Everyone that goes to Walmart is looking for solutions to their problems. And there are two types of problems Walmart solves. Real problems like a needing an oil filter for their car or maybe some needing some groceries. Then there are the imaginary problems that Walmart convinces you that you have and the products you buy that you didn’t need in the first place.
Obviously this is true of any capitalist establishment driven by product marketing. I’m just using Walmart as the easy target, a somewhat universal example.
As I walked around our local Walmart hoping to find a bicycle helmet for my daughter, I observed consumer product marketing at its finest. Many people are aware that one of the best ways to make a sale is to create a need. And sure enough, in this store the aisle endcaps were crafted with flashy branding and messages telling you that these products will solve problems you didn’t even know you had. You can put on your makeup in one step, did you know that? Did you have a problem with your makeup taking too long or having too many steps? Do you even wear makeup? Doesn’t matter anymore, you aren’t doing it right, and this product does. Every aisle is like this.
Some people can put on blinders and march directly to the product in question, which is what I was attempting. But our almost three year old daughter was seeing much of this for the first (and hopefully last) time, and I couldn’t help but pay attention to some of the junk that surrounded us.
It was clear to me that Walmart’s departments are strategically located, forcing you to go deeper into the store for standard essential items and making you walk past the promotions and problem solvers.
I couldn’t avoid seeing the baker’s dozen pack of “bakery fresh” doughnuts that could solve the breakfast problem. The throw pillows flashed lustily at me with faux suede and eerily pink sheens to solve the home decorating problem.
I looked around at the other people in the store, many of them leaning on the cart handles, apparently in need of the support to walk. They stopped periodically to investigate a pile of problem solving products. DVDs for $1 so you can solve your boredom problems using outdated technology. Rain suit for your dog because your dog has a problem with not being a real dog apparently.
For me, it was all fairly entertaining, albeit disturbing. It was like visiting an alien planet and observing the culture and realizing it was all so illogical. Finally I understood why Spock thought humans were so fascinating.
How a Homesteader Solves a Problem
By contrast, the true homesteaders solve problems on their own, making use of resources available to them. I recently built a chicken coop and run for our heritage breed cockerels we’re raising for our freezer using almost 100% found and reused materials (except for fencing of course, because security is important!). Salvaged wood from the old siding on our house I replaced, leftover random lengths of rope and chain, smaller trees that I cut into usable logs, and even some mysterious metal frames we dug up in the yard from previous owners that I knew we should keep just in case. I could have gone to Home Depot and bought all new supplies to do it “right”, but there’s always another way, and that way is almost always cheaper or even free.
I wish more people would think like this. The problems Walmart supposedly solves often don’t exist. The real problem is not having enough to do with your time. So kill two birds with one stone. Instead of buying a baker’s dozen of doughnuts made with who knows what ingredients from a kitchen that Spock raise an eyebrow at, make breakfast from scratch for once. You’d be surprised how good real food tastes.
So next time you’re bored, look around the house, maybe you could do something useful and improve your surroundings. And if you have a specific problem to solve, take a moment and ask yourself: do I really need to buy something to solve this, or can I do it myself with materials on hand? It will save you time and money, as well as bring deep satisfaction at a job done honestly.
Solving the Problem of Getting a Child a Gift
Speaking of doing it yourself, we were looking for a helmet because Amy and I decided that we would make birthday gifts for our daughter. The kiddo has been asking for a bicycle, but I didn’t want to get a shiny, branded bike that came out of a factory and has no heart, so I made her this balance bike:
Safety conscious as we are, we decided standard safety equipment was better than going DIY on a helmet.
Oh and Amy felted these sturdy little bunnies with movable limbs. Much nicer than plastic things with painted on smiles, huh?