So, what’s it worth to you? Ever been asked that question? Have you ever asked yourself that question? The answer suggested by our most sage advisors would say that anything we get is worth only as much as we are willing to pay for it. Baseball cards and comic books and beanie babies and any other kind of collectible can fetch prices into the thousands of dollars even if the original suggested retail price was $1.25. Why? Because we want it that badly. People have scrimped and saved for years to pay for things that mean that much to them. In this economy, however, so many things are available that are worthless even though we pay through the nose for them, and this disposable economy has been developing for years.
Wal-Mart and Ikea have made a fortune selling inexpensive products. A college freshman can stock a dorm room for very little money. A young couple can furnish their first apartment and still have enough for rent.
Of course, most of what you buy there will break within a year, if it is not broken coming out of the box. These stores can sell their wares for a low price because the stuff is so cheaply made. Ikea featured a snap tight plastic container that breaks when dropped from two feet. Wal-Mart sells a DVD player that typically fails within a month of average usage. In a perfect market, these products would never sell because the quality is so poor, but instead, people buy them in droves only because they are so affordable.
There has always been a component of society that lives on minimalist ideals. Spartan would be luxury for these bohemian types. They shun materialism. They may even prefer to be homeless, opting instead to live on friend’s couches. At least they tell people that. What they really do is buy things and discard them with no regard to the value. They justify this wastefulness by insisting they are not materialistic and that to hold onto “things” is somehow less significant.
When I was in high school, there was a young man who might be considered “special needs” today. He was short, bespeckled and shy. At lunch one day, I saw him walking around the foyer of the building, picking up coins that were being thrown by some of the bully clique. I watched them laugh as he quickly walked around picking up the pennies and nickels before tossing more on the floor. I walked over to him and asked him why was he allowing them to make fun of him. He looked at me with a flat grin and replied: “I’ve picked up five dollars worth so far.”
This guy understood the value of a buck, but more significant was that the bullies obviously did not. Had I thrown away five dollars, my parents would have skinned me and ensured I had no more cash to discard. So many kids these days have things given to them that they have no idea of the value. If one does not have to work to earn the means with which to obtain things, then the things have no value. If things have no value, then there is no reason to care about quality, and we buy whatever is stylish and inexpensive. This is why there is so much available that is built to be thrown away.
Most people gain the wisdom to discern value the same way they gain wisdom in any other area…with age. I have been lamenting that when I look for things in stores, I always seem drawn to the most expensive version of any item. Of course, the reason is not because I have champagne tastes, but rather I know how to spot quality, and with quality comes a higher price tag. These are the items that are worth saving for. I loathe buying things I know will fail in short order or are poorly made. I don’t want it that badly. It is just not worth it to me. Is it to you?