Capitalism makes you want things, it’s all about desire. We all kind of know this. Buddhists totally understand this. I secretly succumb to the allure of advertising, much as I try to avoid it. Glossy ads in the letter box for the local supermarket special on chicken breasts, screaming ads on TV for imported Italian furniture, pop-up ads online promising that I really have won a chance to win an Apple iPhone, the seductiveness of goods displayed behind shopping centre windows so artfully designed and executed that I want to move in and live in the window, even the radio ads that I encounter as I channel surf that gently challenge me to consider my lifestyle options as I age. They all secretly scream “BUY ME!” “I AM THE PROMISE OF THE LIFE YOU WANT TO LIVE!” “I WILL FULFILL YOU!” But perhaps it’s also just about change, our constant human companion. I look around my house and I too want things; I especially want things changed around the house. I want nice things (you define it) and I crave order even though I live in everyday chaos. And there are also things that I don’t want. These of course are the antithesis of the things I crave. I don’t want threadbare carpet, a fence that’s falling over, serious cracks in the walls, leaking toilets (fixed those); I don’t want weeds that have taken over the garden and started growing half way up the house like triffids, missing internal doors, peeling paint, a rotting deck, stained curtains or dirty windows. But more than just change, I want to self-actualise through my ownership and use of things. I want the essence of those things to improve me, improve my life and all my relationships. I can see myself in the ads for home improvements, confidently smiling out from the brochure, TV ad and online side ad totally living the life. Isn’t this the promise of things? I’m sure it’s the promise of the advertisers.
You can especially see the life cycle of a thing through the desires and satisfactions of children’s wants. A thing is massively craved, yearnfully longed for and the parental units are harassed interminably until the thing is finally located in situ within the family home. Days, weeks and even months pass until finally the thing has saturated the deep well-pool of desire that drew it into the household. We can count cute battery operated guinea pigs, electronic calendar and address books, the computerised drawing pen and pad, friendship bracelet/necklace/BFF kits, ANY board game, a massive amount of craft gear and even 62 coloured Derwent pencils. But we can’t simply blame children for this, as adults we too are guilty, so very guilty. One of the latest whizzy blender things sits barely used under the sink in a cupboard as most of the time I can’t be bothered getting it out to use it, and once it’s out it’s a pain to clean it. And I prefer to do my slicing and dicing with a knife anyway, as I’ve done for years. But I HAD to have one, because I didn’t have one and I desperately wanted what I thought it offered: salvation through blending, chopping, dicing, whipping, slicing, grating and pulverising. And I’m not even talking Thermomix here, just a plain old food processor. Did this turn me into Nigella, Jamie, or either the Good or Bad Cook in the kitchen? No. It looked so full of promise in the shop, but once home and out of the box I saw it for the cheap plastic and sharp metal that it really was. An industrial revolution promise of a more leisured life for the modern woman. But more than that, it also harked to a permanence, a permanent presence of industrial strength, professional slicing and dicing, Scientific Industrial Man standing by my side as I created grated carrot for my coleslaw. But that permanence, that solidity, even with a quad-head chopping blade was a myth. Nothing lasts forever. And the Buddhists were right about that too.
I’ve come to terms with my stuff more recently and have begun circulating it more frequently. Anthropologists talk of the hau of a thing, the spirit of an object, in that a gift may be given but the essence of the gift always seeks return, or at least recirculation and eventual return to its original owner. It’s true then, gift-givers are always seeking something in return. But this is not a parody or simple imitation of the circulation of the regifted foot spa. And so the recriminations of the uninitiated begin, “Mum, can’t we please keep these chocolates? You never let us keep any of the chocolates that are given to us by people when they come over. Why do you always have to give them away?” Actually, the last lot of chocolates that we regifted, we didn’t even unwrap to find out what they were… We hope you enjoyed them (you know who you are). Through recent need with my family in tow we shop at charity stores, often finding new and novel things to purchase that satisfy the expression of the purchasing gene that we all inherited, and through whose use we of course we attempt to recreate ourselves. Through circumstance we now buy less, spend less, succumb less to the advertisers and challenge the price tags of new items because of our thrifty shopping. But more than anything we participate in the circulation of things by taking in a bag of things to donate before we go into the shop to buy. Well, most of the time. We always have a bag of clothes, books, CDs, DVDs, kitchen appliances and other stuff we’ve fallen out of love with to pass on. It’s not gift-giving in the classical sense, but it’s an acknowledgement that things circulate based on desire and need. If we don’t need or want it anymore, that’s not to say that someone else might need or want it. And so it goes. The hau is on its way back.