I’ve recently moved back from Australia. The process of packing provides a snapshot of one’s possessions. Mine revealed that I own a lot of stuff, much of it of dubious quality and marginal utility. It was obvious I’d spent the last five years, and a foolish sum, acquiring crap. And not only had I not got great enjoyment from owning this crap, I hadn’t enjoyed buying it either, so why on earth had I done it?
I’ve always been fonder of shopping than the average person. I love clothes particularly, as well as books and music and would imagine I own more of them than most people. Unlike most of my gender I also enjoy the process of shopping. And while I exhibit admirable willpower around food and alcohol, putting me near a shop is like putting Madonna near an orphanage.
But the issue isn’t with shopping because I’ve always done that. The issue is with buying crap. When did I start doing that?
And the answer is that I started buying crap when everything got cheaper, which, not coincidentally, is also the point at which everything got crapper.
I’m old enough to remember the first day of Saturday trading. Shops were open between 9.00 and 12.00. I remember my father presciently observing that ‘in five years time shopping will be what most people do for sport’. I’m not sure how long it took but he was right.
Shopping became our sporting activity of choice. The point of sport is to win, and winning at shopping means going home with something in a bag. But buying something every week became very expensive. So we demanded cheaper things, and in order to meet that demand retailers sacrificed the quality of what they sold (and, incidentally, the quality of the people doing the selling). We reinforced the wisdom of this by buying more.
First, the way we shopped changed and then, as a direct result, what we shopped for changed.
We demanded cheap. If we were going to shop more often we were going to need to be able to buy more often and so this meant cheaper things. Which became self-perpetuating. Things got cheaper which meant we shopped more which meant things had to get cheaper.
We didn’t buy more because what we wanted was cheap. We bought more because cheap was what we wanted.
As evidenced by the crap accumulated in my packing boxes.