“What do you want from the toy store?” I asked my son, Salem.
It was a sentence every kid dreams of hearing, and my son was no different. He’d just turned five years old and had received a gift certificate to a toy store for his birthday.
“A skateboard,” he said with a grin.
He’d seen the older boys in our neighborhood skating and had been talking about getting one for months.
I assumed, knowing his conviction, this would be an easy trip to the toy store.
Boy was I mistaken!
Expecting Salem to focus on skateboards once inside the toy store was like asking him to learn algebra inside Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Mesmerized by colors and shapes, Legos and superheroes, flashy electronics and neon racecars, my son was swept up into another dimension.
As I was dragging him past the dinosaur display, featuring a tent in which a child could play with his dinosaur toys, things went south.
Solemnly, Salem announced, “Dad, I need this tent.”
Another year of hearing about the skateboard flashed through my mind.
“But you have been saving money for months to buy a skateboard,” I reminded him. “Besides, you would hardly ever play with this tent—the dinosaurs are not even included.”
We bantered back and forth, him lobbying for why he needed the tent and me with a list of reasons it would be a mistake.
Finally—remembering I was the dad—I announced:
“Salem, we are not buying a dinosaur pop-up tent. That’s final.”
Though he was crushed for a moment, when we left the store ten minutes later with the skateboard he’d been wanting, that would be well-used over the next several years, he was glowing.
Since the skateboard incident at “Toy Warehouse,” I’ve realized how much all of us are like five-year-olds when it comes to buying and owning things.
Though we’re not particularly enthralled with dinosaur tents anymore, we often convince ourselves that we really need this pair of shoes, or that kitchen appliance or some other shiny gadget to be happy. Whether or not we actually do need the longed-for item, or would use it for very long if we had it doesn’t matter.
It is irrelevant when we’re hoodwinked by the disorienting haze of desire.
Like Dorothy and her friends being overcome by opium in the poppy fields outside the Emerald city, consumerism is in the air we breathe. We’ve inhaled the toxic philosophy that we must buy, buy, buy to be happy.
The messaging that bombards us daily has so convinced us that consuming more will satisfy, we don’t even question it most days.
The win, though, comes as we’re able to notice our blind spots.
When Salem was bedazzled by the dino-tent, he lost sight of what he actually valued most.
Blinded, he was willing to exchange what was best for something less.
When we’re willing to get honest about the impact consumerism has on our lives—whether our temptation is clothing or electronics or tents or home décor—we can stop being bullied by consumerism and discover more reliable sources of happiness.
Over the last four years, when my family has gotten ride of about 60% of all we owned, we’ve enjoyed the lasting satisfaction we experience as we reject consumerism. In The More of Less I share a lot of the ways that we, and others, have found the lives we wanted under everything we owned. Together we’ve discovered something amazing.
As a result, today the five-year-old inner child in me is outside playing with my son—sometimes watching him skateboard with his pals—instead of being stuck inside Toy Warehouse.
Blinders off. Good life, on.