by Tara* Kaushal
I spent a whole year without shopping. Here's why, and what I learnt. Conceptual image by Sahil Mane Photography.
We consume more in every successive generation, more as we get richer, more as quality of life improves, more as the population explodes, more as mass production makes things cheaper, and so I'm compelled to believe that environmental concerns aren't alarmism but plain common sense. I, you, we're the target audience for millions of brands owned by thousands of corporations, vying for our attention—that they often get, along with our money, begging the question of indoctrination and the commercialisation of our tastes, needs and wants. And these corporations big and small… who are we making rich and what ethics do we end up supporting, literally buying, with our money? (Slaveryfootprint.org has a simple, if simplistic, survey to tell how many slaves work for you.)
Truth be told, I've never been overtly concerned with possessing or attached to things, and it's not like I shop a lot. I'm no ascetic: I dress up to look good and pander to the pull of fashion, and I've spent as much on the experience of a meal, a holiday, an adventure, rescuing an animal, surprising a loved one, a massage, as others do on jewellery, clothes and gadgets. Plus, I bought two houses as soon as I could: homes to fill the emotional void of an unstable childhood. And how can you ignore the better utility of a Mac and iPhone vs the PC and Blackberry, irrespective of the cost and show-off value. Of course, I need to feed my pride and ego with other things, let me not be confused for a saint. But brandishing brands, having things for the sake of having things, keeping keepsakes, ascribing objects with emotional value… never and decreasingly has that been for me.
Things, however, have always found me. Circumstances conspired to make me the proud owner of a houseful of hand-me-down things, courtesy my parents' migration to Australia and my ex-husband's transfer to Indonesia. At 23, in a house the size of a matchbox, in a new city where other strugglers like me slept on mattresses and could count on one hand the dishes they owned, I drowned in sofas and Kenwoods, artefacts, a king-sized bed, a sofa set and a rocking chair. Eight years later, my home is almost purged of all these expensive things, once pregnant with memories and too precious to give away (though not necessarily necessary nor my aesthetic).