Friday, August 17, 2007

On how our stuff owns us:

“I have to work.” I hear that from moms all the time. I say it myself. But is it strictly true?

I am not taking issue with individual moms or families and the choices they make within the societal context. We all do the best we can. I’m taking issue with the context. Somehow, the end result of women’s quest for the freedom to make choices about our lives is that we’re locked in to the two-earner household model which, ironically, leaves us with little choice.

Come to think of it, it’s not just women, but men too. Not only do we work, but we work harder, faster and, enabled by technology, we work during a greater percentage of our time than our parents did. American workers are more productive than ever, but employers still demand more. In fact, many workers demand so much of themselves that leisure time ceases to exist-- carrying PDAs, bringing laptops home for the weekend, answering cell phones at the park or mid-conversation with friends.

Why do we do it? In order to own the things many in the middle class have come to think of as necessities: a home with a bedroom for each child, 2 cars, many of the same electronic devices that allow us/goad us to work more!

My answer is: I love beautiful clothes, to decorate my house like a picture in a magazine, to drive a nice car, to eat out at restaurants and cook with the highest quality food at home. I live in Boston, Massachusetts, which boasts some of the highest home prices in the country.

Call me over-privileged. I am. We are. We have more, and more expensive stuff than our parents ever dreamed of.

It’s possible that we’ve been duped into believing that we need all this stuff in order to fill the coffers of the makers of the stuff and the lenders of the credit that allows us to buy all the stuff we can’t even afford.

I have fantasies of jettisoning most of my stuff, buying a farm, installing solar panels or a windmill, growing my own food and home-schooling my kid. It doesn’t seem like a very realistic view from my current vantage point in our consumer society. But it sure would be liberating to own stuff that allows me to live my life rather than living-- and working-- to own my stuff.

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