Sunday, June 13, 2010

True Materialism

I didn't grow up with a lot of money.  I remember my mom saying in a plaintive voice, "we're poor, we're poor" on the rare occasion that I actually asked her to purchase something for me.  But although there weren't a lot of shopping trips in my formative years, we had lots and lots of stuff.  Our family lived in a nineteen room house that my grandparents had purchased during World War II.  When we moved into the house, which my parents bought from my father's mother in the 1970s, they basically took on all of her stuff, along with the possessions of a tenant who had passed away years earlier.  Also in the house (and in the roomy barn nearby) were leftover items from the family who had owned the house before my grandparents.  And when my mother's mother moved up from Georgia with her sister, we gained quite a number of their extra possessions as well.

My parents held on to all of this.  Oh sure, we had the occasional yard sale, but other than unloading baby clothes (when we were in our teens) and our toys, not much seemed to disappear.  Even when my parents moved out of the house to a 2-bedroom condo, most of the stuff seemed to go with them, stored in a basement storage unit packed from floor to ceiling and wall to wall with boxes.

So I find it interesting that my mother insinuates from time to time that my sister and I are materialistic.  Sure we buy new stuff for ourselves and for our families (and as I've blogged before, I admit to building quite a shoe collection), but living in a 3-bedroom NYC apartment, I've hardly got the space to amass the kind of collection of stuff she has.  I regularly purge clothes I don't wear and items my kids have outgrown.  And when I buy, say, new sheets or towels, it is to replace old things, not just to add to our stuff.   My mom holds on to things -- even items she doesn't like and doesn't use -- for reasons I cannot fathom.   She once refused to sell an old chair at a yard sale because a buyer only offered $4 instead of $5.  She has several sets of china, glassware and silverware, but rarely entertains.  She has a collection of cookbooks but really doesn't enjoy cooking.  She places a value on her possessions that far exceeds their fair market value or even their practical value in her life.  So really, who is truly materialistic here?

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