I am not what you would call a consumer. I hate the mall. I spend next to nothing on clothes. I don’t eat out a ton or waste money on frivolous things, for the most part. I food shop with a list and don’t deviate from it. I may have a bit of a book fetish (and I can’t seem to get myself to take them out of the library when I can OWN them) but I justify it by paying them forward, spreading knowledge and entertainment in my small neck of the woods.
But every once in a while, I get into a thing. I decide that some item is absolutely crucial and I go about acquiring it with the resolve of a general storming a critically important hill. It’s not even that the individual thing means that much, but that having it represents something to me. I tell myself that people who have “arrived” have enough of this thing and that I, having been raised poor, won’t be like them until I have enough of this thing, too.
What the actual thing is doesn’t matter. A couple of years ago, it was irises. I gave myself permission to buy as many irises as it would take to fill my front yard with riots of color, hundreds and hundreds of dollars’ worth. (Now I find myself dividing them and giving bunches of them away every fall). I still love them, but I do wonder if a more measured approach might not have been wiser.
A few years before that, it was decorative pillows. (My bed is still awash with them, pretty, frilly, sequined things). This year, it’s been wooden spoons. Kitchen implements, really, but mostly wooden spoons. I have an extra-large sized tub of them in the kitchen, most of which have never touched a soup or a stir fry. They look darn good, yes. They’re unique and beautiful, sourced from various places, some handmade by artisans. But they are purely decorative. Why? What do they mean in my head?
I’ve learned to identify the feeling well, that moment that precedes the visit to the Pottery Barn or Williams Sonoma or Etsy website. It’s a hunger, a thrumming fear, a certainty that I’m about to be unmasked as a fraud, a spoonless loser. It often ratchets up when I know I’m going to be having people at my house. (In anticipation of a gathering I’m hosting, I have ordered two new cheese plates and several fancy cheese knives, to add to my already respectable collection. Not even sure I’m serving cheese). But even as I observe it, I can’t always stop the train from leaving the station. And so I have the most impressive wooden spoon collection on the block.
As far as weaknesses go, I suppose this isn’t the worst one. It’s not like I’m gambling the mortgage money at a casino. My spoon habit isn’t exactly sending me to the poorhouse. So I have a glut of cheese knives and wooden spoons I rarely use. But it bothers me to think that I’m making these decisions based on filling some perceived hole, one which, by all accounts, is no longer there. I’m not poor anymore. But I buy wooden spoons like a shortage is imminent. And what will be the Next Crucial Thing? When will it be enough? I do so want it to be.