The Frivolous Fifty

consumerism, less is more, deep living, new pursuit“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”  ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

How often have you’ve seen this bumper sticker humming down the highway:

“He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Nothing sums up the tragic take on mainstream America like it. Look up American Lifestyle in the dictionary and you’re likely to see a lot of this stuff. Whether or not this extends to the rest of Western Society, I’m not sure. I haven’t had enough exposure to glean any insight. (Perhaps some readers could reflect here?)

Many of these ’toys’ could be easily deemed frivolous. Many are case in point why most of society is caught up in the mindless pursuit of more, missing all those opportunities to reconnect with the essence of Life. The Engine of Consumerism idles along nicely thanks to this stuff.

Frivolous things fuel the Throwaway Culture of Convenience. They are wants not needs. For generations, we did just fine. Now, under the guise of technology, innovation and convenience, we are drowning in a deluge of stuff that frankly we could probably do without; instead, turning back to connecting with people, places and the natural world around us — tapping those (unlimited) wellsprings for our happiness and contentment. The up-tick? Imagine how much we could reduce our pillage of all the natural resources that go into the production, transportation and selling of this stuff — just by choosing the immaterial over the material.

My intent was to come up with 50 things but I’ve hit a roadblock. (I admit: I am not culture savvy.) Then I thought: Why not let others add to it (or question my items). Comment away! Make it yours!

1. Tissue cozies
2. GPS
3. Radar detectors
4. Single-use appliances like “baby food makers”
5. Car alarms
6. Space Bags
7. Pre-fabricated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
8. Most things at Baby Depot
9. Inflatable holiday lawn ornaments
10. Skullcandy
11. tchotchkes of any kind
12. Bluetooth headsets
13. Most television programming
14. Paying to ‘work out’ at a gym
15. Anything that is sold at a kiosk in the mall
16. Matching bathroom accessory sets
17. Crappy school fundraiser stuff (we shouldn’t need to raise funds in the first place)
18. Disposable dinnerware
19. Five different kinds of cereal in your pantry
20. Any post-factory add-ons for your car/truck (we’re all not fast nor furious)
21. Swimming pools
22. Anything that promises a bonus gift if you call within the next 10 minutes
23. A closet full of shoes and clothes
24. The ‘super-size’ option at your favorite fast food place (why are you there to begin with?)
25. (Add yours…)

Be well,


[image: Ben Heine]

21 Responses to “The Frivolous Fifty”
  1. Emily says:

    Hi Bill – Yes I do read about 75% of your posts… Isn’t anything beyond food, shelter and clothing frivolous when you get down to it? And within that context, at what point do any of those things become frivolous? At what point is a pretty dress that fits well frivolous? Or a meal at a nice restaurant frivolous? For example when you go to buy a pair of pants for yourself, what goes through your mind? Will you buy used ones at Good Will or buy new at a more commercial establishment? I’m just trying to get a handle on what happens at a more basic level when dealing with materialism and where exactly that line gets drawn and you might succumb to it on a daily basis. -Emily

  2. Your Wife says:

    while i agree with the tissue cozies, my agreement probably ends there. how can you presume to know what others may deem necessary? the salesman who travels for work probably finds his GPS necessary. the city kids swimming in a public pool to escape the heat, probably don’t see that pool as frivolous. while seeing people wearing those bluetooth headsets as an accessory is pretty ridiculous, it does allow for safer driving. you might as well call cell phones frivolous, and i know you use one of those. how about Twitter? i think that’s a friggin’ waste of time. what the hell, computers are pretty darn frivolous aren’t they? i know you wouldn’t give yours up. i agree with Emily, where is the line? how many pairs of shoes puts me in your “red zone”? what television programing do you deem worthy enough to watch? my point is not to publicly chastise but to point out that we are all different and therefore have different needs. this post is very high in pompous and very low in tolerance and you are better than that Bill.

  3. Vanessa says:

    I agree that everyone is different in their needs. But many of the technologies we create are often “quick fixes” for the problems we’ve created as a society. Instead of putting our heads together to figure out WHY this or that is happening we create band aids. Or we think we need these things because there just isn’t enough time to everything we want to do, especially the healthy stuff i.e. eating well, sleeping enough, being active, spending quality time with loved ones. We need bluetooths to multi-task because we HAVE to drive and talk at the same time and maybe even eat that Chalupa from Taco Bell. There is so much to be done and so little time!

    Been there, done that. And I realized things needed to change. And I don’t have a cell phone. It’s been pretty liberating. Of course, there may come a time when I’ll get one again but I know I don’t NEED one.

    I have my issues with technology but the fact that the internet has given us the ability to communicate with people all over the world at the click of a button. Well, that is truly beautiful. We don’t need the internet (or do we?) but it has afforded us the ability to share knowledge and the tools for creating a healthy world to so many different people. I think that’s pretty neat. I think the point of this post is to think about why we have these things. What is their purpose? And is their a better option?

    I agree with many of them. Especially #5. When you have a 1982 scrappy looking car I don’t think many people expect to find much in there :P I used to lock all the doors but now I like to live on the wild side.

    #7 Sort of makes me want to gag.

    For my contribution to the post, I choose THE SNUGGIE.

  4. Dave says:

    Need, want, and like sometimes get jumbled up resulting in debates like the one you have set off. Since I started chronicling my own journey I have had this very debate multiple times. It seems people want an authority, that what one writes in a blog is some how a kind of law, and they get upset when a blog post challenges their own beliefs. Blogs by nature are personal journeys for others to reflect on, not react to. I know I don’t judge others lives, nor would I think anything I write is wrong because I don’t write with the intended purpose of telling others how to live. I think some earlier commenter’s should take that into account when reading blog posts.

    I tend to be more about experiences than things anyway, the less I have; the less is in the way. I choose to be vegan, I choose to avoid all prepackaged food, I choose not to have a car, I just bought a prepaid cellphone to make phone calls only; but as a result turned off my home phone and internet (TracFone is way cheaper). I think pets are totally unnecessary, but I don’t tell that to pet owners. I do not have a TV or a Microwave. All of these choices give me time, time for me and real experiences. Further all of these choices have drastically lowered my expenses so I don’t have to commute. Commuting makes me sad and makes me think I need a new LCD TV. There are things i’d like to have like a new crockpot, but I know it won’t make me happy and I don’t need it…so I just make do with the one I have.

    All I know is for me the less I have the happier I am, and the healthier I feel. It works for me, but when someone comments on my blog or sends me a message challenging that ethic I tell them to find their own path, start their own blog, and together we can be twin lighthouses leading people away from the rocks our society has become. One of the biggest problems in our society is that we judge more than we lead.

  5. Bill Gerlach says:

    @Emily + @S. (my wife) >> I am really glad you both took the time to comment. If everyone who reads TNP and comments just blindly agreed with me it would be boring and do little to help drive a critical discussion — so thanks.

    In retrospect, perhaps the title of the post should have been “My Frivolous Fifty” and not “The Frivolous Fifty”. It is true — what I might think as being frivolous certainly may not fall into that same bucket for someone else. My observations should not serve as proxy for others.

    We are all different; the intent of the post was not to pass a universal judgment — rather try to seed a discussion about what is necessary in our lives. Maybe “frivolous” is the wrong word to use here; perhaps the better term would be “unnecessary” or even “excessive”. For sake of alliteration, I went with “frivolous”.

    When it comes to drawing the line — I think it is up to the individual. Do you need 6 pairs of jeans or could you get by with 2? Do you need to eat out 3 times a week or once a month? Do you need the Super-Ultra Version of X or could you still accomplish what you need to do with the Basic version (or nothing at all)? For one person and the point in which they are at in their life, 6 pairs might bring the appropriate level of satisfaction or happiness. For someone else, it might be found in fewer pairs. I fall into the latter group.

    Yes, we all need a critical threshold of things to survive and thrive. I am not advocating we all give up all our possessions, take vows of poverty and live as ascetics — unless that it what is best for you in finding your happiness and balance in the world. (Some might think the fact that I own several guitars and other instruments to be frivolous. Perhaps, but to play them makes me happy. So in my mind they are not. I have let go of many other things to balance it out.) But on the other hand, I feel it is important to try and raise a personal and collective awareness about living beyond the means of what societies and the planet can sustain in both the short- and long-term.

    This question of sustainability begets a critical analysis of the root causes of the problems that face us — whether they are environmental, social, spiritual or whatever. And it is there that I believe — and others may feel otherwise — that it is because of these excesses that we face our current situations. As personal and collective awareness grows regarding alternatives to these situations, the process of discovering how to re-balance everything will unfold.

    Feel free to continue the discussion — it is a good dialogue.

  6. Bill Gerlach says:

    Vannessa // Thanks for taking the time to comment. Concepts of need and want are personal. There is no standard there. That said, we need to deepen our personal and collective awareness of the stresses and tolls that are needs/wants take on our planet, our lives and the lives of other beings (human and otherwise).

    Thanks for adding to the list. If I’m remembering correctly, “snuggies” are those big fleece blankets with sleeves, right? With no TV, it’s been a while since I’ve seen commercials. :)

  7. Bill Gerlach says:

    Dave // I really appreciate you taking time to reflect, comment and share a bit of your story (especially after reading your recent post).

    Perhaps I did set off something here — not sure. I do value dialogue and it is a big reason why I choose to blog. That said, I think your words of encouragement – to be a lighthouse to lead people away from the rocks our society has become — are just fantastic and well-spoken.

  8. I cleaned out and my house this spring,and boxed up most of what was left, in anticipation of a move that, in the end, isn’t happening. The list of things I sent to charity could go on and on. I was happy to give it to someone else who might use and appreciate it, but all the time wondering why I had so much useless stuff to begin with.

    Now, I’m faced with potentially unpacking the boxes…I don’t remember what’s in them, and have been living really comfortably without whatever’s in them for 4 months.

    I could make a really long list, but will just add a few…
    Party favors, magazines, junk mail, serving platters, lotion and fragrance gift sets (perhaps the whole gift set concept is a waste), multiple pocketbooks, staplers, and pitchers.

    Now, I have what I need, and some things that bring joy, comfort, pleasure, but am not overwhelmed.

  9. Dan Goodwin says:

    This is a great discussion, and it does highlight that saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”, as well as question the deeper theme of how we’re conditioned by advertising to think we need so much stuff that we lived perfectly happily without before.

    A friend of mine was viewing a new car and the salesman was in a frenzy of excitement over the rain sensitive automatic windscreen wipers. “You’ll wonder how you ever possibly lived without them before!” he virtually shrieked. “Um, I raised my left forefinger a couple of inches off the steering wheel and switched them on myself when it began to rain” my friend replied, incredulous.

    Here are some of my personal ones I wonder why people have, or think they need:

    - Knitted doll toilet roll / brush covers.
    - Sets of 7 or more knives in a wood block where you only ever use two or three.
    - A TV in the kitchen / in every bedroom / having a TV at all.
    - Electric can openers that take up loads of work surface.
    - Purchasing two items because they’re Buy One Get One Free, even though you don’t need two and end up throwing one of them away.
    - 5 (or more) duvet/pillowcase sets when you only ever use 2 or 3.
    - Cakes that are “individually wrapped for freshness” in foil, then in another cardboard pack, then finally wrapped in the foil outer packaging, then taken home in a plastic carrier bag…
    - 5 (or more) wooden spoons, when you only use 2 or 3 at most.
    - Whole 24 piece sets of crockery for “special occasions” when no occasion ever seems to be quite special enough and it sits taking up space and gathering dust in a cupboard.
    - The majority of ornaments people have on their mantelpieces and sideboards. Like porcelain or glass animals.
    - Those ridiculously fancy corkscrew tools that look like some futuristic instrument of torture, and even have their own stand, in case the corkscrew itself wasn’t cluttering up your kitchen enough.

    I’m sure there are plenty more, like most items in those Betterware type catalogues. Depressing to recount them…

  10. Ali Dark says:

    I have to say that things aren’t frivolous, people are. What came first, the frivolous culture or the frivolous people is about as answerable as which will go first when we come around.

    We’re quickly realizing the need for change and allowing common sense to infiltrate our bubbles. We’ll come around to sustainable abundance, simplicity and contentedness.

    It’s about fulfillment, the more we’re in stillness, in tune with ourselves and the world around us, the less we’ll need external things to get us off.

  11. Kathy P. says:

    Banana hangers!

    Currently clearing out a huge stash of magazines. I finally realized I would never have time to go through them all, could not remember any specific articles in any of them so why was I keeping them for “reference”? This is a huge accomplishment for me because I sort of regard the written word as…I don’t know…sacred or something. Getting rid of books is equally hard.

  12. Majeeda says:

    Heehee this is a funny one. It is of course subjective and I like the way Dan put it “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. But it’s also fun because who doesn’t roll their eyes sometimes when they go shopping and see some of the things you can actually buy.

    How about those little contraptions that wrap dirty disposable nappies up separately in plastic for you…I always wonder about those.

  13. Daisy says:

    Well, I would agree with most thus far that these can be very personal lists. A couple of observations — some electronic or automatic gadgets seem frivolous from the perspective of a young healthy and able-bodied person, but they can make a world of difference and autonomy for someone without the strength to use a mechanical can opener, for instance. On the other hand, anything that clearly leads to competition gets marked frivolous in my book — and that makes “gift bags” for children’s parties or weddings among the worst offenders. Actually a ginormous part of anything attached to weddings has become anachronistic these days, and the more people you invite or add to the wedding party, the more OTHER people you “have” to include so as not to offend….a racket, in my opinion, but I know there are plenty of people who would disagree.

    Oh and just to add a fun one: any scented sanitizer that smells worse than whatever odor it was intended to cover up. That would be the entire Glade family, for starters.

  14. Bill Gerlach says:

    @Kathy // I know what you mean about the written word. Just the other night, we went through Round 2 of eliminating books and magazines — just in time for a big yard sale coming up. I have found that process extremely hard at first. But when I force myself to ask WHY I am keeping them (many of which I have not opened in years), I can’t come up with any good reason save for some supposed sentimental attachment. That’s not good enough anymore. What ever we don’t sell we will donate — let others share in those stories.

    Keep it up!

  15. Bill Gerlach says:

    @Daisy + @Majeeda + @Ali // Thanks so much for the contributions to the discussions. I love your additions to the list. I think it just goes to show that even though we are all different and have different ambitions at this point in our lives, we can agree to some extent that there is excess out there. Be well!

  16. suzanne says:

    i had to laugh when i saw #7; often i ask people to name the most ridiculous packaged food items they have seen and that is always one of them… i will follow it up with: (1) snack crackers/chips sold in rigid plastic tumblers (2) “Lunchables” (let’s not even start on that product), (3) pre-cut and individually bagged servings of apples, carrots, celery, etc. (4) microwavable milkshakes (???) and (5) frozen meals in disposable plastic trays. For the cost of many of these items a person could buy a pound of brown rice and a pound of beans (in bulk), which would be enough for several meals and would also avoid the need to dispose of plastic packaging. as you say in many threads, convenience is definitely the deciding factor for most purchase decisions in the u.s. and will continue to be so unless the real cost of waste disposal is added into retail prices.

  17. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi suzanne — Thanks for those additions. Great adds. When you really start to dig into the “food” end of this, there is SO much out there that should cause many to give pause. Convenience is a big factor. Price can also be a factor, especially when you are on a tight budget. It’s so unfortunate that the really crappy “food” out there is cheaper than the good, nutritious, unprocessed stuff. Imagine if — on top of your waste disposal “tax” — we added a health “tax” of sorts. The better the nutritional value of the food, the less the “tax” would be.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it. Be well.

  18. Pat says:

    After mowing the lawn this morning, I have come across the idea that LAWNS are frivolous. Think about it; we spend alot of time and money taking care of the grass. Most of the equipment that is used is fairly expensive, has its own upkeep (gas, spark plugs, oil, sharpening blades, trimming wire,ect) and heaven forbid if the item should quit on you and it has to go to the repair shop! We spend money on precious water and fertilizer to keep the grass green and pretty. Not to mention pesticides to keep all the bugs and weeds away! Sometimes we even pay other people to take care of our grass for us! Also, what about the landfills, many people bag the grass clippings and off they go. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should just have dirt or rocks in our yards, but how about minimizing the lawn space? What about having a garden? If we all put in as much time and effort into a vegetable garden, people would be over run with veggies. You could actually HAVE something for all that work. Food! What about a rock garden and xeriscaping? Much nicer to look at and less to maintain. Keep life simple.

  19. Bill Gerlach says:

    Pat // You know, I might just agree with you. Especially as I look out at my own lawn and lament over another mowing session. The reasons you list for NOT having one are spot on. We have a decent sized garden (stay tuned for a post on that) that helps, but if I had it my way, a lot more space would be used for growing things. That said, our children do enjoy running around and doing all those awesome kid things. So it is a balance.

    Have you ever seen or read about The Path to Freedom? Every time I think about eliminating our yard, I remember the amazing things this suburban California family has done on their 1/10th of an acre.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate it! Be well.

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