The husband and I have been downsizing our purchases of late—buying less and paying less than we normally do. This is an adjustment, and requires bargain-hunting at second-hand stores instead of heading to the local mall. So far, I’ve been successful at Goodwill in picking up some of the things on our “needs” list: Snowpants for the four-year-old and a pair of underwear and clothes in next year’s size for the same.
Here’s what I bought that was not on the list: dress pants for the husband, two skirts for me, a shirt for the one-year-old, four shirts for me, a children’s tape player (I realized later we have no children’s tapes), a wool dress coat (for me).
I’ve come to realize that, at least for this “stay-at-home” mother of the 21st century, consuming has consumed a great deal of my energies. And not just my energies, but my imagination as well. What do I do when I’m stuck at home on a winter day with two small children who have cabin fever? Sure, I go to Playland, and then we stop at Target, because Playland doesn’t quite cut it for me.
Purchasing things often feels like the only sort of creative/productive activity I can accomplish while simultaneously caring for young children. The purchase captures my imagination by offering me a chance to envision my in-the-moment boring, tedious and frustrated life as something conforming to the likes of organization and an aesthetic. In other words, when my home is turned upside down by the book-throwing toddler, a pair of pink canvas baby high-tops at a price of $2.49 is soothing to the soul. And might I mention that every item of clothing purchased at Goodwill was a visually pleasing find from one of my favorite stores-- Gap, JCrew, Old Navy, Gymboree, and Banana Republic. Even the purchase of basic necessities--Q-tips, cotton balls, generic Claritin--requires an outing, a morning to fill with something other than child's play. (I love that my children engage in child's play--don't get me wrong. It's important. It's just that I get crazy playing "fort," "wrestling," "tag" or "exercise" for hours on end.)
Betty Friedan was one of the first writers to point out that the major role of the traditional middle class housewife in the 1950’s was to consume. This housewife was the “buyer” of the family, with the available time to make the purchases her husband could not while at his 9-5. Therefore she was the family member targeted the most by product companies--bombarded with advertisements for vacuums, window cleaners, and washing machines. Her job literally was to keep house, and “the experts” of the times (most likely spokespersons for company brands and products) presented all the new devices as home-keeping must-haves. This might be a good time to confess that my husband and I dont' actually keep lists. I do, in my head, and then I tell him about what we need.
In the way of those fifties housewives, I feel conditioned to buy and keep buying. Instead of stranger-“experts,” I have girlfriends, sisters-in-law, and other moms to keep me informed of the latest, greatest and cutest in children’s accoutrements, handy household products, and women’s shoes.
But what would I do if I stopped buying?
Maybe I’ll turn Evvy’s Converse shoes into an albatross of sorts, hang them around my neck when I peruse the stores next time (that is, if she’s not wearing them). I can ask myself: Does the husband, who hates to dress up, really need another pair of dress pants (that are too long, anyway)?