finding 'need' and 'want'

week six: stuffocation

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Chris gave us the challenge that for a week we would only buy food and water (and medical emergencies if needed) and no “crap” as he called it – things that released endorphins which made us feel good but only for a short time. No materialism – surely no problem?

I had to ask myself; “Am I materialistic?” The answer was on rows and rows of shelving. My eclectic DVD collection answered the question – yes I am. There was no getting away from it; I love films. To help me unwind I watch a film before I go to sleep almost every night. My collection spans every genre and I my decision on which film to watch comes down to a last minute decision. One night I could watch a classic Ealing comedy and the next night I could opt for a 1970’s Japanese blood-splattered samurai film. This could be followed the next night by a tense war drama or equally a Blaxploitation film. I don’t know how I come to pick that night’s film it just happens. My collection is truly eclectic. When I suddenly like a director, actor, actress, cinematographer or screenwriter I like to absorb their other works immediately. The thought of not being able to buy a DVD on a whim by an artist I’ve just discovered for myself at first seemed a little problematic. But with a positive mind I knew from my vast DVD collection I knew I could find something to watch that I hadn’t seen for a while. The choice ran into hundreds upon hundreds of films. I also looked at it positively by creating the illusion that the cinema was closed for a week while they installed a new projector, a better sound system and gave the old place a lick of paint. Job done - I congratulated myself.

From happily solving one problem my mind wandered to another; before the experiment started I had half an eye on buying some 1960’s retro Mod clothes (yes, mid-life crisis time, I know) but the experiment wasn’t going to allow me to purchase them. My new friend Positiveness stepped in and reassured me to put them on the backburner because the style has been available for six decades, was always going to be available somewhere and anyway wasn’t I humming and harring whether to buy them in the first place? They could wait another week (possibly longer). How easy is this I thought, it’s just a positive change in my mind I needed.

“Hang on a minute” (a Rik Mayall-styled voice panicked in my head). “What if it was someone’s birthday?” Surely there would be concessions here. Then the panic of all panics – what if God, I mean Paul Weller was releasing a new album? Surely Chris wouldn’t stop us from purchasing God’s, ahem Weller’s new album. His last album, Saturn’s Pattern was a superb! Deep thinking was needed.

A walk up to town to clear the head was required and off I went. On the way back I walked past a display in a charity shop with the theme of Art and painters. One book immediately caught my eye; a Jack Vettriano one. “NO!” Came back a voice in my head and it was at that point I knew I was struggling to come to terms with this week’s experiment. However I turned it into another positive by telling myself that at least I won’t have to struggle to find some shelf space to put the book on when I’ve finished reading it.

Throughout the early days of this experiment I was constantly looking and finding reasons not to purchase things – it was exhausting. It was like I was telling myself off all the time; “No you can’t have that, put that down, don’t be stupid, why do you need that? Haven’t you got one of them already? Stop and think man!”

The great thing with all these experiments is they make you think and think hard at times. Why was I someone who likes to accumulate? Was it all to do with the caveman and the hunter-gatherer in me? Where was all this accumulation taking me? Where would it end? Was it time to question how much I needed this stuff? A clear out? Drastic change required? There were lots of questions and no real answers. Chris suggested that this experiment would free up our mind and be an amazing liberating experience but I wasn’t that sure I’d had that full affect. In truth I was struggling with it.

Then something happened later in the week that made me think that maybe this experiment was having some effect on me; a young electrician came around to the pub to rewire a fuse box or two and he got talking to me because he noticed something with Everton on it in our apartment. He was a young Toffee and we chewed the cud for a while. He said his hero was Duncan Ferguson and I showed him a one-off aluminium sheet that had a blue print of Duncan on it after he had scored a hat trick in a game. At some stage I got it signed by the man himself, and it hung proudly on my wall for a few years. For the last twelve years or so it has lay somewhere in amongst my man junk in my many man-caves where ever I’ve lived.

The energy of the young Toffee made me smile and made me think back to the days when I was a young energetic Toffee myself and the love I had for the boys in the royal blue jerseys. Back then nothing mattered but Everton. They were my tribe, my calling, my identity. That was a long time ago but it was because of this blast from the past that I decided I would give away the signed aluminium print. I didn’t think twice about doing it. The young electrician was overjoyed by my generosity.It felt the right thing to do, instinctive and positive. I’m not sure if I would have given away a Paul Weller CD (NO chance) or one of my favourite movies (possibly) but something made me do this gesture of good will and it made me feel good too. Was it because of the experiment or just coincidence?

I don’t know if this experiment will lead to liberation from materialism but it has led me to a much greater awareness of possessions and my need to possess ‘something’. I’m a very honest person and know I have a long way to go with this experiment especially when it comes to buying films but I will persevere with the experiment and I know somewhere along the line change will occur. I know this to be true. Like the previous experiments it made me rethink and re-evaluate my thought process and the life I am living. It was all good and positive and made me question if I needed something or just wanted something. In that sense the experiment has been a success because I’m now fully aware of the difference between NEED and WANT. When thinking about purchasing something a voice in my head now asks; “How much do you want that?” And “How much do you need it?”

Mark Cuddy

Someone who learned to wake up