Posted by Lentus Ambulandus
I once had a friend who worked as an addictions counsellor. Drugs, booze, gambling, sex…she dealt with every kind of addiction conceivable. She would frequently regale us with fantastic stories from her work (usually over drinks, come to think of it), and she was fond of saying that “Everything — EVERYTHING — comes down to self esteem”.
I thought of her this week when I read a series of articles about our growing addiction to consumption and debt. The articles were about Canada (my homeland), where people seem to have an insatiable appetite for borrowing money to buy things. This problem is not unique to Canada, of course, or to so-called rich countries. Consumerism is rampant wherever people have a bit of money, access to credit, and TV ads telling them what they should buy in order to be like the cool kids.
Here are two of the articles, for your reading dismay. The first deals with the issue of debt, money and depression. In it, a middle-class woman describes how her family was sideswiped by sudden loss of employment (emphasis mine):
It took Zerr four years to clear her credit card debt through the credit counselling service…[she] has torn up the Visa, Brick and Bay cards in favour of prepaid credit cards when needed.
For those readers not from Canada, The Brick is a furniture store, and The Bay is large department store that sells clothes and home decor items.
Here’s how I think this counter-Escaplogical scenario played out: couple gets married, has children, succumbs to the pressure to buy 2000+ square foot suburban house because everyone else is doing it and because banks make it easy, then they rush to furnish said house. I’m also guessing they had two vehicles, took the odd vacation to Hawaii or Mexico, and purchased a lot *indispensable* Martha Stewart type stuff like toss cushions for the sofa, a big mirror to go above the fancy table at the front entrance, a KitchenAid stand mixer, and an extra TV for the man cave.
I try not to judge, because I’ve lived on the fringes of that world and I understand the insidious nature of the process. And as much as anything, the article speaks to a lack of financial literacy and shoddy government / central bank policy. But the overwhelming take-aways for me are about personal responsibility and the underlying motivations for spending money. The reality is that people waste a shocking amount of money, and in some cases incur a crazy debt load, solely to keep up with expectations. The sad part: they don’t even need to.
Here’s the second article, which reads like something out of The Onion. In this case, I almost hope the debt crash happens so that there can be a follow-up interview with these lunatics. “Honestly, we never saw this coming…my wife even had to sell her collection of Chanel purses.”
You be the judge.
The bottom line is that my addiction counsellor friend was right:
Everything — EVERYTHING — comes down to self-esteem.
Escape would be a lot easier if people learned to examine their spending patterns through that lens.