It has happened. And faster than I thought. A 180-degree shift from scarcity to abundance is now firmly rooted, and with it has come a total change in behaviour regarding “stuff”. This isn’t new age “be happy with what you have and change your mindset”. No, I’m referring to my little one going from having nothing to having too much.
First there was the birth of choice. This is the person who, having never been to a supermarket, confidently walked out of Union Coop – his little trolley so full it was spilling over – bypassing the tills. He had no idea we needed to pay for his goods. He had been enjoying learning about the options on offer, and reading the numbers written on the boards next to them – to him they were not related. We’re talking fruit and vegetables with bits of packaged food thrown in for good measure.
He had come from scarcity, and knew the value of having something that was his alone. I still remember the very first time we met – when it was time to go back to the orphanage, he very carefully put away the things we’d been making together in their plastic packaging, complete with the cardboard label that was once used to hold it all together with staples. That was less than a year ago. Many months later, he joined our family and would put every single thing away meticulously and with great diligence. It took time for him to trust that there was no need to hide his possessions – they really would be there in the morning.
Now things are abandoned. Left wherever they were last used. No biggie you might think, but with it is a disregard for what was once coveted.
He’s not unique. We all do this; become numb to things we once aspired to owning or having in our life. It’s just that with him it has happened quickly.
There are all sorts of studies of human behaviour and responses. Like our concept of pleasure and when we actually experience it – is it in the run-up to the event? It could be owning or doing something, or the simple matter of tasting a certain combination of food that you thoroughly enjoy.
Let me distil the findings: anticipation is often the best bit. Once we consume; eat, do, own, we hit a sweet spot of “enoughness”. After that, it’s downhill.
I’m calling this the law of diminishing marginal pleasure: the more we have, the less pleasure we get from things. The more we eat, the less coveted and yummy the treat. There is a magical point in this that is called the point of “enough” or “just right”.
My little boy has tipped over that point, as so many of us do.
It smacked me in the face a few weeks ago when I had asked for toys to be separated into things that he’d use and things that we were going to give away. My older one had already done his bit.
I had been through this exercise a few times already over the course of weeks, going through every single item. The boys were given two trays each to fill with what they wanted to keep. This time I left him to it. A few minutes later he came to me and said he didn’t want any of it, that I can give it away. All of it.
All of it? I asked, bewildered.
Then I twigged. “Are you saying you don’t want anything because you don’t want to choose and put things away?” – big eyes looked back. “Remember, whatever we give away is gone, forever, I am not buying any of it again.”
Basically he’d decided it was better to be rid of every single thing rather than spend time choosing a few things. Every time we’d done this previously he’d rediscovered things, and had a great time playing.
Wow. What a transition. He’s already told me that we need a bigger house and “we can buy it” is the solution to all things.
My little one is a sponge, still taking it all in – he’ll figure out how to navigate all things consumery with time. He is also a giant mirror reflecting social values around him. He was a virtual consumer long before I met him – TV meant that he knew certain brands way before he ever saw them in real life.
He reminds me of so many people. I’m sure you know fellow expats who, having moved to the UAE have gone through versions of what my six-year-old has. Wanting things just because they’re on offer, not looking after or using – let alone needing – what they own and wanting more as a solution to various issues.
I hope for and look forward to my son’s next shift – another 180-degree shift to scarcity once again. Not because he’d lack or need for anything, but because he’d have realised what his “enough” is, and be able to leave it at that. Can you?
Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-nima.com.
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