I am about to share a story that is completely embarrassing to me now. If I had said it out loud I would probably have been embarrassed when I was living it, too. But I share it because I imagine I'm not the only one to have been caught up in such an insidious product obsession.
Once upon a time, I blissfully kept my fruit in an old ceramic bowl on the counter. Until one day, while thumbing through a Smith and Hawken catalogue, I saw a three-tiered rustic wire fruit stand. I knew I didn't need it, and wasn't going to buy it. But it sure looked nice. Suddenly, my perfectly adequate old ceramic bowl seemed boring. Not to mention that it sometimes didn't hold all of the produce I wanted to put in it, and bananas and oranges ended up spilling out directly onto the counter. I imagined they would fit nicely and in an aesthetically pleasing way into the three tiers of the Smith and Hawken rustic wire fruit stand.
A few months later, I received a gift certificate for Smith and Hawken for my birthday. I went to the local store to use it, but the three-tiered, rustic wire fruit stand was not there! I thought about buying something else, but I couldn't give up so easily. Instead, I went home to look at the Smith and Hawken website. There it was: three-tiered, rustic,wire-y...and out of stock!
For a while after that, as my gift certificate sat untouched in a drawer, I periodically searched for the fruit stand. I found it listed online through another retailer, but didn't have a gift certificate for another retailer, and some sane part of me still knew this was not really important enough to spend my money on. I held out hope that more of them would appear on the shelves soon. I saw and considered buying other fruit stands, but none of them were as nice, and, again, I wasn't sure I could bring myself to spend money on such a silly thing, especially if it was not a three-tiered rustic wire silly thing. Yet I felt strangely compelled to keep looking for it and thinking about it.
When I joined The Compact last July, the fruit stand search ended. I took a deep breath and resigned myself to continuing to use the small ceramic bowl I already owned. I haven't thought about it (much) in the last seven months. But a few days ago I went to a salvage shop (selling used Compact-friendly stuff) in my town. I was looking for a toy for my son--something electronic with lots of buttons to distract him from his habit of punching (and often breaking) buttons on my phone, remote controls, computer, and anything else he can get his hands on. After discovering a great old $3 clunky calculator, I also found and bought a $5 huge ceramic bowl that I'm using as my new fruit bowl. It's nice, useful, big enough to hold all my fruit. And buying it forced me to revisit that strange time in my life when I searched in vain for another fruit receptacle. I wonder now how many hours I spent thinking about this, how much energy I used searching for it, and I'm glad any need that might have been there is officially filled.
To think that my search began with a glance at a catalogue I never asked to receive. My husband told me once of an experience he had watching a couple at a store agonize over which of a dozen decorative and nearly identical statuettes to buy. It was easy to laugh at this, but I'm wondering now how many items, particularly those that are less clearly unnecessary, but unnecessary nonetheless, are soaking up time and energy that might be better spent on almost anything else. And I'm aware that even the search for used products, though Compact-friendly, can eat into our lives. Though buying used helps stem the tide of disposable consumerism, it is the compulsion to collect and consume, to create needs where there were none before, that I would like to avoid.