Years before our culture became intrigued with clearing clutter and minimalism, I questioned things like why we needed an entire store filled stem-to-stern with cheap, plastic jewelry and accessories.
I worked in retail while I was in college, and still remember the feeding frenzy that would occur when we had a promotion where shoppers got a “freebie” with a certain level of purchase (I worked in the prestige cosmetics section).
We’d come in early to unpack boxes of the freebies, and prop them up around the department using glitter, shiny paper and other merchandising tricks to make them look more expensive and exclusive than their actual value.
The advertising worked. The shoppers responded and I think the general zeitgeist was much more in tune with a “shop-til-you-drop” vibration than one that critically thought about whether it was really something worth the cost.
I admit, I was caught up in that vibration for a time and as I haul decades of things out of my house now, I shake my head – wondering how it all got off track.
There are many reasons why that energy was prominent then and a more reserved approach to the acquisition of things is popular now. Some of the “whys” include the inevitable cultural shifts, political changes and economic ups and downs that occur over time.
I’ll let the political and social scientists sort all that out. From my perspective I think we, and when I say “we” I mean western and specifically American culture, had evolved into thinking that anything that was intriguing, beautiful or inspired could be copied, manufactured out of synthetic materials, mass produced and sold for an extreme profit. And for many years, the public rewarded that thinking, lining up at stores to claw our way to the front of the line to get our “free” gifts.
Eventually some of us woke up and looked around to see that we were surrounded with piles of junk jewelry, uninspiring decorations, clothes that last less than 5 laundry cycles and a deep realization that none of those things had added any substance to our lives and now were more burden than bounty.
The trends in many corners of society to look inward are much-needed and serve as an antidote to the crass consumerism of the previous decades. But even this reset comes with a cost.
I’m sitting in front of an auto repair store while my Jeep is in for repairs and across the busy, 4-lane road is a mall that is empty except for the remaining anchor store – JC Penney’s. The Toys-R-Us on the same property is boarded up, as is the Rite Aid across the street, the mattress store to the left and a number of other former businesses up and down this strip.
The reset in our culture can be seen in many places but is painfully obvious here. The causes are multiple, and include the availability and ease of online shopping as well as the spreading realization that buying more “stuff” doesn’t heal anything and often causes more pain.
The inevitable shifts and jolts that will hit people’s lives as their own personal paradigms navigate this new terrain will be painful for many – just as the emergence of the fancy shopping mall was painful for the downtown stores of small town America in my childhood.
I think often of that time in the early 1970’s as sprawling new malls lured shoppers away from the neighborhood stores and downtown streets.
I remember the adults in my life discussing those changes with grim predictions for the businesses on Main Street, and they were right. The downtown areas of my childhood never recovered to their former health and strength, and today are haunting reminders of the price we pay for what we think of as progress.
The mall and big box properties today will morph more easily into different uses, becoming medical office buildings, surgical centers and professional buildings, but the human capital costs will echo the painful shifts of the earlier decades.
With all of these realities swirling around in my head, I stumbled upon an unusual arrangement that was beautiful to behold, and quickly took a photo of it: it’s the photo at the top of this blog post.
It’s the end-beam of an old porch that sits underneath newer, higher decking at the home of a family member – and it’s random placement with the fern growing out of the obvious wood grain, along with the border bricks makes it a stunning visual.
Its beauty lies in the randomness with which the different elements come together. It is a beauty that would not survive being plasticized and mass-produced, and it is a simple reminder that the best things in life – the things that bring us the most and the purest joy – cannot be found on a rack for $3.99, or sent to us in 2-days with free shipping.
Will we learn our lessons once we emerge from the changes in motion today? Only time will tell.
(C) 2019 Practitioner’s Path