Monday, May 29, 2006

Musings on shallow people

Last night, Mr. Geeky and Geeky Girl went to a movie, and Geeky Boy was spending the night at a friend's house, leaving me with free reign over the tv. (By the way, we think our Tivo is dead; we're all adjusting okay, thanks.) I flipped through the channels and settled on "Flip this House." Flip this House is about buying a house, remodeling it and then selling it for twice what you bought it for. In other words, these people are in it for the money. The buyer and the contractor (who also stood to make a lot of money) were two of the most shallow people I've ever seen. The contractor drove a hummer. The buyer and his partner drove luxury cars as well. The house they purchased was in a gated community. They paid half a million for it and were hoping to sell it for nearly 2 million. They put in nearly half a million in remodeling. In order to sell it, they offered to host a party for the local symphony. They offered the symphony any money they made over a certain amount as a donation. Not once did the buyer talk about the good that would come from that donation. No, what he cared about was the fact that the people coming to the party were all potential buyers.

People who care so much about material possessions creep me out. In part, this is because my mother was (and to some extent still is) all about the material possessions. My dad likes stuff too, but it's for different reasons. My mother, whenever she purcases something, thinks about how others will perceive it. It was, while I was growing up, important to her that me and my sister wear designer clothes. They said something about our status. Never mind that I was trying to avoid getting beaten up for those clothes. Our house, too, was all about other people's perceptions of it. We had to have figurines and an interior decorator and an expensive dining room table and real silver. We almost never used these rooms, but they had to be there, to tell people that we could afford such things.

Now I think everyone thinks about how other people people perceive their clothes, their house, and other possessions a little bit. But I generally agonize over large purchases (e.g. the phones, which really weren't that large) and I think more about how long it will last and the pleasure it might bring to myself or someone else. I spend a lot of time in my house, so when I think about getting something slightly larger, it's not because I want to impress anyone, it's because I want to increase my and my family's enjoyment of the place where we spend a lot of time. I also want to be able to have space for friends and family to stay over night and other such amenities.

My father thinks this way too. He thinks in terms of how much will he enjoy something. Now, he has enough income to not have to worry over the price the way I usually do, but still, his first thought is not, "Everyone will envy me," but "I'm really going to enjoy this." He's actually been downgrading his houses over the last decade.

The other thing about me and my father is that we also try to give away as much money as we can. My father donates a great deal to many local charities and we give about 1% (should really be more than that. sigh.) of our income to various charities as well as donating many of our possessions (clothes, etc.) to various charities.

I don't know about my mother, but I think it unlikely that she's donating money. Despite being fairly comfortable financially, she thinks of herself as poor.

Around here, you can throw a stone and hit a sizeable mansion. I often wonder if they're mainly status symbols or if the people living there truly enjoy that rather large possession. I almost never see people in or around these houses, unlike the small houses in our neighborhood where people are out on their porches, in their backyards and putzing around their gardens every nice weekend. They enjoy their stuff. It allows them to enjoy the people around them.

I have no real easy conclusions here. Flip this House brought out my prejudice, and I do think of it as a prejudice, against rich people. I am envious of their ability to spend money without thinking, but it makes me angry to think they then don't appreciate what they've bought and that they don't contribute money to those who might really need it. I realize this is a gross generalization. I will likely never be rich, at least not in the way that affords me a 6,000 sq. ft. house, but if I am, I hope to appreciate it more and to use my wealth to help make the world a better place rather than simply to buy more stuff.