Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Consumerist?

So we've got our last big Chapters order for what I suspect will be some months. There really is nothing quite like going to the post office, getting a card in your mail box, going up to the front counter to exchange it and having one of the guys come back with a huge bloody box of books balanced on his shoulder.

I'll even managed to forget the 20 minute wait in line to get the books because that was at least partially due to one woman who needed 15 things done and didn't seem to particularly care about the dozen or so people in line behind here, patiently waiting and slowly plotting her demise. I was personally wondering if I could fit her in an Expresspost envelope, but those things are so flimsy and tear easily these day, so probably not.

I realize part of me should feel bad about this. After all, I am an unemployed bum right now (but I am doing the dishes, dusting, laundry and other household chores to earn my keep), but I think there's also some more as well.

I got a message from a reader named Janet on the weekend. I meant to respond in that post, but I suspect this is going to be a bit longer than I could cram into a response to that post. She was reading my blog a lot in the last week, and was the one I feared was a spambot or someone copying my blog wholesale (not unheard of). Instead, she seems like a perfectly nice woman living in Southern California who is originally from Newfoundland and just happens, for some crazy reason, to like the blog. All of which is quite cool and I apologize for suspecting her of anything inappropriate.

But the thing she mentioned that did strike me was when she commented that we "buy so much stuff, you know. The level of consumerism is incredible."

Again, I'm not point this out to be mad with her or yell at her or invite others to jump her in the comments section. It's just something that struck me...because she's right....but she's not.

Cathy and I grew up in decidedly middle-class homes. We never went hungry and never wanted for anything that was reasonable. And for that both of us are grateful and realize we're luckier than many for that. However, we also went through several years, especially after university, where we struggled financially while trying to find our place in the world. I think I struggled with this longer than Cathy, but that's a moot point. There were months when we were living on Bond Street, trying to keep up with rent, car payments, groceries and whatnot where we cut it close some months. We loved Bond Street, but Cathy still curses how cold that place used to get during the winter months.

And then we moved up to Iqaluit. And I'm not sure how to describe it without sounding crass. It was like we were dipped in money. All our financial worries blew away within in a few months. Suddenly we didn't have to worry about bills so much. Suddenly we could afford dream vacations like California, Italy and Australia. We could put money away for a house and retirement. We could give money to charities and we were still all right.

I'm sure others up north must have a similar experience. It's deeply, deeply weird. And I'm not sure if we've ever completely adjusted to it. I'm not sure we can ever move back down south. We have friends who have moved back after spending years up here and the first year back south is inevitably brutal financially.

Consumerist has such negative sounding connotations. I'm not certain we're negative with how we spend our money. Do we buy things that make us happy? Obviously. Do we go over the top a bit with books and DVDs? Yeah, perhaps. But we're not zen monks and you need something to keep yourself sane during the winter when you don't want to go out in the -50C cold. But I don't think we go over the top. Our truck is 10 years old. Our winter coats are five years old. We're not frivolous with how we spend our money, I don't think.

I don't know. I guess it depends on how you define consumerist. Or how what is a frivolous expenditure. I've been poking at this blog post for several hours and I'm still not happy with it. Anyone else have any thoughts on the matter?

Last Five
1. Diamonds on the soles of her shoes - Paul Simon*
2. Break away - Kelly Clarkson
3. Reconsider me (live) - Warren Zevon
4. In my arms - Snow Patrol
5. Bluenose (live) - Stan Rogers

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Townie, I bet you will enjoy whatever books you bought during a three day white out this winter. Your reader should look toward Orange County for an even deeper example of consumerism. Spending habits are a value judgement that we all make. I'd let this one go. Paul

Nunavummiut Jaime said...

I agree with this post, Townie. Moving here allows you to pamper yourself. You seem grateful for it, I know I am. So what's the problem? I buy nice things for myself that I know I will have a long time. I'm quite young so I'm building my empire of household goods and electronics. Is there something wrong with not wanting to pinch every penny when it's not necessary? There are so many worse things you could spend your money on other than books. At least you're bettering yourself through reading.

In the end, who really cares what some random reader thinks? It's your life, we all just live in it.

Megan said...

Welcome, Janet! It's always nice to have people from the south reading about our lives in the north.

My southern relatives will sometimes say things like "Money means nothing to you". They're reacting to my near-constant willingness to go to restaurants or purchase specialty items when I'm on vacation. This was even more pronounced when I lived in Inuvik (much farther to the north) and would spend at least $1000 every time I went to Wal-Mart. (First lesson after the move to Yellowknife: I can come back tomorrow.)

It's just a different sort of consumerism, that's all. We have different spending trends than folks in California. I do understand how it could seem extreme if you weren't used to it.

tanker belle said...

First, I think "books" and "consumerist" in the same sentence - no.

I understand where you're coming from, but keep in mind that you tend to spend like a sport - as in it has a season. You can't buy much in Iqaluit so when you leave you buy a lot and then you live (e.g. read) with it all year. It's like the way you buy a large annual allotment of foodstuff on the sealift whereas most of us go to the grocery store a couple of times a week. Also keep in mind that you tend to write about your purchases quite a bit, partly because you are trying to explain life in Iqaluit (where else in Canada would a person hear about foodmail?)

I totally relate to the econo-geographical statements, it's the same thing here in the middle east. We struggled before and now it's all luxury. But some of that luxury is necessary - as in, it's difficult to live in the middle east (and the north) and so you need to go abroad sometimes. They're great experiences you wouldn't have the opportunity for otherwise. Some of the luxury is just plain paid for by others and comes with the territory (no pun intended). I've actually felt guilty about how much we've spent since moving here and yet very little of it is on our tab and, well, beds and stoves are necessities. The company paid for re-location, for our rent, for our appliances & furniture (which we get to keep and they will ship back for us). The only things we've paid for are my pretty new iphone (a birthday present) and a new tv. We've never had a new tv, last one was from the sally anne. I think buying in large doses the way that we do tends to feel much more consumerist than getting stuff regularly and slowly, but it all amounts to the same.

You are both hard-working, thoughtful people who have adapted and even enjoy a place that sends many others running for the plane. You think before you buy and those things will last you a long time and will last you even if/when you are ever in a lower income bracket. Make hay while the sun shines.

JH said...

I am suprised you have not gone the Kindle route. Would it work there?

Good luck in the Dominion.

SRD said...

You (again) make Nunavut sound a bit like my time in Africa - even as a student w/out funding I lived better than I ever do in the North (your South). And we splurged a fair bit while on vacation in North America too - there's just so much stuff...and it seems so cheap. But, I think you need to factor in the 'no kids' element. We just don't buy stuff for ourselves anymore at all -- partly just because we never go shopping anymore, and even my on-line time's pretty restricted too....

MK said...

Like you, until we moved North we had never had a disposable income, and we always struggling with the bills. Just when we thought we were getting ahead down south.... Along came two kids! Two steps forward, one back. For the first (and probably only) time, we are debt free. We have a phone bill and an internet bill. We can put away a sizable amount each pay cheque for a down payment to ease the future mortgage payment. We can even put money into RSPs and RESPs.
If our families knew what we spend/buy, they would probably tell us we are wasting an opportunity to save even more. They think our kids already have too much stuff, etc. But the reason we get paid extra money for isolation is because, well, we're isolated! (My closest Wal-mart is 2800 km away). And really, what do all those boredom-induced, gotta have it now trips shopping down south add up to? I think I'm actually saving (relatively) on food up here because I do have to plan a year ahead for the basics and at least a week ahead for food mail. We seem to make healthier choices!
And if we get to take our kids to Disney World, well, I can think of worse things to spend our money on - although some might say that is the height of consumerism!
Thank you for taking the time to write that post... you've made me think about and my hubby might thank you, too, the next time one of his online purchases arrives at the post office!

towniebastard said...

JH, I wouldn't bother with a Kindle yet. I think it's still a generation or two away from being a truly useful device.

I also just wanted to emphasize, again, that I'm not mad with that observation about our lifestyle. It just gave me a moment's pause, which I hardly think is a bad thing. It never hurts to take a moment or two and reevaluate the way you're living and is it a healthy way to go about doing things.

Anonymous said...

Hi...Well, I'm really glad to have a response from you and also a "welcome" from Megan. Very Sweet. I was starting to feel funny about reading your blog, as though I might be intruding. I feel bad now, about making that observation about the buying of lots of stuff. I assure you, I wasn't being judgmental in any way...especially since you're also managing to save some. You guys are at that time of life of accumulating things for the future and you have the means to do it. I believe that's what money is for. I know for a fact I would be spending an equal amount on books and trips. I'm older than you and Cathy and, hence, have bought all the "stuff" already. Ultimately, I now tend to spend money on experiences (and delicious food); when I have extra, which ain't too damn often. Anyway, just wanted to say hi...and wish Cathy good luck with her students and you the same with your job search. Excellent commenting on the Beatles new adventure...really kind of an ugly business and not at all conducive to the 60's Beatles and their messages of peace and love. I'm sure the standard rhetoric would have to do with appealing to a new generation, allowing them access, etc. Yeah, that's it. Anyway....thanks. Janet