Have you noticed how a person’s behavior changes as time gets closer to something ending (or something beginning, depending on how you look at it)? It’s a topic my mind frequents. I’m brought back to it because my parents have been out of town for a month, and I’ve been in my house all by myself. They get back tomorrow, and as my time alone dwindles, I find that I’m not doing much. The majority of the time they’ve been gone, I’ve been very productive and motivated. But as the burden of responsibility and duty starts resting its weight on me, I no longer have my natural motivation.
What changed? I’ve known the date of their return since they left, and it hasn’t affected me (in this way) until now. I have long known that my mom wants me to sort through things in the attic. And I’ve known I need to put gas in the car and clean the house. I’ve been at peace with these chores until now. Now that time is leaving me, I don’t want to waste it on responsibility! I want to have fun! And yet, my mind is caught in turmoil, confused between its alliance. Do I answer to fun, or do I answer to responsibility? I don’t know, and so I just sit, enjoying the quietness of alone.
With this issue, though, I’m not normally thinking of intangible things, like Time, but of physical possessions, items we buy. Take, for example, a box of truffles. At first, we scarf them down–there are so many, they’re not going anywhere soon! But as we eat more, there are, of course, less truffles. We get down to the last five or so, and only eat them when we really want one. We treasure those last five truffles. Where does this frugality spring from? Just days earlier, we were eating truffles like there was no tomorrow.
Or, another example, toilet paper. Toilet paper is that magical object that never seems to last. Rolls disappear like cat calls when you’ve got a bad haircut. Any young person living with roommates has probably experienced this at least once: either everyone says it’s someone else’s turn to buy, or no one has time to buy toilet paper. Toilet paper is a necessary object, unlike truffles, so the stakes are higher–we’re down to the last one or two rolls so everyone starts using less to make it last longer.
My question is: if toilet paper disappears so quickly, and we can easily live by using less, then why do we not use less all the time?
This issue always comes to my mind when I hear of a low-income family who suddenly comes into some money. They start buying name brands and shopping at different stores and get a fancy new car. And often the money is gone as quickly as it came.
I can see the family’s side, where they’ve been watching richer families buy products, go places, and do things that the poorer family can’t afford, so that when they can, they want a glimpse of how the other half lives.
But why is it that we don’t live in that conservative state more often? That family was functioning perfectly well with their use of the Big Bad Store Brand and the not-so-Brand-New Car. Think of the money we would save, how many less times we would need to shop!
I think it all comes down to social acceptance. We all want to create the illusion that we have it all.
Oh, this nearly-gone roll of toilet paper? Use as much as you like because I can afford that.
It doesn’t matter if I eat the entire box of truffles; I can just buy another tomorrow!
You see this car that I bought with my own money? It is just the same as your car, if not better. Will you please like me now?
Am I wrong to think that this is an American thing? I’ve been to other countries, and they all seem to live well within their means, not eating eight truffles at a time because look how many there are in the box.
Penny for your thoughts.
(And as an unrelated matter, why is it that we offer a penny for others’ thoughts, but then call our own thoughts worth “two cents”? Do we think our own thoughts are more valuable than the thoughts of others? In that case, I will give you two pennies for your thoughts)