Lip balm obsessions & the problem with variety

 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:

  1. Gooseberry flavor by Birdy Botanicals (located by bed)
  2. Pomegranate flavor by Soft Lips (located by desk)
  3. Ginger-vanilla flavor by Blissoma (located by other bed)
  4. Watermelon slushy flavor by My Lip Stuff (located in bathroom)
  5. Neapolitan flavor by My Lip Stuff (located on dresser)
  6. Lavender orange flavor by Badger Balm (located in purse)
  7. 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?

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Environmental Goddess on 01/18/2011 at 05:56

    I have eating-out and buying dresses cravings all the time! Now that my closet is full though, I had to stop buying them, especially since I don’t even wear them all. The eating out part…I’m still struggling, but I am trying to do it less, choose more wisely in terms of health and spending.🙂

    Reply

    • I’ve been keeping up with your three month quest to buy less, and I think you’re doing great. I don’t see as much of a problem with eating out as with buying things that aren’t particularly biodegradable — after all, we have to eat anyway, and it’s sometimes worth the money to me to eat something really delicious prepared by someone else.🙂

      Reply

  2. Great post! I realized this when I came back from Asia. We are so spoiled, especially in bigger cities. Who needs 50 different flavors and brands of vegan ice cream? All these choices make us bigger consumers. Stuff doesn’t equal happiness. We could do with a lot less stuff!

    Reply

    • I haven’t lived anywhere truly rural, but I’m sure you’re right — our supermarkets and stores make money by offering us new choices and telling us that we’re bored with what we already have. I’m pretty sure I could live with just one flavor of vegan ice cream: dark chocolate Coconut Bliss!

      Reply

  3. Posted by shortystylee on 01/18/2011 at 09:17

    Calendars! (I know, weird…) I don’t really over buy them, I just happen to have them everywhere. Outlook, phone, purse calendar, wall calendar in my cube, and wall calendar in the kitchen… they all have the same information.

    Only one lip balm for me though, Burt’s Bees (despite the selling out).

    Jessica

    Reply

    • I usually just have one wall calendar (which, as an example of how often I use them, was stuck on August last year until December), and a planner, which I am slightly better about. At least they’re recyclable!

      Reply

  4. Posted by northwestshift on 01/18/2011 at 12:13

    Books! Oh Lord, that was a hard one to break! I finally donated a bunch of books that had been impulse buys… Now, I only buy a book if it’s something I’d like to read again or loan frequently. That usually means that I’ve borrowed it from the library before choosing to purchase it.

    Erika

    Reply

    • I’m a bibliophile, too, but I’m also a cheapskate. Most of my books are used, and unless they’re by an author I love, go through the library screening process. Libraries are wonderful for the budget! Lately I’ve been parting with ones that I enjoyed but am completely unlikely to ever read again in my life. I have mixed feelings about electronic books. On one hand, I see that it’s an overall win for the environment if we don’t print hardback Danielle Steeles or Sidney Sheldons anymore, but the tactility of a physical book…I think I’d miss that a lot.

      Reply

  5. OMGoodness!!! Hello, my name is Small Footprints and I’m a lip balm junkie!! I currently have about 20 lib balms that I rotate through … and in my closet, I have a bag full of 20-30 more (just in case). I WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF LIP BALM. They are in my car, my backpack, my travel kit, my bathroom and in various drawers throughout my house. I can’t resist a giveaway for lip balm and I don’t go into that section of the store because I can’t resist buying. I’m really, really good about almost everything else in life but … lip balms??? Wonder if I could find a good re-use for lip balm tubes? 🙂

    Reply

    • A fellow junkie! I think I have at least ten unopened tubes in the closet from various giveaways — I win a lot more than I buy, but from an impact perspective, there’s really no difference. I’m going to attempt to use up what I have this year before entering any more giveaways or buying any. Wish me luck!

      Reply

  6. The funny thing I’ve noticed about what I thought was an inborn desire for variety is that it tends to disappear when I’m really engaged in something. This may sound a little cheesy, but these days when I get bored I know it’s because I’ve become disconnected from the things I feel passionate about. It’s like attention deficit disorder: it’s not that I constantly need something new and different to keep me entertained, it’s that I need one single important thing to focus on, and I’m set. Does that make sense?

    Reply

  7. As someone who enjoys (and makes) way too many different flavors of lip balm, I would say that the craving for variety is what makes me want more, personally. But from a business standpoint, I feel like I’m offering a variety to provide each person’s favorite, not to cater to those of us (me! me!) who just HAVE to know what caramel apple balm and caramel corn balm and candy corn balm might taste like. I’m sure there are people who create as many as possible hoping for that result, but I can’t say that it is a motivator to me as a business owner.

    I think many of us (myself included) have gotten away from the concept of “enough”…as in, what does it mean or feel like to have enough in our everyday lives? The constant commercial messages don’t remind us of that, and I’m sure that IS intentional! It’s an interesting conundrum as a business owner, too…to realize that many of your customers don’t really NEED what you’re offering. Ultimately that decision rests with each person, though! It’s a thought-provoking question!

    Reply

    • I thought of adding links to the lip balm companies I mentioned — most of which are very environmentally conscious small businesses that I don’t mind supporting. At the same time…do I really want to be encouraging other people to share my [over] consuming habits? I can definitely see where you would find a conundrum!

      I might have to check out your lip balm selection…oh dear!

      Reply

  8. […] a self-confessed lip balm junkie, so what business I have making the stuff when I have more than I can use already, I don’t […]

    Reply

  9. Oh gosh. Sounds like me too. The only difference is that I have seven different lipsticks in one bag, and at least one each in other bags and a few on the dresser, on the work desk. It’s crazy.

    Reply

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