From a Harvard Business School case study on IKEA:
“This was not just furniture that was fun, but furniture that was, according to IKEA’s promotions, “commitment-free”. This furniture was so cheap that you could change it almost as easily as you updated your clothes.”
It’s that last sentence that seems most insidious to me. Telling us how the good life is so easily achieved, through the mechanism of spending, by externalising and outsourcing existential problems.
By this line of thinking, the mantra of IKEA is that: “the problem isn’t you, it’s your furniture”. Or in other words: “If you aren’t satisfied with your life, spend with us, and we’ll fix it for you and you’ll be henceforth cured of your dissatisfaction”.
Only of course, buying things doesn’t cure you at all. Consumer therapy is a symptomatic relief at best. It soothes for a short while, but does not address root causes.
And so the pain never goes away. So we keep spending and we keep consuming. We come back, and come back, and come back. We keep repeating the same failed experiment over and over.
This is the damp, and the rot, at the core of the materialist outlook.
We used to have offices near two of Sydney's largest universities. Tower blocks of student accomodation stood across the road. On my way to work in the mornings, walking through the back lanes of the towers, I often saw huge dump piles of discarded furniture, dotted with clothes, toasters and kettles. The disposable life of a student who had finished their degree or flown home. Everything that one wouldn’t bother shipping across an ocean. And really, in fairness, who would? What value could this stuff hold? Explicitly temporary. Made to be discarded. These waste piles were IKEA’s mantra made reality. An economy of transience, a sentimental history available on-demand and en-masse.
IKEA says: come spend with us and build a new life any time you want. The delusion that because our furniture is different, then our life is different, that we are different. Or how people might go on holiday to exotic places in order “find themselves”. But they are there all along. Unchanged, inside their own skin. Wherever they go, there they are.
Everything you need for the good life is inside you. You need look no further.
But this route, the inside alternative, is hard work. And dirty work. And confounding work. There are no books, or courses, or teachers, or video tutorials on YouTube that can tell you how you, you specifically, you the precise individual, can navigate this inside path. That’s something you have to uncover and invent for yourself.
And because it is hard work, and because we are designed to conserve calories, and be lazy, and not exhaust ourselves on the savanna, we look outside, to the external, to the dangly carrot of outsourcing, outsourcing our needs and wants, problems, fetishes and fixations. We want this part of our life, the satisfaction of these existential needs, to be as easy and convenient as everything else in this modern era. We want the answers to be internet purchasable, mobile browsable and home delivered the same day by Amazon Prime.
We are prey to this weakness. Because it is a cup that can never be filled, a hole in the heart and a hole in the soul that cannot be plugged, and so we never stop giving alms to commerce.
Consumption is not wrong by any means, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that we have lost touch with the original meaning and intent of consumption: sustenance, security and material liberation, in order to define what a good life means for us and to pursue that.