Lately, I've felt the pull of consumerism in a way that I'm not sure I ever have. Or maybe I'm just more aware of it. But, it's not just consumerism, it's appearances, it's the allure of the new and shiny, it's American culture. Of course these things aren't just American, it's human nature to compare, to desire, to be impatient and opportunistic. All humans struggle with these things. But, somehow I can feel these things more here, they press on my heart more. They reach in and try to rearrange my values and steal my contentment. More than they did in Prague, more than they did before Prague (or perhaps I was just less aware and more numb to them then).
Part of me feels a little like I did on our first trip back to the states after moving to Prague. We got in the airport in New York and suddenly realized everyone around us was speaking English. We walked around unable NOT to eavesdrop on everyone. In Prague, surrounded by Czech speakers we had gotten out of practice at tuning out the background distraction noise of English. We hadn't been able to understand people around us so we hadn't needed to tune them out. Back in America we did need to tune them out and our brains were out of practice. That's a little how I've felt lately. I don't know how to tune out and ignore the commercialism around me anymore.
Bryan and I tend to be very intentional about how we spend our money, we spend money on things we value (people, food, devices that connect us with people, etc). And we have never valued appearances all that much so we don't spend a lot of money on things like clothes, cars, or our home. And here's the thing, when we were in Prague I didn't feel like anyone cared if all of my clothes were hand-me-downs or I didn't have a car, or my house wasn't perfectly put together. Here, back in the states I do feel like people care. It's not necessarily that I feel judgement, but others around me do care a lot about their own appearances, they spend their own money on appearances so they must care about it. There is a cultural value on appearances. And since I don't always share that value I feel a conflict, and I feel at odds with my culture. Perhaps this is what they mean by culture shock?
Lately I find myself wanting more and more to spend money on appearances and convenience.
I feel it when I go to pick up my son at school and wait in a line of Prius's and Mercedes.
I feel it when I clean the crumbs off my hand-me-down couch before going over to my mother-in-laws perfectly coordinated and immaculately decorated home.
I loose the struggle when I don't invite people over for dinner because my house isn't big enough, clean enough, decorated enough, or just enough.
I feel it when I go to target to get a wedding gift for a friend and leave feeling depressed about the 20+ things I saw that I want (but of course don't need).
I give into it when I buy my son yet another cheap toy, even though he has plenty of toys strewn all across the family room.
These are mostly things that didn't weigh on me in Prague, they didn't tempt me. I didn't feel these comparisons (or at least not as constantly). My values didn't conflict with the culture, or at least with the sub-culture I was a part of. And honestly I also just didn't spend as much time out at restaurants, stores and shopping centers as I do now. And now I'm struggling.
Part of me is questioning. Perhaps there is more value in appearances then I have previously thought? I value beauty and spending money on appearances is just spending money on beauty... right? Sometimes, I guess.
Part of me is frustrated. I don't want to change my values just because of my culture having slightly different values. I don't want to give in to discontent and comparison.
And when it comes down to it our money is very limited and if I choose to start spending more of it on things like clothes and my home what other things will I have to choose not to spend money on?
And that's really what it comes down to. As much as I may want myself and my house and my family to look like one of the pictures from my pinterest boards when it really comes down to it I'd rather spend my limited money on other things.
But, sometimes I waver. Sometimes I find myself lost in what can only be called coveting. I look around and feel like I don't have enough, like my appearance isn't enough, and soon I begin to feel like I, myself, am not enough. I look around and realize that I'm so far behind the rat race that there's no catching up.
Can I get off? I don't want to be comparing myself. I don't want to be constantly reminded of things I don't have or to hear the implied "should have" that follows. But, I feel like I'm out of practice at ignoring it.
So, does anyone have any suggestions?
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman