I was in a hurry. I had to get to work before the meeting began. But I was way down on my quota, and not for the first time this month. So I entered the first Buy Here shop I saw and looked around for something to buy. The stockings were convenient – right near the front register. I didn’t need them, but then of course that is not the point.
There were quite a few other people waiting to pay for their purchases – probably in the same predicament as me. When I got to the register I was disappointed to find that the stockings weren’t enough. Unfortunately they were two for the price of one, so the tally on my receipt did not take me out of the danger zone. I didn’t have time to find something else. Somehow I would have to find time after work for shopping.
On the footpath near the entrance was the usual group of beggars. ‘Help me, I need to shop,’ said one of their handprinted signs. Concessions are made for poor people, but somehow they never seem sufficient.
I was unlucky. When I got to work I realised that the auditors from Consumer Affairs were doing their job and that I was going to be in trouble. It came shortly after the meeting when the compliance officer in Personnel called me to her office. ‘All for one; one for all’ she said in the way of greeting. ‘Of course you have heard that said many times, but I fear that you do not take it to heart. Prosperity and progress for businesses like ours depends on the prosperity and progress of all. Everyone must do their share and we pride ourselves in having a workplace where employees not only comply with the standards set by Consumer Affairs but do so willingly.’ She paused and looked over at the wall of honour that covered two sides of the room. ‘You see’, she indicated with a motion of her jaw. These are our employees who have done more – far more than their share – to ensure that we have a healthy economy.’
I looked and noticed that Paul Craven who had made such a mess of the Thorbes deal was a recent addition. ‘Buying himself out of trouble,’ I thought to myself.
‘But you, Elizabeth are never to be found in this company. And what’s worse, this is the fourth week that you have failed to meet the minimum standard. Much more of this behaviour and you will be called in by the Consumer Compliance Board and subjected to penalties. If that happens you can no longer be an employee of our firm.
This made me angry. ‘I was the one who got us out of trouble with Forbes. I’ve saved a lot of money for this company. You can’t just dump me.’ The expression on her face did not change. Doing your work, however well, is not enough and I know it. Peter has a better strategy for advancement. I sighed. ‘All right, then. I assure you that I will meet the quota this week and do even better next week. I take my responsibilities as a citizen consumer seriously. It’s just that my hours of work and childcare responsibilities don’t leave me much time for shopping.’
‘Yes your child. You should be thinking about your child and the world that you want for her. She won’t enjoy prosperity unless everyone does their share.’ Having given me this moral lesson, she dismissed me.
I managed to get back to Buy Here before picking up Jayne from her school. I grabbed whatever was easily at hand, small things that don’t take up much room. This brought me out of the danger zone but next week I will have to do better.
We were held up going through the main street because of a pop up demo. It was Citizens Against Buy Laws – a banned organisation defying the law against blocking commerce. Echoing through the intersection we heard an occasional blast of words: ‘End to forced consumerism’, ‘No to wasting the planet.’ The police moved in, the demonstrators melted into the crowd and the traffic of commuters and shoppers resumed.
I suppose these people have a point. The consumption laws make life difficult, and I’m sure the environment does suffer. But the alternative is worse. The world’s economic system almost collapsed in 2022 when the Want Not, Waste Not movement were preaching their anticonsumerist message and people stopped buying anything that wasn’t a necessity. That had to be stopped. The government had to do something. People should be free to buy what they want, but they should not be free to stop buying. ‘Shopping keeps us free’, as the slogan says.
When we finally got home I unpacked my purchases. ‘Not more Puppy Puppets!’ said Jayne, making a face. I deposited them in her room with an apologetic smile and could not help noticing that Puppy Puppets and Cutsy Kitties covered most of the space between the wall and her bed. My stocking drawer was packed tight with unopened packages of stockings. I dropped my purchases to the floor, straightened up and looked around. There was scarcely room to stand in my bedroom among the shoes, bottles of makeup heaped up on stools, chairs and tables, knickknacks, scarves, creams, sex toys, jewellry, electronic gadgets, magazines. Clothes overflowed from the wardrobe, hats rose up to the ceiling.
The living room and kitchen were much the came – its space eaten up by months of accumulation of consumer goods. My daughter joined me in front of a table stacked with vases and statuettes of all shapes and sizes. ‘Please mother,’ she said. ‘Let’s disgorge.’
The term has become popular. It always reminds of me of what people with bulimia do. ‘Tomorrow,’ I said. ‘Or I can hire a disclutter service.’ This gives you points – though not so many as buying the things in the first place.
‘Now! I can’t stand it!’ It seemed like she was about to have hysterics and as I embraced her to calm her down I caught her fever. She was right. We were choking, imprisoned and we had to set ourselves free. We couldn’t wait.
Without another word we went to the cupboard, took out two large plastic bags and began piling stuff into them – almost at random. Fortunately, the skip at the end of the street was almost empty. People usually do their disgorging on the weekend.
We disgorged until late at night, working ourselves into a frenzy. In the end we were incapable of discrimination. We wanted it all gone – the Puppy Puppets, Cutsy Kitties, the tubes of make up, the creams, the vases, the gourmet ingredients, the toasters, the clothes, scarves, handbags – everything we could carry. I hesitated for a moment before the stocking drawer and then emptied it into the bin bag. I would buy more soon enough. The only things I managed to save were a few pots and dishes for immediate use.
We came back finally to an almost empty space. We were tired, but elated. Jayne took my hand and we made a tour through rooms that contained only a few pieces of furniture. Our steps became quicker, lighter and we began to dance, laughing and singing.
Finally exhausted we fell against each other. She broke away and looked up at me. ‘Mother, if only, if only … if only it could always be like this.’ I pressed her against me, trying to laugh. But tears were falling from my eyes.