Usually I make an effort to put out pretty polished content with good stories, complete thoughts, and neat little endings. This will not be one of those posts. I’m just going to ramble here for a few hundred words about some personal observations and moral dilemmas, okay? It’s vaguely travel related, I swear.
There was a comment in a my recent quotes post that really got me thinking. I wrote in that post:
I have always struggled with a lust for material things. And one of the things I have loved about long-term travel and living as an expat is that my irrational desire for these things disappears when I am fulfilled by other things and removed from a situation (basically, living in New York) where I am bombarded by the material world and all my complicated emotions surrounding it. I used to spend a lot of time feeling envious of those who seemed to have more than me (in a material/monetary sense), frustrated that I didn’t have the same, and then on top of it all, guilty, because really I did have more than anyone could ever need. Travel, and the perspective I gained from it, freed me from those emotions.
The commenter accused me of having issues if material goods were a cause for jealousy or concern for me. Uh, busted? In my defense, anyone who travels through vastly different economic regions of the world is going to spend time thinking about their own relationship with stuff and money and the culture attitudes towards those things in the country they come from. But let’s be real, it is a personality flaw: I struggle with envy and materialism, and a general obsession with how I and other people spend money.
Back in December when my friend Zoe came to visit me in Thailand we had a conversation on the beach that really stuck with me. I told her I felt at peace with living with less and with my current financial situation — and it was true. Jealousy was almost completely absent from my life.
In Koh Tao there was no clubs with a hipness-quota, no designer labels that required a black AMEX, and no concern over social strata. In Koh Tao, all expats and travelers were on a pretty even plane. We all shared a desire for a life rich with adventure. Most of us had traveled through areas of deep poverty but also communities that made us rethink the baseline of stuff and money necessary for happiness — we had perspective. Few of us had much more than we could carry on their backs.
Of course there is the low cost of living — I could afford anything I wanted, because everything was so darn cheap. I made a modest living and yet if I so desired, I could eat at the most “expensive” restaurant on the island, work out at the “fanciest” gym. If I wanted to do a bit of traveling, I could go on a weekend to Koh Pha Ngan and not think twice. The act of saying “no” to things I couldn’t afford, which was an almost daily occurrence back in New York, was now quite rare.
But there was another element at play. Yes, I could afford almost anything I wanted – but suddenly, I didn’t want much. Who would want to go spend the day shopping when there’s a beautiful beach calling, and the shopping is crap on an island anyway? Who would want to eat at some fancy restaurant when the shack around the corner serves the best massaman curry? And why would I want to buy any material things when I was just going to have to physically strap them to my back and move them at some point? It was organic minimalism, and I loved it.
So then I was back in New York City after a year away from home, a year spent living this life lavish in adventures but modest in things and money. I found myself in Bergdorf Goodman’s meeting a friend who works there and as I was waiting for the elevator I glanced over to a display case and laid eyes on an pair of sunglasses. This pair of sunglasses cost eight.hundred.dollars. I felt my stomach squeeze.
Later, as I tend to do, I began to overanalyze that feeling. I brought the incident up with my friend Chris, who works on Wall Street and is one of the sharpest people I know. He was like, “What do you want to do, put some kind of cap on what people can spend on sunglasses? Be some kind of sunglasses socialist?” And no, it’s not like I need everyone to wear the same $5 Chinatown/Khao San Road cheapies that I rock. I think if I made it big time some day and was a more responsible person who didn’t sit on my belongings all the time I might even go crazy and buy a real pair of Ray Bans…. for $150.
So I guess $150 is my all time personal ethical sunglasses price cap. Ha. But $800 for one pair of sunglasses? I just came from a country where the average per capita income is $1050, so yes, it upsets me to think people spend 76% of that on a pair of sunnies. (Though, apparently, not 14%). I guess the perspective I gained from traveling and seeing how little people really need has made me sensitive to obscene levels of wealth and spending that are on show in places like New York. But how much is enough, and how much is gluttonous? It’s a gray, murky line.
Of course on another level, who am I to judge how a successful person spends their money, and on yet another level, aren’t I lucky that I can entertain the idea of someday buying expensive sunglasses myself, and by the way I am so jealous of people with multiple pairs of Ray Bans, and on that note how dare I be envious of anyone about anything when I have been so spectacularly blessed with a privileged upbringing. Picture me saying that without taking a breath and then passing out.
I was back in New York for a week, and all those old complicated feelings of disgust and resentment and guilt and envy over physical things were back. I had hoped those feelings would stay away, that the way I felt in Thailand wasn’t some temporary, situational high but a new state of mind for me. Maybe my zen-minimalist-happiness and freedom from all those nasty emotions is only possible when I am far far away, on a beach in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand. Or maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I can feel that freedom anywhere, anyplace. To get there perhaps I just need to work a little harder to not get worked up about sunglasses and what other people have and all the temptation to indulge in the things I want but don’t need.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that life is complicated and I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I do know one thing: I am happier when life is simpler.
What do you guys think? Tell me I’m not the only person who agonizes over this stuff.
* My mom tells me this last photo makes me look like I am, quote, “at the Boca Raton Beach Club!” I would like to state for the record that I was not at the Boca Raton Beach Club, but perched upon a free beach chair in Cambodia, thus qualifying the photo to be in a post about simplicity and resisting gluttony. I was fresh out of photos of myself eating out of the garbage. And that was totally someone else’s Vanity Fair.
I completely share your frustration when people spend ridiculous amounts of money on things. Cars is what gets me – Why do people waste money on brand new cars or very expensive cars? I remember visiting the poorest families around Thailand who are living proof that money does NOT buy hapiness. I think they have a lot to teach the Western World…
People feel the need to plug the voids or boredom in their life with expensive luxuries that they have no real need for… GRRRR
I totally don’t get car lust…. there are a lot of expensive things I lust after but luckily cars are not one of them! I very much agree with your sentiment that people buy in order to remedy the boredom or other voids in their life. It may work sometimes but they are temporary fixes. Real happiness does not come with a receipt…
Alex! I loved this! I am experiencing many of the same mixed emotions visiting my home town of Perth, Western Australia. My concerns are not over sunglasses but $5 lattes!!!! And the fact that that I was feeling great in Asia, and now I’m home my hair looks limp and my skin dry, and I don’t even own moisturiser anymore, or a shampoo that isn’t 2in1!!! I love seeing my family but looking forward to hitting the road again. The ‘simple’ life of a backpack and a passport (as priveledged as I know that lfe is) is the one for me too. 🙂
Thanks Sarah, glad to know I’m not alone in this confusion! You are right, we are living a privileged life and it is rich in so many ways, but I love the simplicity of it. When I go to buy something I remind myself that its not just the initial price tag… there is a burden to owning physical things.
I know exactly what you are talking about as I struggle with consumerism myself. Like you, I felt all those nauseating desires evaporate while I was traveling only to have them flood back as soon as I came back to the USA. Thich nhat Han has described our culture of that of the Buddhist hungry ghosts, huge stomachs but throats so small that we are always hungry. It made me sad to see this affliction being exported to Asia, and I’m doing my best to fight against it in myself. I wish that i had a solution for you that will guaranteed work, but I don’t. What I do is practice meditating and focusing on the moment at hand while avoiding any advertising that I can. That last part can be really tough since advertising is hidden throughout our entire society. Good luck and stay strong!
Morgan I love this comment! I didn’t even touch on it but I think Buddhism has a lot of admirable practices and aspects that can help curb this anxiety over stuff in our lives. I hop to turn more to it in the coming years. I love the description you share of the huge stomachs and the small throats — very poignant.
Glad you enjoyed it, and again, I wish I had advice on a guaranteed way to combat it. I really think the living in the moment and interconnectedness of Buddhism are good life philosophies to help deal with it, but like most anything in life that’s challenging, talking about how to deal with problems is often much easier than actually doing the steps to fix them.
I suppose another way to look at the situation is that yes, you don’t have those $800 glasses. However, in a few years, those glasses will either be out of style, broken, or lost/stolen. They’ll be meaningless in the grand scheme of your life whereas the experiences that you’re having now instead of working some job that you can stand so that you can buy those glasses, well, they’re never going to be taken away from you or go out of style.
Well I feel I should just clarify I would NEVER want $800 sunglasses or envy them. That to me crosses the line into gluttony. But yes, I’ve definitely envied some real Ray Bans! Ha. But I totally agree with the rest of your point… physical things can’t buy happiness because physical things don’t last…
Fair post. I suffered the same for a while and still suffer from jealousy when I see my friends getting promotions, raises and success. I’m shallow sometimes even though I’m sure they would trade it for my current world travel lifestyle.
The world isn’t fair and you are right in criticizing it. Life isn’t fair and what is worse, we no longer try to make it more fair. America helps those that need it less than it did 30 years ago. The world is following the same path.
I don’t care if you buy $800 sum glasses but we should make a much stronger effort to help people avoid starvation around the world. Which we don’t.
Peter you worded this so well. I love what you said — “what’s worse, we no longer try to make it more fair.” The comments on this post tell me there are people trying to live a more contentious life — lets hope its a pattern.
This is why I left NYC and will never return to live there. I was completely consumed with the desire to buy buy buy. That feeling took some time to leave once I moved to Charlotte, but it’s gone now. I love NYC with all of my heart and soul, but I will never move back. Life is not about buying, it’s about being the best person you can be and helping others.
Andi, we’ve definitely chatted about this before and I was so relieved to know I wasn’t the only one who had this reaction to the NYC lifestyle. I absolutely love your life philosophy, its one that I share though sadly I think I’m learning we are in the minority. But looking at this comment section gives me hope, lots of people trying to live better 🙂
This post really struck a chord with me.
I think that in richer nations, consumerism is an inherent part of our culture and it’s the norm to cherish material possessions. But really I think a lot of the times we confuse our needs with our wants. It’s really only when you let the desire to obtain stuff go, that you realise how unnecessary physical goods are to la personal fulfilment.
Great post as always and it sounded ‘pretty polished’ to me. 🙂
Thank you Cynthia! I agree, its difficult to identify our true needs and easy to justify wants.
This is awesome. This is the kind of stuff I like to talk about! (I blog about minimalism). In fact if you don’t mind, I might just link to this post. I’ve never been able to travel like you have, and don’t see being able to, but even in small-town Oregon I’m faced with the challenge of talking down my desire to buy new things in an effort to live out the minimalism I preach. We think we need so much more than we really do, and the act of acquiring all those things takes resources away from other people who really do need them, and takes resources out of our earth, and takes resources away from us. I mean, we wouldn’t have to work so much (and could therefore have more free time to DO fun things instead of OWN fun things), if we didn’t feel like we needed to buy so much.
Thank you Katherine, and yes — link away! I think you probably have a leg up by blogging about minimalism…. I know that blogging about something always makes me more accountable to it! I just love your comment.
The consumer consciousness is based on rugged individualism rather than a concern for the group. We are ‘one, y’all…one tribe’ (Black Eyed Peas). If we really internalized our connection to each other and acted on that, how could anyone buy (win) excess knowing someone who couldn’t eat or didn’t have clean water or didn’t make a living wage (lose)? We just don’t have a genuine way to connect to each other, so we buy!
Maggi, I LOVE the way you put this! Especially the winning and losing… so true. It definitely makes it harder to buy ridiculously indulgent luxury items when you make connections with people who are living with so much less. You really worded it beautifully.
As you said ‘life is complicated and I haven’t quite figured it out yet’….hey, you are 22….you have plenty of time to figure it out and I dare say you have figured out more of it than most people do by age 22…or even older. The old saying that travel brioadens is true. You have a much broader perspective from which to figure out life now and the relativity of things, events, culture, etc. And BTW, I think anyone who would spend $800 for a pair of non prescription sunglasses is a pretentious asshole.
Ha, Dad, you slay me. Here I am trying to word it all carefully but you cut right to the heart of it in your PS.
Haha “and was a more responsible person who didn’t sit on my belongings”, you’re the best. I agree, it is so hard. (Also: Clearly you got your hilarity from your dad!) I remember when I was in Tao a friend of mine told me how much she spent on some pants and I remember all these feelings of sly judgment on my behalf (“Oh poor her, she hasn’t sold all the clutter, left capitalism and all its woes behind and found clarity in paradise yet…awkward”). Yet here I am now back in the swing of things, interning in a highly pretentious and looks focused industry and dropping nearly twice that on a new coat. (I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of my hedonistic NY shopping binge, which I attempted to justify to myself as being ‘travel expenses’, grouping the whole lot in my “NYC budget”… you know, if you go overseas without your mum, the type of budget usually allocated to food and shelter). Then again – My way of justifying purchases is measuring them against the cost of plane tickets. And I could probably get to Paris for $800, which is a lot further than a pair of sunnies could ever hope to take me.
Ha ha your comments always make my laugh (“awkward….”). You’re trick about measuring things against travel purchases is a trick I’ve used for years to try to curb ridiculous spending!
Since deciding to make travel a big part of my life, my idea of ‘stuff’ has shifted. I used to be the person who would see something cool or nifty and buy it. These days I’m much more conscious of what I buy.
A little while ago, a co-worker upgraded his car from an old bomb to a relatively new model. Whilst I didn’t begrudge him that (it is a very nice car – and I spend my money travelling the globe on a permanent ‘vacation’ – who am I to judge?) I realised that the line between what I want and what I need has shifted a lot, and my perception of what I need has also shifted.
I think what I’m trying to say in a very roundabout, rambling way, is that I get where you’re at, and where you’re coming from, because in terms of consumerism etc, I’m there too. And why I’d totally buy a pair of Raybans if I had the spare cash, I also adore my $5 knockoffs, and really, they’re all I need.
Yeah, where people put their money is all about priorities. While you and I would obviously rather use that cash to travel, your coworker might say “but I’ll get years of use out of it!” Of course I’d say I’ll have my travel memories for a lifetime 🙂
Yeah, I definitely struggle with my need to have the new and best things… I used to spend sooooo much money online shopping it makes me ashamed of myself! I’ve really enjoyed paring down my stuff but I’m terrified I will come home from traveling and get wrapped in everything again, especially living in LA. And since I’ll probably be settling down for awhile and moving into an apartment, the thought of accumulating furniture again kind of scares me! Luckily my best friend is the biggest saver in the world so I’m hoping she’ll be a good influence on me.
Furniture is definitely a stressful one because its so physically large! I sold most of mine but kept a few thing my parents were kind enough to store for me. Luckily most of it was Ikea of off-the-street stuff so no real sadness letting it go. I can imagine it gets harder as we get older and have nicer things!
Some people have posted money cannot buy happiness, i would neither agree nor disagree but i will play devils advocate. What if money COULD buy happiness. What if jealousy is not so inhuman after all.
Living in Australia we make alot of money and we spend alot of money to; be that on clothes, restaurants, cars travelling etc. But this does not necessarily class us in the ‘glutton’ or ‘pretentious asshole’ category (btw your dad is funny). For example, one of my good friends – 24 year old guy, works as a mining engineer, he recently built a school in kenya, filled it with teachers, books and everything needed for a modern school. He spends 25 thousand a year just to keep it running and the teachers behind there desks. This has led to him recently addressing the UN. But i can also tell you he drives an 100 thousand dollar car. I myself drive an expensive car, dress in the best and yeah i have left a lot of money behind a bar coz im an idiot.. but I volunteer, ive spent some money towards rehabilitating elephants in kenya and funding anti poaching patrols.
But the point of this abnormally long post that you’ve probably skim read and is by now irritating you by my poor grammatical skills! IS: If you wanto buy that pair of 800$ sunglasses and your in a position to, then buy them, if it makes you happy to buy something then buy it if not then no. Feeling jealous and wanting the best sunglasses or whatever.. man.. thats just life your a young chick! of course your going to be a little consumer and wanto feel good in what your dressing.
Ive lived on mauritius, and on koh tao. And i tell you island life, the live of a traveler, of a tourist, is a completely different world to back home or city life. I was in the exact same mind frame as yourself – boardies, singlet and thongs i wore those everyday, ate at street stalls and market food.. i could of gone to any restaurant i would like but i didn’t have an urge.
I think by living in bigger cities we consume to fill in the gaps that we might have in our lives. Buying that pair of sunglasses might not have been as good as swimming to banana bar and then getting baked (maybe you did maybe you didn’t 😉 ) but it might of given you that bit of happiness to forget your not somewhere you’d rather be.
P.S. materialism and lack of jealousy is either inherited or diminishes with age. My parents are the least materialistic people in the world, but this was not the same story some years ago.
You make a lot of good points, especially the one about buying things “to forget you’re not somewhere you’d rather be.” It definitely happens! You also make a good point about the fact that people can give generously to charity and also be extravagant with yourself. However like I said there has to be a line where you are crossing into gluttony… and I used the $800 sunglasses because I strongly believe they fall into that category!
Don’t be so hard on yourself! You have spent years living in a society that puts a huge premium on designer/expensive goods, so it’s not surprising to find that you often find yourself coveting things… in the States you’re being primed all the time to want! At least you have grown enough to recognize that there is a dark-side to these desires and to have some perspective that $800 sunglasses may be a ridiculous thing to have.
In order to take our year-long trip, Tony and I sold most of our belongings. Getting rid of all of our stuff was cathartic, but also made us re-evaluate what we have and what we need. Living out of a backpack does that too… but still, I find myself wanting to buy every cute little Japanese souvenir that I come across. I haven’t bought any of them (save for one coin purse, which while adorable, was something I did actually need), but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to buy them! Maybe in time I’ll totally embrace an ascetic lifestyle, but for now, I still want stuff, but remind myself there are things I want more!
Souvenir shopping can be really tempting because I dream of having a home some day filled with things from all my adventures! But then I remember I’d have to carry it around on my back and that curbs the desire 🙂
I am often stunned by how much money is spent in the western world and how much suffering and poverty in others. The truth is that our purchasing power is quite powerful. If we start thinking about where the money train goes on our purchases, we can actually begin to change some of these issues that lead to feelings of guilt. With food, it had become increasingly easier in the US to buy goods sourced from a local farm. But what about the sunglasses? Are the dollar cheepies from Bangkok made in sweat shops or by children? The $800 pair is probably not made by children but who gets that $800? Do you want them to have your money? We could change the world with the way we spend…if we start doing it thoughtfully. And sometimes, the cheap option might be doing more harm than the expensive option.
I am reading a book right now that explores our preoccupation with stuff. Very interesting. Until I got to Part II which equates traveling to collecting stuff. The author says there is no difference between tourist and travelers (crush my elitist point of view) and is equating the search for the unwesternizied, unexplored place with the search for the dress no one else has. I am searching to find a hole in this argument….hopefully in the next 100 pages!
i for for sure feel your argument. But to be honest most of the goods we get are out sourced from much poorer countries where they can pay them 10$ a month instead of paying salaries for westerners to do the same thing. It will take alot to change the way people spend, especially with the propaganda and suggestive advertising constantly in there faces.
But not only that its ingrained into social norms: How many women want a diamond ring when there man drops to one knee, ill answer that.. every single girl on this planet. But how many care were that diamond came from? is it from a conflict zone? how many people lost there hands or families to get that diamond to the counter.
Realistically to change the world with our spending we need to become minimalists and eliminate capitalism and corporations. Communism? had its perks.
Nadia what is the name of the book? I’d be interested to read it. You make a good point about ethical spending. I definitely agree that it is worth it to pay more for a product that is of high quality and comes from a company that treats its employees well and doesn’t abuse the Earth. But there is also a point where you are just paying for a label or paying because you can. I mean, really…. $800 sunglasses are gluttony and you’re right, that money is not going to the people making the damn things.
As for the food aspect, I recently watched the documentary Earthlings and it has inspired me to change a lot of my habits. You might like it.
You make such mature and well considered points in this post. I too suffered the feelings you are on returning to Australia after a stint in SE Asia. I commented to many people about the fact that while they have so little, they seem so happy. And yes, I felt some guilt over the consumer society in which I live.
But this is what I have decided, and maybe it’s my own way of reconciling all of that, or maybe it’s a valid perspective. I do live in a consumer society but within that I consider myself to be at the bottom end of that scale. I have never owned clothing (or a pair of sunglasses) with a label, never owned a new car, never earned a huge wage, never eaten at the best restaurants, and I truly don’t desire those things or envy others for having them. Yes, if I compare my lifestyle to that of the people I met and witnessed in SE Asia, it is excessive, but I don’t live in any of those countries. If I tried to live that way here, it would be very difficult. You can only live happily, wherever you are, if you can be at peace with person you are. The connections we make with others, how we treat other people, the level of understanding and acceptance of others and their choices or circumstances, are the best indicators of the types of people we are. What we HAVE is nowhere near as important as any of those things and I think you should be proud that at such a tender age, you are perceptive enough to know this.
Jasmine, it seems you are doing an inspiring job at living on your own terms and not bowing to the norms of our culture… my hat is off to you and I hope to get to that point someday soon! Thank you for this comment 🙂
Just read this post which was very interesting. I think that it’s important to remember it’s not really about money, or stuff. It’s about status.
Humans (like all primates) are intensely status conscious, and passionately desire to have high status. This is probably innate, but also pragmatic: being low status can literally kill you, not only because of your reduced ability to access resources, but because it’s intensely stressful. It seems to cause significant health problems (one important reason why the rich live longer), just as it does in monkeys. It even seems to make humans stupider, literally reducing their IQ.
But status is a relative thing. If you live in a poor place, you could be the highest status person there and still own almost nothing. In many cultures, status is measured not by material goods, but in other ways (like ability to call in favors, or throwing a big funeral). That doesn’t mean they are at all superior to ‘materialistic’ Americans (where status IS largely measured with things, especially in large cities where people don’t know each other personally), just that the natural human tendency to socially compete is expressed differently.
In Thailand you were already extremely high status because you are a Westerner. Plus on a party island like Koh Tao being young and beautiful increases your status considerably. But in the US you are no longer high status, since everyone else is also a Westerner. So naturally you are now again concerned with improving your status (either via shopping, or perhaps with professional success).
But the complexities of status and the social pecking order haven’t actually changed, just your place in them.
I should say I don’t mean this as a condemnation of you in any way at all: it’s natural for everyone to desire status (and as I said above, probably as innate a drive as the one for food). I just think you are misunderstanding the situation a little bit.
I definitely don’t see it as criticism… however I also might not call it a misunderstanding. I think we have both pointed out two different parts of the equation!
You definitely make an interesting point Grace! Status is a big part of the equation. I definitely agree that many Westerners (myself included if I’m being introspective) love living in Southeast Asia so much because its so easy to live like a King. You have made me think with this comment, and I really appreciate it!
I definitely admire your honesty and self-reflection/analysis in this post, Alex! I’m not reading your other comments, but I’m hoping that people are respectful and kind to you regarding your thoughts here.
I can sympathize with you. I am a person with a conservative income who often struggles with very unconservative material desires. And not even just things… I’d love to travel the world on a first-class ticket. I want experiences too. I can’t really offer you advice, but I want you to know that you’re not alone, and I do think you are approaching it the right way. You have a pretty rare, global perspective, and you actually use it.
On another moral topic, I read this article on Gadling.com today, and I, of course, totally thought of you and another “moral dilemma” post you penned. I wasn’t sure if you saw it, so I wanted to share: https://www.gadling.com/2012/08/25/rising-death-toll-of-tourists-prompts-bar-closures-on-xong-river
Thanks for your input, Jen! I appreciate your solidarity 🙂 Also yes I just saw that story… I have mixed feelings! I mean I guess I hope that things will become more respectful now, but at the same time I feel that this might be the fun police at work.
I am currently suffering from this issue at the moment. I am desperately trying to save so I can travel, but at the same can’t help but give in to temptation and purchase goods I don’t need. In particular, CLOTHES! I didn’t want to buy them, but the thought took over and for a good couple of weeks I agonised over all these clothes that I wanted to buy, via online shopping and window shopping. In the end I gave in, blew too much money in an act of denial and rebellion, and then felt so guilty for spending my savings on clothes instead of flights. ARGH!! I will continue to struggle as I try to fit corporate career women world and travel world together, and I am now trying REALLY hard to save, save, SAVE!!!!!
Best of luck with this Jes! Another post you might enjoy is “So, How Do You Afford This?” I link to a lot of resources that helped me save.
I loved reading this post, you articulated so well the thoughts I’ve had many times. Living off the grid in the jungle in Bocas I learned to live with so much less than I ever thought possible having grown up in the states with everything I could possibly want at my fingertips. The one thing I found too was that when I did make a big purchase I wasn’t spending impulsively like so many people do–I literally thought for months about whether I really would use an item or if it was just a fleeting desire to have something someone else had. If I still felt that I wanted that “thing” after all that time weighing the pros & cons while sitting in my hammock, then I’d make the purchase on my next visit home and have found that by doing so I actually value these items so much more (and actually use them unlike so much impulse buy junk I had bought in the past!). It also kills me to come back and visit with my friends in DC and listen to so many conversations that focus on material things and I don’t even know what the hell brand they are talking about half the time but everyone suddenly MUST HAVE IT. I’m moving back to the states permanently this month and hope to take the values on spending learned in the third world with me as I get re-established but like you said, once you’re back it is hard! Keep up the great writing!
I have a similar routine — I plan my purchases throughout my travels and go home and carefully complete them during my summers at home. It gives me plenty of time to think. Plus I have to consider if I want to carry it!