June 05, 2009


I saw a commercial today with Brooke Shields, advertising a new medical wonder cream that makes your eyelashes grow in thicker. Following the list of potential side effects, a friendly voice chimed, "Consult your doctor to see if FluffyEyes (or whatever it was called) is right for you!".

Considering Brooke's most recent claim to fame is her book Down Came the Rain about her struggle with postpartum depression, I'd say she should probably consult, not just her doctor, but her psychiatrist. Because, honey, if you're trying to fix things by pharmaceutically plumping your eyelashes, you need to get back in that chair and have a long talk.

A nice long talk is exactly what I had, too, recently- with myself. To be honest, if things had continued on the path I was hitting, I probably would have headed back to my doctor, too.

I've hesitated to bring this out in the open, considering I made a very unsuccessful attempt at a spending freeze in the past. Money has been very much on my mind lately. While I am not immune to the current financial state of things in neighborhoods just like mine, I find that my own personal struggle with the dollar has less to do with the economy and more to do with the soothing nature of mindless excess.

A few weeks ago, I found myself wandering the aisles at Target once again--for the 4th time that day. I didn't need anything, I hadn't bothered to make up an excuse for shopping, like shoes for the girls or cheap cereal. I was just THERE. A lot. The moment culminated in a surge of personal disgust that nearly had me upchucking on the health and beauty products. I put it all down, whatever it was in my little basket, and left. By the time I got halfway past the check-out stands I was nearly running and by the time I reached my car, I was crying.

Possibly something was not right here.

I don't shop expensively, I don't shop in big gulps of shocking amounts. I whittle away: face cream here, pair of cheap shoes there, new bargain purse, drive-thru noshes instead of PB&J. The illusion of being thrifty builds up until the end of the month. Then I can't meet Kurt's eyes and my purse feels heavy from small change receipts and I swear (unsuccessfully) that next month, I'll be more aware, more careful.

I feel terrible when I shop, too, did you know that? It's not fun. I feel pressured, short of breath and time, anxious both when I buy something and when I don't. The problem is, thinking about it and going out to do it feels just as calming as actually shopping does not.

I have edged away from this topic even as it has grown larger in my view. There's nothing so fun as proudly announcing a new challenge and then failing miserably (as I did a while ago). But I am sitting here weeks away from that nauseating moment in Target and I can firmly say that I have not been back.

It's not about the money, it has never been about the money. Quite frankly, though, it should be. Otherwise I am just another stereotypical spoiled housewife with a car full of shopping bags, willfully ignorant and blatantly indulgent. I have a comfortable life, I am an intelligent person and I know better.

So here's what it comes down to, a question not of what I don't need but what I do. Obviously I'm not talking about deciding between name brand and generic- the truth is there's no doubt about whether or not what I buy is necessary, regardless of the decision I make in that moment. I'm not talking about things at all.

I need to be able to meet Kurt's eyes when he balances the family budget. I need my daughter to know that happiness does not come from a big superstore aimed straight at her integrity. My mind, though healthy now, still has a current underneath waiting to carry me off in a stream of self-disgust. To stay above that I have learned to be proactive, preventive and honest. You can imagine the irritation it's been to find myself once again sabotaging my own stability.

My focus now is not so much on a spending freeze (though you can bet that's a big part of it) but at having enough self-awareness not to try and fill up empty spaces with a pile of packaging, advertising, illusion...and FluffyEyes.


Alison said...

Although I've never been caught in Target four times in a day I must say this issue is so big for stay at home mom's. It's one thing to "waste" the money you make and another to spend the money someone else makes. I struggle with this a lot and hate my need to justify purchases to Colin (and hate more his outrage at the price of things I buy sometimes.) At least he never questions my coffee habits, wise man!

Kristen R Murphy said...

Hey, Meg! I can relate to your shopping frustration. I love Target and I'm glad the one closest to me is over an hour away. I'm stuck with Wal-Mart here in my town. I know I have been in Wal-Mart maybe twice in one day because I usually forget something the first time around.

I don't know why Brook Shields is peddling some eyelash product. I'm sure she's just singing for her supper. That doesn't help the average consumer during their need to cut back on extras when all we see is flashy new things everywhere we look.

I am frustrated with money right now just because my husband's work has slowed down, just like the economy. As I'm grateful he still has a job whereas others have lost theirs, we have to get back to basics. I feel that is the great lesson in the end.

Like you, I'm not a big shopper who buys expensive clothes, etc. I have learned all the little stuff does add up. Sometimes the feeling of running to Wally World comes over me when I know I don't really need anything. Or when I do have to go, I feel excited I get to go there. I do not like that feeling at all.

It comes down to the fact that, for me, something is missing. I'm looking for it, and I'm looking in the wrong place.

Meg said...

I hear ya, Alison. That's a big part of it for me. Kurt keeps track of our budget with reciepts, so I have to basically offer up the evidence a few times a month. He doesn't say anything anymore, but it's mortifying all the same. That right there is a huge motivation to not spend a penny more than I "need". Now finding what else it is that I really "need", Kristen, that's a whole different story, right?

Jan said...

Hi Meg,
You have such a great way with words. I have it all, too: 5 kids, great hubby,nice home and now I'm begginning to see successes with my writing. However,from my experience we have spiritual sides to ourselves whether we want to admit it or not.My faith makes my life.When I start trying to fill my life with "stuff," I realize I'm the one that's moved away from God, not Him.
It's a CONSTANT balance. Sweetie, this is my experience, and I'm old.
Jan Ud.

Lea said...

Oh I can so relate. It amazes me how I can go to Target for "just a couple things" and end up spending a whopping amount, and then I cringe writing it in the checkbook knowing that Eric will see it later on. And I feel bad knowing that he is working so hard while I'm having fun spending his money at Target. Argh! I hate that I love shopping so much! I really need to work on the money thing as well.

grandmem said...

i don't enjoy shopping in stores. i don't like to do it OR think of it, and i'm lucky in not having to even visit the grocery store very often, but my problem is with online spending. the internet makes it SO easy, and i'm on the computer all day everyday. if i hear about a book i might want, i just GET it - even though my "to read" pile already fills a whole bookcase and is divided into sections. and it's not just books. the internet is my "Target" and you are absolutely right that bunches of purchases, each small, really add up. i feel sometimes like i'm supporting the economy all by myself just by my contributions to FedEx, UPS, and the post awful.

Kristen R Murphy said...

Meg, I do agree with you that finding what we really "need" is a different story. I know for the longest time I've had this nagging feeling for my purpose here on earth. I know I have found one purpose so far, that of being a mother to my girls. That being a great purpose, is not my only purpose.

I also agree with grandmem with the online shopping and books. Books are my biggest pleasure. When I see a new book that I would like to read, I'm ordering it from Amazon or Wal-Mart. Like grandmem, I have several to read already. With the recent writing interest, I try getting every book on writing I can get my hands on. I'm hoping to find my new purpose within my writing and satisfy the "need."