Sunday, August 9, 2015

About Spoiled Brats

I had a really fun Saturday with a friend, taking the tags off all the new baby clothes she'd bought for her upcoming Big Event. She was saying, playfully, that she was a Bad Mommy for spoiling her child, but then turned serious and said she hoped she would spoil her baby without making it a brat. I thought about that. So how much stuff does a child have to have, or ask for and receive, before they enter into the dreaded Spoiled Brat territory? What is that final straw that makes for a whiny, footstomping, bossy little monster who makes everyone's life miserable if she can't have everything she or he wants?

Then I was thinking about what makes a "spoiled" adult. I know people who budget luxuries into their spending accounts regularly, others
who make impulse purchases and then responsibly pay them off later. I also know people with maxed cards who are angry about that, but not upset with themselves. Of course this all relates back to my musings on "stuff," as lots of what falls into luxury or impulse purchases boils down to things.

A lot has been written on retail therapy, and not all of it negative or unrealistic. Of course, if you are driving your finances into the ground and jeopardizing your future because you're buying doodads, there is a terrible problem, but for the most part all the people I've ever worked with were not in real danger, just not as much in control as they'd like to be. I keep looking at these problems from different angles: literal space, as in how much of your home do you want to devote to your stuff (empty spaces between objects) is one I've become interested in lately.

Have you ever met someone whose food can't touch on the plate? Or who needs more personal space than you expect, and takes a step back from you when you draw near? I look at those adverts for closet or refrigerator or what-have-you organizers and most of them have almost nothing in the contraption. Shirts that are four or five inches apart on the hangers, for example. Anyone who has that few shirts probably does not need that system, right? But to give the illusion that your shirts won't be crammed in so tightly is so appealing, look, they probably stay pressed! There it is, the minimalist closet. But who's buying those systems, minimalists? Heck, no.

We want ALL our toys. We don't want to have to choose between favorites, dammit, they're all favorites. Even if we haven't worn it in three years, it was our favorite back then and it's still in the running. I'm not saying that to poke fun, I do it too. But why do we do it? Logically we all know it doesn't make sense to have more than we have room for, or could conceivably wear (much less wear out) but if our closet was suddenly twice as big, why do we then fill it up and declare it's still just our favorites? There's some other factor going on. I think somehow it relates to being spoiled, or wanting to be spoiled. I mean, there we are, just having done a big ol' closet makeover and taken out a big box of clothes for the charity shop, and the closet is still full. Less full, but still full. And maybe now that I've taken out that whole box, I deserve a new dress... yes, I have done that. Have you? Why?

Are we then spoiled? And if so, are we spoiled brats who stomp our feet and whine and scream if we can't have more? I don't mean literally. But what does it mean to be autonomous adults with no one to tell us how much we can have, and when does that ability go haywire and start interfering with our relationships and our mental health? What happens if we get tired of budgeting or forget to pay off the credit card balances on time, what if we just don't deal with our excess for so long the idea of fixing it is exhausting, much less the deed?

I smiled when I saw the "excesses" of my friend; a joyful several drawerfuls of varying sizes of baby clothes, overflowing spice cabinets, a few clothes that don't fit, a few projects not quite finished. A typical happy life with a pretty typical amount of retail therapy happening in a big, well-designed house with lots of empty closets and room to grow. Nothing jaw-dropping. But they give her stress, she wants help to fix these problems. In my mind, they were inventory issues, just not remembering what she already had and buying more because it was fun or inexpensive or what have you, not a grave and unsolvable habit. But I thought a lot about what she'd said about spoiling her baby. There have been times in my life when I owned a lot of stuff. Was I spoiling myself? Or was I giving myself loving and well-deserved treats, enjoying the space I lived in, expanding because it was a time in my life to expand? Was I ever a spoiled brat about my possessions? I can't imagine that it's a permanent state; people must grow in and out of brattyness all the time. But how, and why? Is the opposite then humbleness about our possessions, or maybe generosity? How is it related to money, our perceived and real wealth, how we want to see ourselves (and how we want others to see us)? How would you react if someone called you (or your child, or spouse, etc.) spoiled, or a spoiled brat? Why?

My dear friend Michael Gates wrote about the etymology of the word spoil for me after a conversation with a Latin scholar gave me the root word "spoliare" and a desire to know how (and when) we came to use its current meaning. In the context of our exploration of stuff and goods, I think you will find it most interesting! 

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