I have always held the conceit that I’m not a particularly materialistic soul. Although I’m lucky enough to be gainfully employed, live in a small, old house, with no garage, in a very humble neighbourhood. It’s much more nondescript than the suburban palaces, with attached two- or three-car garages, that many of my colleagues roll home to. I drive a rust-bucket car and have none of the modern conveniences or extravagant toys that many people aspire to. I don’t own a big screen television, a microwave, or a dishwasher. I shovel my driveway by hand, not with a snow blower (which is no small deal, living in Winnipeg). My idea of haute couture is torn denim, ten-year-old biker boots, and lumberjack shirts or fake Icelandic sweaters over the top of my faded Deep Purple and Lou Reed t-shirts.
Please don’t get me wrong, none of this is meant as any kind of whiny complaint. I fully realize how extravagantly lucky I am to have a job, to own a house, to have the luxury of putting food on my table. On top of that, I’ve had the supreme good fortune of being able to travel extensively, to go out to restaurants, films, symphonies, and jazz bars on a semi-regular basis, and to help support my wonderful daughter through her university journey. I worked hard, sure, but that is never enough in this capricious life. I have had all those privileges and opportunities because the fates smiled on me at the right times. It had nothing to do with any excess of talent or righteousness. I’m definitely not any better, and hopefully not any worse, than most of the people I know, most of the time. I have a pretty impressive catalogue of faults, but lack of gratitude is not one of them.
The point I am trying to make, though, is that my priorities are not necessarily the ones that are embraced in the general population. I always have, and always will, value experiences over possessions. I know I am very far from alone in this. I do think, though, that it puts me (us, dear reader?) in the minority. Owning more and more “stuff” just doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me.
That said, I am an absolute sucker for the most random and useless materialistic possessions. Rolex watch? Italian suit? Macbook Pro? I couldn’t give a shit. Let me stumble across a taxidermied pufferfish though, such as the one I found in a Paris curiosity shop this past summer, and I’m ready to incur my long-suffering life partner’s wrath by blowing the cash we’d saved to do some unnecessary thing, such as replace the knob-and-tube wiring in our money pit of a house, or fix the hole in the roof. Fortunately, my partner talked me out of that one, so we should have a decent chance of staying dry and warm this winter.
Nevertheless, I am not always so strong. Over the years, my personal collection of esoteric and idiosyncratic bric-a-brac has grown enough to fill a good-sized cabinet of curiosities. Some of the objects—seashells, bird’s nests, a small statue of a nude female welded together from spark plugs and radio parts—have been found on expeditions to the forest or beach, or else have been gifts from loved ones cleaning outs their attics. Some of them, though, such as an Icelandic grimoire, a stuffed albino crow, and a jellyfish encased in glass, have cost me a significant amount of cash, and have been the source of some intense discussions about fiscal responsibility.
So, am I right to consider myself somehow “above” the ravenous consumer hordes thronging Winnipeg’s St. Vital and Polo Park shopping malls? Absolutely not. The innate desire to own, to possess, is just as strong in me as it is in everyone else. It just means that, when I’m housebound after throwing out my back shoveling snow, I’ll while away the long winter hours listening to scratchy blues records on my thrift store suitcase phonograph and learning how to tell fortunes with my antique tarot deck, rather than watching the hockey game on my surround-sound entertainment system.