the affects of effects [day 306]

It starts when we’re born.  Accessories.  “My daddy is the best” and “My mom is better than your mom” on our shirts, iconic pacifiers, hair bows in more styles and colors than Baskin Robbins has flavors, complete ensembles of coordinated clothing, all in large quantities.  When did babies become fashion statements?  Aren’t they cute enough already?  I see a lot of people talking to parents with small babies and hearing more compliments about the clothing than the kid wearing them.

It continues through adolescence, expanding to toys and games.  I have boys (thank you God) that don’t care much about fashion and will probably need future therapy for their lack of stylish clothing options.  They do however have accessories.  They have Nintendo DS’s that have lots of games, a universal charger, a fancy light sabre stylus and headphones, all packed inside a custom case.  Society says, “You need more” and we respond by buying more.

Into adulthood now, and I’m not exempt from this.  I might not have a lot of fancy, trendy clothing but I do have some nice things in my house.  Most from eBay, craigslist and thrift stores, but nevertheless, lots of things.  Accessories.  I have decorative things that serve no purpose other than to sit there and look nice.  Now I’m an artist of sorts, so this is an important topic.  I love to create things, but with a purpose.  Much of my art is chaotic, but has meaning and purpose behind it.  The vase sitting on my shelf, not so much.  I’ve been sucked into the American vortex of more is better.  I created this photograph several years ago.  This has many meaning for many people, but I see it as how we become background fixtures in the sea of stuff we own.

I saw a commercial on hulu last night for a discount clothing store.  The girl in the commercial said, “I never wear the same thing twice, at least not together anyway.  I go to [T.J. Maxx?] once a week for great deals on the latest clothing styles and accessories.  And, I can still afford to eat.”  First of all, she’s very thin and I’m quite sure she’s not eating enough.  And what about the part of her life we don’t see?  Credit card debt maybe, possibly her parents are paying her rent, but hey, she looks great!  In 30 seconds, she was wearing about 10 different outfits and I didn’t see any of the same items.  Is it really cool to wear as many things as we can fit on our bodies?

It seems as though accessories, or personal effects, have changed over the years from self-expression to an interpretative status of ownership.  I really don’t know at what point in my life that my ‘stuff status’ started to bother me.  I think it’s been bothering me for a long time, and maybe now I’ve just decided to face it and change it.  Owning stuff is not evil or bad, but too much of anything is not good, right?  Here it comes, the word of the week.  Balance.  Somewhere between excess and scarcity lives moderation.  Yes, I tend to operate in the mode of all or nothing, but when it comes to material possessions, I feel the need for balance.  In a few areas where I’ve achieved this, I feel at peace.

This whole topic popped into my head last night, not only during the commercial, but on the internet as I was looking for the dimensions of the decking I bought to go around my used hot tub.  Yes, I bought an accessory.  I paid 21% of the original cost for it and it would have cost more for me to build.  When looking up the measurements, I realized if I bought all of the accessories available, one of each, it would cost me $3,245.  This includes my light up floating disco ball, a scrubug, aerospace protectant, spazazz aromatherapy, a hydraulic lift for the cover and more things than I could ever possibly use.  And for only $1,200, I can change the color of my tub.  None of these things are bad, it’s just that 90% of them are unnecessary.  They’re novelties.

Here’s a few simple tips that might help when you’re accessorizing anything.

  • Do your homework. Many manufacturers will make the main unit of something a loss leader in order to gain sales on the accessories.  Xbox is a good example.  The main unit is close to the manufacturers cost, yet the mark up on the games and accessories is exorbitant.  Don’t forget, some accessories won’t work without other accessories.  Do your homework and know what you’re buying.
  • Price shop. Can you buy this item used?  Can you find it on sale?  If you wait a few weeks, could you get it cheaper?  Don’t just look at the price either, look at the value.  If you buy that pair of shoes, will they last a long time and will you be able to wear them more than twice a year?
  • Shop with a purpose. Avoid the “I’m bored” shopping trips.  If you need (I use that word loosely here) a new hat, go shopping for a hat.  Use a list and only buy what’s on the list.
  • Avoid impulse buys. If you see something you want, wait 24 hours, then go back and buy it.  Chances are you’ll forget about it.  Shopping without a cart works well too.  Walk through the store, don’t pick up anything you like.  Keep in mind all of the things you like and are considering for purchase.  Then walk the store again to get the things you remember.  You will be amazed at how many of them leave your mind.  If something you really liked stuck in your head, then maybe that’s worth taking a second look.
  • Think long-term. Picture this item now.  Picture this item with your other stuff.  Picture it in a month.  In 6 months.  In a year.  Where will it be?  How much will it have been used over a year’s time?  The value word applies again here.  If you buy a $10 item, but use it one or twice, that’s a bad value.  If you spend $50 on an item and you use it until it falls apart, that’s a good value.  Giving your purchases of any size a one minute thought process can keep you from buying things you won’t use.
  • Be creative. MacGyver was greatness for this reason.  Is there another way to get this item, modify something you already have or accomplish the task without buying something new?  My kids 2+ year old lunch bags were falling apart.  Broken zippers and holes were inevitable from the amount of use they’ve gotten.  Instead of buying new ones, we have a few small size ‘green’ bags from the video store.  Those are the new lunch bags.  They’re easy to wash and no zippers to break.
  • Share, trade or sell. Okay, so we did.  We bought something we thought we would use, but didn’t.  I’ve done it, you’ve done it, but why hang on to this stuff?  Trade it.  Sell it.  If it’s something you still can’t part with because you still use it twice a year, share it with your friends. Trust me, they have stuff like this too.  If we all share it, we can all buy less and own less.  My kids share their video games with friends and they strategize on what to buy so they can share.

The whole point here is that less stuff has many benefits in our lives from less stress to saving money.  Again, somewhere between excess and scarcity lives moderation.  Try this once and see what the results are.  The affects or your effects may just surprise you.


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