I've been thinking this morning, about lay-away. About how people used to find something they loved, or more likely needed—a new couch, a fridge, a winter coat—would make a deposit at a store and then would put money towards it every week until it was paid for. It could take weeks, months, years of scraping together extra dollars and growing down the debt until whatever it was you were paying off was yours. I wonder, after all that time, if that item, that appliance, that bedroom set was still exciting, if bringing it home gave a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Now, it's the complete opposite. You go to a store, see something you want, and whether or not you can afford it, you can plunk down a credit card and buy it on the spot. If you don't have a credit card, you can often fill out an application and launch a new stream of credit in the moment. I did that when I bought my first car. I'd left college after two years, not quite flunking out, but having almost failed most of my classes. My dad refused to pay the exorbitant tuition for someone who apparently didn't care about performance. It wasn't that I didn't care (all right, I didn't care), but my dad had left my mom, moving out the day after high school graduation and I was in total free fall. After a quick 4 day stint as a factory worker—I thought it would leave my days open for other things—I got a job making $5 an hour at Fred the Furrier, greeting people as they came in, hanging coats, and keeping track of salespeople. I had been driving my mom's 1972 Plymouth Valiant, otherwise known as the Green Machine, until it completely died. Meanwhile, I'd been dreaming of an Oldsmobile I'd fallen in love with. Gold, 2 door, sleek, sexy, fun. I stopped by a dealership on my way home from work one day and called my dad, whose office was next door, to please come over and look with him. He explained he couldn't, he was in the middle of office hours, and oh, by the way, he'd gotten remarried the day before.
I bought the car on the spot. Full sticker price. No negotiating. Within minutes my GMAC loan was approved and I was driving home. Could I afford the car? No. well, sort of. I was living with my mom and didn't have many real expenses yet but my car payments and insurance meant there was nothing left for much else.
I had a brand new car. I was earning $5 an hour. It took all of 20 minutes to spend $12,000.
Something's wrong with that picture.
Today, you don't even have to go to a store. You can buy anything online and without a handshake, a signed contract, any personal interaction whatsoever, you can buy just about anything and have it conveniently delivered to your door. I play that game. I've had furniture, printers, food, clothing, endless books, vintage magazines, research material, knitting supplies, the laptop I'm writing on arrive in brown boxes, conveniently waiting with my door man until I get home.
You can decide you need something and have it delivered the next day. Flowers, games, tvs, prescription glasses. There's no waiting, no yearning, no imagining, saving, dreaming.
You want it. It's yours.
But what's that doing to us? Immediate satisfaction leaves a lot to be desired. You want something, it's yours, and then what? How can you savor something you haven't lusted over. Ok, that was a little extreme, but how satisfying can something be you can get that easily?
Full disclosure: I was thinking about lay-away because immediate satisfaction and its ill effects were running rampant in my house this morning. It's not just me who can be satisfied so easily and while I appreciate the ease in obtaining things, at this point in my life, I'm moving past acquiring just for the sake of having. I've been told I'm a hard person to buy presents for because I don't want anything. I'm happier purging than getting. A lifetime of dealing with stuff has brought me to this place. But, my kids don't know that. At the moment, I'm watching Jack struggle with money, acquisition, frustration, satisfaction, or non-satisfaction really. How, as an 8 year old, he's trying to figure out how to make the $60 to $100 dollars he needs to buy Star Wars Lego sets. Before he's done building one, he's already searching for the next. His knowing that Amazon prime will deliver in 2 days and with the push of a button, he can get what he wants. His anger at not having ways to make that happen when he wants to. Irritation with me for not just buying him whatever he wants as he believes happens with some of his other friends. Me holding my ground, not giving in to the whining, begging, pleading.
When life can be so easy, why would anyone choose the harder road?
I know why.
Figuring out how to teach that to others is the challenge.