids only get gifts at appointed time (birthdays and the biggie holidays). We do buy books year round because doooode they’re books but other than that I am better at letting of all of the stuff, being less hip and trendy and just enjoying the time I have with my family or things that I do for myself (like getting fit or baking or reading, etc…)

Once a dork, always a dork I always say ;)

Nellig
Nellig
12 years ago

When you work at home, it’s amazing how much less you spend. How many fewer new clothes you need.

Your boys are bright and imaginative and obviously enjoy old-fashioned playing outdoors. They could probably get all enthused about making stuff, especially if JB is into it. It’s just seeing all this shiny merchandise around that fills us all with wild longing. It does wear off though.

I can totally see you slipping out of the rat race.

Jinxi
12 years ago

“Happiness is not to have more, but to be more.”

=)

H
H
12 years ago

I’m kind of on the other end of the spectrum. My brother calls me Amish (though I’m not – not that there’s anything wrong with being Amish!) Shall we meet in the middle?

mixette
mixette
12 years ago

On Friday mornings I usually go to estate sales if there are any in my neighborhood. And then I go home and see if there’s anything I’m not using and I put it in a box to go to Goodwill. Sometimes I do the same after watching an episode of Hoarders. Which also gives me nightmares.

I never want to be a Stuffatarian who dies and leaves a house crammed full of *things*…shudder…

Mel
Mel
12 years ago

We are a society & a culture that is taught from the time we can walk that this object is somehow going to make our lives better. We HAVE to have it to be happy.

But at the end of the day, we don’t and we aren’t. Good for you for making the effort to not get sucked into the newest, latest widget.

Fortunately, hubs is practical and we’re broke, so that makes it so much easier to not get sucked into the temptation of the newest, coolest widget.

Teaching Riley these lessons now will make it much easier for him when he’s older and on his own. I wish my folks had done it for me. I’ve had to learn it the hard way since I started living on my own and without Daddy’s income.

JCF
JCF
12 years ago

My almost 3 year old has just started asking “Mommy, can you get me something?” everytime we’re in a store. He doesn’t pitch a fit or persist when I tell him no, but it is hard to see him arrive at that age of wanting. It was nice when he was content to just see things in stores, admire them, but have no desire or awareness that they could be his. The endless cycle of wanting is such a gross feeling when you start paying attention to it.

Melody
Melody
12 years ago

I think there’s something ingrained in us as a society about wanting to buy new stuff, even when it’s not good for us. It is a challenge to get out of the mindset that new equals better. A local preservation group has a slogan that the greenest building is one that’s been preserved. That’s a statement I agree with wholeheartedly. And yet, I live in a house that was built just four years ago.

The trend I’m noticing lately is, to be “green” and environmentally friendly, people buy brand new environmentally-friendly products (rugs and placemats made out of recycled materials!) instead of using what they’ve already got, even though the greenest thing is to not bring any more new stuff into the world.

But say we all stop buying more stuff than we need… then what happens to our economy, which is so based on consumption? Basically, it seems like we’re screwed either way!

As for Riley, could you maybe create a rotation where you put some of his toys away for a couple of months, then bring them out again like they’re brand new?

samantha jo campen
12 years ago

Nolita Morgan–Yes! Madame Blueberry! My son is always so concerned when she cries and says “Mommy she sad cuz she have too much stuff! But she be all better.”

Yes, son. You’re right.

*sniff*

MRW
MRW
12 years ago

When our second child was born my husband and I knew he wanted to take 12 weeks of leave after I took my 12 weeks, but most of his leave would be unpaid. I knew we could do this if we reigned in our spending, so I challenged him: for a month we would track all of our spending and whoever spent less won what they wanted (for me it was to sleep in both week-end days, for him it was to go fishing for two days). This didn’t count stuff like gas or groceries, just our splurge spending. At the end of the month neither of us had splurged on anything and it worked kind of as a system purge. Once we got out of the habit of buying whatever we felt like whenever we felt like it, we found we didn’t even want to do that anymore. A couple of months ago he was laid off and that spending experiment has paid dividends because we got so used to avoiding frivolous buying that we are doing ok on my salary + his unemployment. I am trying so hard to instill in my kids the idea that it’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got that matters. So far, mixed success, but we keep on trying.

Kathy
Kathy
12 years ago

We deal with this “stuff-ism” in our family, too. It’s fun to get new things, it really is, but it’s so easy to get sucked into that cycle and with four kids, the “stuff” piles up fast. We make regular donations to our local used bookstore and Salvation Army, which helps, but it’s not enough to keep ahead of the influx of “stuff”.

Gertie
12 years ago

I can’t relate to the whole iPhone thing, mostly because my mobile is 4 years old (I only use it to text – calls are super expensive in the UK) but I’m right there with you on the want vs need.

We were poor as kids, so I think my buying stuff was making up for what I lacked, and also what I perceived to be lacking growing up.

As an adult I bought a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home on 1 acre. And I had 3 cars. For just myself! I used to have stuff, and more stuff, stuff enough that even good ol’ George Carlin would be shocked. I had enough stuff to change out the colors with the seasons, and could decorate a table with so much style Martha Stewart would eat her own heart.

Then I picked up and moved 6,000 miles away – taking just a suitcase. I spent 18 months living in a single room and sleeping on a cot. Other than wanting a real bed, I didn’t miss a damn thing!

When I got my own flat, and started to decorate, I got excited about buying this and buying that and then I realized that I had lived for several years without it already and that not only did I NOT need it, I no longer wanted to have all of that stuff.

I’ve been unemployed now, so buying new things has become more can’t than won’t but what I do is keep a coin jar and when it gets full I get to buy myself something (new book, memory card, etc). Maybe that’s something you can try with the boys?

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

You made a difference by helping me realize I could run a half-marathon. Training for it right now, and what the heck, I think I actually can. Thanks for that. :)

Liana (Suburban Mom)
12 years ago

This reminds me of the day I was dropping off my children at the daycare and a poor child was crying and crying because his mommy left him. The teacher, trying to console him, said – now don’t you like “stuff?” That is why your mommy goes to work, so you can have “stuff”! And I seriously got disgusted and vowed to be a stay at home mom. However, with a husband that is a small business owner in these tough times and two small children, the “stuff” I go to work for is benefits and money to keep a roof over our heads, but never in a million years would I tell my children I leave them so I can buy “stuff”. But it did open my eyes…and the amount of “stuff” that is consumed, or expected TO consume is really outrageous.

And my husband is all hypnotized by the newest model iPhone. And when I asked why? What feature on it is just SO AWESOME? …he couldn’t even answer. So I too will NOT be cajoled into buying one.

jolie
12 years ago

More of us need to come to this conclusion. was just reading on a friends blog about how she struggles with connecting “learning how to be happy” with “learning how to be less of a consumer”. It’s one thing to say you want to live more sustainably/wisely/frugally, but another to break yourself from the system; a system we have been trained into from the moment we are born. Keep going in the direction you’re going! You’re on the right path. More of us need to think these thoughts.

Jem
Jem
12 years ago
Ashley, the Accidental Olympian

So weird, I just had the same realization about the iPhone, and what wanting it when I can’t afford it represents in a bigger sense.

Here I was, willing to pre order it, even though I don’t have the money currently, willing to add more money to my debt when in reality I am perfectly capable of waiting the three months it will take me to save for the phone.

My current version is broken, and slow, and yes should be upgraded. But I don’t NEED it today. Not enough to increase my debt for.

It’s amazing what we can do when we tell ourselves to stop wanting.

Lisa
Lisa
12 years ago

I am resisting the new iPhone too. I hate that everything electronic is an exercise in planned obsolescence. It’s so wasteful, but I have to participate because I am a professional photographer & graphic designer. Nikon, Adobe & Apple get all my money. One thing that I do with my career to make a difference is teach. I’ve been teaching photography for 10 years & it is an awesome way to get over fear of public speaking & shyness, and to give back by sharing your knowledge w/the world.

shygirl
shygirl
12 years ago

I think you’re spot on with “listen and think” for now. You’ve clearly got some big stuff shifting under the surface of your life, and it *is* all tied together. Sometimes you just have to wait for the subconscious stuff to bubble up and make itself known, and then you learn what you need to do.

Also, FWIW, you have made such a difference in my life, just with your writing, that I am secretly hoping you do bail on your marketing job and become a fitness trainer or healthy-lifestyle coach or something like that, because I totally want to work with you :)

Zephyr
12 years ago

I’m glad I’m not the only one who held out! I usually try to wait for the new shiny toy to come out, wait for all the glitches to f*ck with everyone’s lives, then buy the 2nd version of the shiny new toy… you know, the one that actually WORKS.

sooboo
12 years ago

Good for you for turning down the free iphone. I’m sure a few people thought you were nuts. I used to really enjoy shopping and dreaming about the next purchase but then I had the experience of helping my mom move out of a 5 bedroom house with 3 generations of people’s stuff crammed inside it. The idea of stuff suddenly changed from desirable to burdensome. It’s just unsustainable for all of us to chase the cycle of stuff, yet our culture is really centered around it. It can be very difficult to exit the loop. What’s now more important to me are things like having new experiences, connecting to people, ideas and art. I’m positive you have and will continue to help a lot of people through your writing. It’s harder to quantify.

Dr. Maureen
12 years ago

Ah, “Want” vs. “Need.” Sometimes the distinction is so very difficult, and one I struggle with regularly. Good for you on the iPhone.

suedonym
12 years ago

Yesss! One more for me!

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

This is a very timely post for me. We’ve been going through many of the same things you’ve been writing about. We don’t have any children but I totally identify with everything you’re saying. I can distinctly remember waking up as a child with a zing in my mind every time I got something new. I would pop out of bed, excited to have something new to play with, and as soon as that feeling wore off I’d start whining for something else. I wish someone had told me no more often then.

Lather, rinse, repeat and here I was 30 years later living in a five bedroom house with two over priced cars in the driveway and more junk, crap and fluff filling it than anyone needs. Last fall, the brakes screeched on my life when my brother died suddenly and violently. It took packing up all his stuff and sifting through it to find the things that were important to him, while listening to his girlfriend and my mother argue over who got what to snap me into “the now.” They fought over appliances while I dug through piles of stuff my mother slated for Goodwill, looking for his favorite sweatshirt and a picture of us on vacation. I know it sounds insane, but I went to my husband l and told him if things didn’t change I was leaving. Lucky for me, he was ready to listen.

We’ve sold off most of our over priced possessions (flat screen TVs, BMWs, Jetskis, three bedrooms of furniture, exercise equipment, multiple laptops, designer clothing, bags, shoes, etc) paid off all of our debt, (and anyone who tells you that didn’t make them feel like a freed slave is a liar) found a buyer for our house and learned a lot about ourselves in the process. I was able to quit my job and stay home to help my husband with his business, giving him much needed time to himself. Our families both think we’re insane, but we’re moving cross country in August to start over at the beach instead of waiting to retire there because it’s what was at the top of both of our lists of things we wanted. Life is too short to wait.

I won’t lie, I have had a rough time of it. I find myself being sucked in with ads for new iPads and iPhones, answering phone calls from Bloomingdales telling me they have something new in I’ll just love. One more $300 pair of jeans won’t hurt, right? I have room on my charge account. Ironically, credit offers have poured in just as I’ve stopped needing them. This is the first iPhone I won’t be getting brand new, and I’m even thinking of not having a mobile phone after we move and going back to my natural hair color. (I doubt that will happen though, because it makes me happy to get a new hairdo, and I’m not joining a convent, just reassessing my priorities.)

Breaking the cycle of spiritual poverty has been harder than dealing with the death of my sibling. Not distracting myself with new pretty shiny stuff has given me the focus to get down to what it is inside me that made me the bottomless pit of want and get a grasp on it. I’ve been able to properly grieve my brother’s death and move forward, rather than smother the hurt with stuff. I’ve fallen in love with life again. I take pleasure in helping people rather than assessing what new things my friends have that I want. When I look in the mirror I see me, not my lipstick and shiny hair and fancy clothes. Turning off the TV, avoiding websites that I used to go to to tell me how I should dress, look and feel about things and stopping my magazine subscriptions has helped me break the cycle of want immensely.

To quote Cher Horowitz, who taught me I should really only wear things once, I gave my soul a makeover. It’s been worth it.

Sarah
12 years ago

Good thought provoker! Couple things.
Thing 1: My mom was always very, uhh, frugal, to put it nicely. But there were two things that it was ok to spend money on in our family: travel and books. We traveled to England and/or Australia just about every summer of my childhood. And before each trip we could go to the bookstore and pick out whatever books we wanted to take with us. Looking back, I think that kind of spending was targeted on the right areas. In college, my parents paid for me to take a ‘class’ that involved a week-long hike around Mt. Blanc. They wouldn’t send me a nickel in a care package, but they bought me a $1K flight on Swissair. That experience is with me to this day, and will always be. Once in a lifetime.

Thing 2: Despite thing 1, as an adult I found myself growing really into ‘things’ — clothes, shoes, etc. And then I had my son in January, we went down to one income, and I found myself cutting back while at the same time no longer feeling as much want for ‘things.’ Funny how life can reorganize your priorities for you, especially when the going gets a little tough.

Erin
Erin
12 years ago

What a great post, Linda. And you definitely do make a difference. Thank you for being you.

shelagh
shelagh
12 years ago

amen, sister. sounds like you’re getting closer to your dream.

Ris
Ris
12 years ago

I know exactly how you feel. Thanks for putting it in words, and out on the internet, so that maybe a few other people will think twice before they pick up the brand new whatever it is when their old whatever is juuuust fine.

Lesley
Lesley
12 years ago

This is such a great post and very timely for me since I just needlessly bought a third pair of KSwiss running shoes for no good reason other than turquoise appealed to me and “how nice would these look with my new Lululemon outfit”.

Our entire economy and culture is founded on endless consumption and instant gratification. I find myself caught in this cycle of want, boredom, and disappointment.

Hair products…my God. Every time I go to the hair dresser I allow myself to get talked into some new product.

Thanks for this reminder to be more conscious of my consumption (and spending!).

Danell
Danell
12 years ago

Good gosh, surely you have an idea that you make a difference to so many people who read your writing! You’re amazing! =)

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

What a great post. Thanks for reminding me that the best things in life really don’t come in pretty packages (unless you count hospital receiving blankets…).

jonniker
12 years ago

You’ve always helped me.

As for stuff, I hear you. Living in VT was awesome in this regard. We lived without all of it. We had nowhere to shop, so our priorities were completely focused. When we first moved here, I went NUTS with the shopping. NUTS. And now … not so much. I’m trying to make a point to go places that don’t involve shopping — I don’t mind paying for an experience, but I don’t need to BUY anything. This is especially important for me with Sam.

Some things we don’t compromise on are dinners out, because they make all of us really happy, and we spend time together doing it. But buying stuff? Nah. I’d rather save the money. And I NEVER thought I’d feel that way.

Meagan
12 years ago

I’ve been realizing the same thing over the past couple of years. I still get the urge to buy something (or things) new, but I’m getting better. It’s a process. I’ve noticed especially since I’ve had my son that I’m much more frugal since, you know what, I’d rather spend the time I’d spend at work paying for that item with him at home. Haven’t managed to make that leap yet, but I’m thinking about it.
One exercise my husband and I have found helpful for connecting money to dreams is 31 Days to Fix Your Finances at Simple Dollar (http://preview.tinyurl.com/2cv62r). It helped me realize that I don’t need or really want a new car, tons of stylish clothes, etc. What I’d rather have is a comfortable home, guilt-free yoga, and some vacations. :)
Good luck in your effort to reduce the “stuff.”

Tricia
12 years ago

My screen saver says (simply):

’tis a gift

And you all can figure that one out.

amber
12 years ago

The timing of this blog post was perfect for me. I’m terrible with money (spend! constantly! want new stuff!) and lately I’ve had to re-work my budget and cut back on, well, EVERYTHING. Including eating out. So I’m being really strict with myself.

And this is a nice reminder. You’re absolutely right. Happiness isn’t about stuff.