Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? (Hopkins)
In middle school, we studied the Domesday book, a medieval tax record. I went through my pink-frilled bedroom and diligently made a list of everything I owned: ten shirts, seven beanie babies, twelve textbooks, three purses.
No way would I do that now. I probably own 10,000 distinct items. Yet I woke up yesterday feeling the pressing need to go shopping. My shoes are out of fashion, I’m bored with the books on my shelf. My friends each own 15,000 items. I’m falling behind here!
In Born to Buy, Juliet Schor writes:
“Consumption is a thoroughly social activity, and what one person buys, wears, drives or eats affects the desires and behaviors of those around them.”
When I was sixteen, I spent a summer living in Kazakhstan. I had crammed about 100 items into my suitcase, and found that I was wealthy by local standards. I rarely had that shopping urge.
Now my suburban life goes like this: meet friends for coffee. Meet friends for dinner. Meet friends to shop. Meet friends and talk about our jobs, and where we hope to work to get more money. Vacation with friends and spend money on souvenirs. We carry a bit of debt, and every now and then one of us goes broke.
Social consumption. Is this any surprise?