I recently spoke with a young mother of two who confessed, “I thought when I got a Roomba, it would save my life.”
“No such luck?” I responded curiously.
“No,” she replied, scanning the sink and countertops that were cluttered with dirty dishes, and the floor that was littered with picture books, toy dinosaurs, and crayon stubs.
It’s a novel idea, that a robot vacuum cleaner could save one’s life. Or that anything with a price tag, for that matter, could.
Yet frequently, on some level, we all buy into this notion in one way or another: that a new stereo system will save our relationships, new linens will restore our self-image, new children’s toys will permit us more free time, or new clothes will raise our self-esteem.
We keep looking for life rafts in all the wrong places. We hope that maybe the mass merchandisers and marketers have been right all along: this vacuum will not only change the way you clean, it will change the way you live.
We see images of spotless floors and stain-free couches and mistakenly assume that this seemingly magical tool will solve all our clutter woes, undoing years of habitual spending patterns and consumption trends, that manifest themselves in our bedrooms, kitchens, and closets. We hand over our power to our new purchase and wait for it to change us.
Nothing we buy will ever change us, no matter how firmly we believe it will. No pair of elite running shoes will make you start running more, nor will a trendy water bottle make you start drinking more water. Skinny jeans won’t change how you feel about yourself, and a new dining set won’t cure your loneliness.
Only you can change you.
So why do we continually rely on the objects we bring into our homes to save us? Because it’s easy. Why do the work ourselves, when we can buy something to do it for us? Taking inventory of our inner lives is hard, and can even be uncomfortable, scary, and anxiety-provoking.
Because it’s convenient. We are creatures of habit, and creatures of convenience. Constantly on the lookout for shortcuts, we seek lasting change that requires the least effort. We pride ourselves on productivity and results, shortchanging our potential for personal growth in the process.
But most of all, because we desperately hope that it will work. After repeated failures, we convince ourselves that the one object that will do the trick has been hiding in plain sight the whole time. “Aha!” we think. “This is the answer I’ve been waiting for.”
Look around you. How many of your possessions have changed your fitness habits, sleep habits, eating habits, intimate relationships, friendships, work satisfaction, leisure time, self-worth, or overall life enjoyment? My guess is very few.
Rather, you might recall the fleeting high some of these objects brought you when you first obtained them. Or worse yet, you might feel guilt around not sticking to the change they were meant to inspire. You might not even remember why you purchased them in the first place.
There will always be new vacuums, blenders, shoe racks, and seat cushions that promise more than they can ultimately deliver. But we don’t have to buy into their empty promises and persuasive pretenses.
The next time you go to make a new purchase, ask yourself, “Which area of my life am I trying to change? Who or what needs saving?” It might be related to:
– Your relationship with your partner, children, or another close family member
– A deep sense of guilt or inadequacy
– Pain from a recent loss
– A lack of fulfillment from your work
– A need for more excitement, fun, or adventure
– Feelings of isolation
– Poor eating or exercise habits
– General stress and overwhelm
Often, it’s related to several of these areas, which sets you up for even greater disappointment and frustration when your purchase fails to adequately address them.
Once you’ve identified the area or areas in which you’re struggling, make a list of alternative ways to pay them some of the attention they’re needing, that don’t involve a trip to the store or getting out your wallet. They might be:
– Have a conversation with my partner or play dress-up with my children
– Reach out to a grief counselor or a friend
– Plan a weekend getaway or go for an impromptu drive
– Take the stairs each morning or get outside for a walk in the evening
– Unwind with a new library book before bed, take a bubble bath, or silence my cell phone
By addressing the deeper needs that hide behind our purchases, we give ourselves the opportunity to fill them in ways that are far more fulfilling and long-lasting. As we begin relying on ourselves to do so, rather than on manufacturers, we get better at recognizing our autonomy to live by the values that drive us. We learn to become our own life rafts.