A perfect greenie, I’m not. I drive an older car that doesn’t get great mileage, my pottery hobby is anything but energy efficient, and it is entirely possible I will never be green enough to consider reusable toilet paper. And…OK, I’m kind of a lip balm junkie. At any given moment, I have approximately seven tubes of lip balm open. Currently that involves:
- Gooseberry flavor by Birdy Botanicals (located by bed)
- Pomegranate flavor by Soft Lips (located by desk)
- Ginger-vanilla flavor by Blissoma (located by other bed)
- Watermelon slushy flavor by My Lip Stuff (located in bathroom)
- Neapolitan flavor by My Lip Stuff (located on dresser)
- Lavender orange flavor by Badger Balm (located in purse)
- Hopscotch sundae flavor by My Lip Stuff (also located in purse)
You don’t have to tell me that this is ridiculous. Along with ridiculous, it is also obscenely consumptive, wasteful, un-eco-friendly, and absolutely unnecessary. No one has ever died of chapped lips. And yet, although I am committed in other aspects of my life to reducing the resources I use, I can hardly wait to finish using one tube so I can tear off the shiny plastic seal of a new one. Any untried flavor is infinitely more exciting than anything I already have, so even though I quite like my Ginger-Nilly, I have a tube of zombie-flavor lip balm in the cabinet calling my name.
You know there’s something wrong when the rotting flesh flavor lip balm sounds more appealing than one that tastes like gingersnaps. (Actually, I’m told that zombie is a type of cocktail. But I prefer saying ‘rotting flesh flavor lip balm.’)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the connections between variety, capitalism, and overconsumption. I’m starting to see that endless variety, paired with a complex set of emotional and cultural motivators to buy, is a bigger part of the whole overconsumption issue than I thought it was. Life was simpler when I had two Chapstick flavors to choose from (cherry or plain), prior to discovering kiwi-lime and blue raspberry in high school.
I think the variety problem starts with a perfectly natural love of, well, variety. We get bored. Other animals get bored, too. I’ve got a whole bag of cat toys that Brie has gotten bored of. (Need any jingly balls?) But I feel like variety used to be something we created ourselves: a new recipe to cook, a new design to weave, carve, or sew. You know, an investment of time, energy, money, and resources. Your own. Now it’s more of a marketing ploy to keep us coming back for things we didn’t really need in the first place, and to buy more than we need. In fact, it’s as if the more choices we have, the more subtle differences we see, and the more we buy things that are, in the end, only slightly different from each other. I can’t otherwise explain why I want cinnamon popcorn lip balm after having had cinnamon roll lip balm. My primary weakness is for lip balm; my sister has a thing for baroque patterned damask blazers. Go figure.
Variety in itself isn’t a bad thing. After all, what would life be without new experiences as well as old pleasures? But too much variety, and and we can end up unable to appreciate what we already have before moving on to something new and potentially better. (Like rotting flesh flavored lip balm.) In the process, we’re filling up our lives with things that don’t matter and trashing the planet, even if it’s only on the scale of a tube of lip balm.
Also, apparently too much variety makes you fat. Worth thinking about.
Is there one thing you tend to buy too much, too often? Is the craving for constant variety a part of that overconsumption?