Saturday, 31 May 2008

No longer a Material Girl

I’ve been home 4 weeks and so far, so good. I’ve yet to return to my old materialistic ways. Now before I go bashing myself too much, I was never the archetypal “material girl” and I could always see that there were far more important things in life. However, I DID like to buy and I certainly valued money a lot more than I do now. It sickens me now when I think of the money we waste in the Western world. I was reading a “problem page” dedicated to interior décor “problems” last week and someone was asking where they could get a nice affordable clothes stand. Below, accompanying the response was a photo which to me looked exactly like the clothes stands Sri Lankans tend to use instead of wardrobes. Julia, my housemate had one. I think over in Sri Lanka they retail at around a tenner. This one (which, admittedly, had a drawer under it) was £279!!! If I could find the people who are willing to waste that kind of money, I’d get them one sent over from Sri Lanka and I’d give the change to one of the many families struggling so hard to get by. The change would represent about 6 weeks wages for many Sri Lankans.

Handbag confession

Before I left for Sri Lanka, I emptied my flat of everything I felt was superfluous to requirements. It was a lot of stuff – if I recall, something like 28 body creams, 32 handbags. I felt annoyed at myself then but I didn’t realise that my mind was, despite my better efforts, still stuck in “materialistic mode” – I know this because I would walk into a shop, see something I liked and believe that I needed it. Just because I wasn’t buying it, didn’t stop me feeling I should have it. Now, the whole buying culture and my old ways, feel almost obscene to me. Nobody needs 32 handbags!

There's "need" and then there's "need"

Of course I’m aware that me having fewer handbags (even if I DID donate the money I’d normally spend on them to a developing country) is not really going to solve the problems of world poverty. Nor do I intend to take a vow of poverty myself. I just know that the desire to purchase has gone and even when it returns briefly, I’m thinking more about whether or not I really NEED what I’m buying. The result is (and of course it’s helped along by having an income of zero just now) that I’m buying very little. I have a new list of essentials and desirables now – the former has got shorter and the latter doesn’t really matter. In fact, all I’ve bought since returning to Scotland is petrol (at shockingly high prices) and the ingredients for a Sri Lankan Curry!

Do your plates match?

I HOPE the changes are lasting, I was always uncomfortable with my spending and wasting. I know it’s natural to go through a process of change like this when you live for a time in a developing country but I believe this is one of the things that will always stay with me. Little things like walking through a shop recently and seeing some really nice domestic things like matching plates and cups, a funky watering can, luxurious looking cushions – one time I’d have bought them believing them to be absolute essential prerequisites for my peace of mind. After all, if your plates don’t match, what will people think of you? Now, I really couldn’t care less. What you’ll get if you come to my house (once I get one!) is a warm welcome and maybe a Sri Lankan curry – I doubt I’ll even notice what plate I’m giving you as long as it’s clean!
Peer pressure

Another example and this one is a big relief to me. Some of my friends have very well paid jobs and as a result, fairly big, expensive houses. I stayed with two of my friends in such a place a couple of Saturday nights ago. Anytime I’ve been in their house before I’ve spent time wondering when I’ll be able to afford something similar. I’ve honestly felt that if I can’t keep up with my friends materially, I will have failed. No more. (I should say that the friends in question don’t think like that, just me!) I enjoyed staying on Saturday, I loved seeing my friends for the first time in ages, I admired their lovely house (which they’ve worked extremely hard for) and felt very comfortable there but not once did I feel any desire to have a comparable house. As I say, big relief seeing as it’s not likely to happen.
Friends are safe

I should say here that I’m not planning to convert any of my friends individually, to my new way of thinking. I hope it will happen naturally to most of us in the Western world and I’ll use what political influence I have to bring that about but I know there’s nothing more annoying than someone changing their ways and expecting everyone else to follow suit with similar enthusiasm, no matter how well meaning they are – take note all newly converted vegetarians, teetotallers, religious converts!

Better ethics

If you’d asked me “pre-Sri” whether or not I thought the experience would make me less materialistic I’d probably have said no because I honestly didn’t know just how materialistic I was. And apart from feeling in a better ethical position now, I truly believe I’ll be a happier and more satisfied person because of it – instead of concerning myself with fulfilling my financial/material potential simply because I felt the need to keep up with my friends, I can concentrate on what really matters in life – I hope that doesn't make me sound pious but that particular angst is, of course, a whole new blog posting!

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