Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Dead Lamp Collection

I call it my dead lamp collection. A corner of my basement, a darkened hallway, behind the bookshelf, all repositories of my wanton consumerism. This is where the cheap lamps lie, $12.99 from Costco, 10 bucks from the Stupidstore. New, plastic-wrapped, boxed, and functional…at least for awhile.

Now I mean this as a bit of a confession. A confession because my neighbourhood and my conscience are filled with ardent recyclers and greener than the grass types. And “a bit of” because I am not really certain how guilty I should feel. The social measure, the checks and balances, confuses me. It was for sale after all. And on sale. Aren’t I supposed to buy it? I need a lamp or two to light my living room. Here’s a lamp, next to the 100-pack of white gym socks, of course, where else would it be. $12.99. I need it, it needs me. Cha-ching.

The downside, as you may have guessed, is that they are cheap for a reason, they don’t live long. Duh, you may say. Yet, how often are you shocked when something recently purchased doesn’t perform, or gasps its dying breath 4000 days before you expected it to? Cheap or expensive, “I can’t believe it…what a piece of sh#%” is a common refrain. If it was an expensive piece of shit, you try to get your money back. If it was cheap, you grow a graveyard. But my growing graveyard of bargain illumination haunts me. What do I do with it all?

Landfill. Yup, that’s all I can do. My husband has replaced the metal fixture thingy at the top of an Ikea lamp more times than I can count. It’s dead. Put down the paddles. Mark the chart. And my blue box doesn’t take dead Ikea lamps. Or dead Costco lamps. No dead lamps period. Love thy basement.

My lightless, uncoffined skeletons make me want to redeem myself in other ways. I yearn to find cool clothes at my local twice-around shop. Trouble is: they charge more than the “out-sourced” clothing available at the mall. Plus they never have my size, and tiger-striped skirts were never my style. And not to make a long story long, but how much time is reasonable to spend searching for that fab previously-loved garment? 2? 3 hours? I do have a life you know.

One redemptive item, no kidding, is the gargantuan plastic play structure in my backyard. It is chunky purple and yellow plastic, with a slide and a steering wheel. My toddler loves it. It’s redeeming because a neighbour was giving it away…just left it!! At the bottom of the street. A “for free” sign nestled against it. And I scooped it, my 16-month old and I dragging it six houses uphill like cats that ate the canary, a big canary, a 200-pound canary. O.k., o.k., my husband came by in the car and hauled it home, but still. And there it towers, my testament to re-use, to what my grandma called a “hand-me-down”. Apparently, a long long time ago, there was something called “poverty”, or in some families “conservation”, in others “practicality”. During this magical time, consumer products were built to last and people responded accordingly: they passed items they no longer needed onto those who did require or want them, to family, to friends, to friends of friends. No basement graveyards. This is what my big hunk of plastic feels like, that magical time. Ha, you say. Not so, say I. Family making is community building and community building means sharesies.

There are of course many types of consumer mother or father to consider, but these two seem clear: that parent who must purchase the newest, trendiest, most-coveted toy, article of clothing, diaper, whatever-of-all. And, the one who freely gives and exchanges items of all sorts, however well-loved or unworn the item may have been. As a first-time mother 11 years ago, I know I was a member of the former. 11 years on and a new arrival, my views, my needs, my expectations, call them what you will are…well, open. To stuff. Your stuff. Pre-loved stuff. Old stuff. Good old stuff. Is there something in between a mom using a toy library and one using ToysRUs?

A trite eco-message this may seem but the trick is that we all want the best for our children, and for ourselves. The real trick is that the best may be a hand-me-down, not a shiny new penny. Or a shiny new $12.99 something. Even in my green green neighbourhood, the mothers are of moderate to high-income and have moderate to high consumer needs and expectations, according to the social measure of course. And as soon as the social measure is a social-conscience measure, shopping and not shopping may get easier.

My dead lamp collection is my dawning consumer-conscience. Their sad, skinny silhouettes in the half-lit cellar are constant reminders of my lack of common sense and short-sightedness. So, I propose my own one-tonne challenge, one Rick Mercer never spewed: Buy less crap. And covet the ass thy neighbour no longer wants. Or something like that.


johnbarrymacleod said...

I have seen your basement. You could not squeeeeeeeze another lamp in there anyway so its academic.
I have been moving house this weekend. I have found more stuff that I don't need than ever before. Stuff I have not looked at for six years suddenly moves house again. Stuff that has moved with me before and remained unseen but where is my hair ???


Keep looking, JB, it's gotta be there somewhere! Perhaps it's in Birmingham? Happy moving, dear friend...