September 22, 2016

weg schmeißen?

a lot of people would call me a minimalist. as much as possible i try to keep our home free of things we don't need and have always loved the william morris quote: "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." but it's hard. i grew up american, and despite having pretty minimalist parents the constant bombardment of consumerism was never absent. i have the classic american female's problem of getting a high from shopping, and it was only after i married my money savvy husband and moved to a money savvy country that i started to look around and see things in a new light. the germans aren't all penny pinchers, but it's a stereotype that has a lot of truth to it. germans who come from swabia (the area that daniel is from) are especially known for their frugal ways. to daniel's family shopping is just a necessary evil, not a hobby or joyful pursuit. someone needs new pants? (and needs means needs, not just "i'm bored with what i have") let's drive into the city and buy a really good pair that will last, then go home. the end. no window shopping, no finding things you didn't know you needed, no impulse purchases... just pants... done. when i first moved here i couldn't understand it, how does one get so little joy out of something that gives me such a huge rush? one thing that helps is the lack of "throwaway culture" in this country, something that defines american consumerism. for example, my father in law has had the same miele vacuum cleaner since 1985. it's green and hideous, which would have given me cause to trash it a long time ago. when the hose broke after a while he found another one at the dump and kept right on vacuuming, something that definitely would have made me chuck it. my in-laws are an extreme example of frugality but i'm slowly learning to appreciate their approach to owning stuff: buy the best quality in the first place and take care of it. for me there are a multitude of reasons to throw things out: it's ugly, it's slightly broken, i've seen other ones that look better, it's out of style, it's boring me... etc, etc. part of this has to do with the ongoing evolution of what i find appealing stylistically, and i doubt i'll ever be rid of that, but a lot of it has to do with the false belief that things are meant to be replaced constantly. and honestly these days a lot of things are. i remember my mom buying vacuum cleaners every two years or so because they just didn't do the job anymore. she could have taken them somewhere to be repaired, except that there wasn't a place that did that. instead she just popped into the local walmart and picked up another one. easy peasy. and fun, because there were sure to be other things we didn't know we needed around each corner. i loved it, the excitement of bringing new stuff into the house, the shiny packaging, the promises of incredible performance and a happier life. what i never woke up to was the fact that these things were being manufactured to be replaced, because that keeps the money flowing. it also keeps the waste flowing, and the debt, and the crash after the shopping high. somehow we ended up in a cycle of addiction that  hides in plain sight, an addiction that i'm still battling despite my best intentions.

although the germans are mindful of quality and saving money, the culture of consumerism is creeping in here, too. today while getting my bangs trimmed my hairdresser told me about her husband's job in industrial measurement. many high level names like porsche and the companies that make airplanes would prefer to replace the entire product in ten years than let her husband measure out the dimensions for a replacement part. more and more manufacturers are outsourcing to chinese factories, even ones that have a tradition of being good german quality. i do think it's still easier to find well made products over here than in the u.s., especially things like appliances and cookware (wmf is one of my favorite brands). during the past year we've tried to become extra aware of what we're buying, which isn't easy when so much is made overseas. certain buys are now automatic, like wmf cutlery or daniel's work shirts from olymp, but other things require more research and often more money than i'm willing to spend. it's also challenging investing in something that you're not sure you'll like/wear/need in the next five years, making clothes and shoes my biggest problem area right now. in the end though this effort has been worth it. i'm prone to anxiety and limiting my options by choosing to only buy good quality has taken a lot of stress away. instead of looking for quantity and the cheapest prices i'm getting better at taking a step back and thinking objectively, which has reduced the binge/purge cycle of shopping and tossing. (it's still a work in progress though!) a similar situation happened a few years ago when we stopped buying toiletries and cosmetics that didn't have natural ingredients. despite being more expensive we've ended up saving money because i'm no longer throwing away half used bottles of body wash or trying out every drugstore mascara brand. essentially this is just one big "perspective change" project. being an impatient person means i want the cycle of addiction to just suddenly stop, but it doesn't work that way. anyone who has grown up in a consumer society is going to have to go through the process of changing the way they think, just as i'm trying to do. although i still would have tossed that vacuum cleaner. xoxo

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