I remember a retail merchant sharing one of his learnings from a consumer focus group. A young mother shopper told them that paper towels were a luxury she simply couldn’t afford, as she struggled to put food on her family’s table. This was clearly a novel idea to the merchant. For me, it was a memory.
We married (very) young and poor. One of us worked and one of us went to school for the first 7 years of our marriage. Our grocery budget for the first couple of years was $35 for the week, and that also had to cover toiletries and paper goods. Not only were paper towels definitely not affordable, we didn’t buy paper plates, Kleenex, or any “frivolous” food. For our lunches, I cooked extra amounts at dinner and baked desserts. While my husband’s co-workers looked on with envy at his homemade goodies, he complained that I never bought Oreos. I couldn’t: if I spent $40 one week instead of the budgeted $35, we struggled to pay for gas. Money was tight, and it took real planning to make it work.
We’ve since been financially blessed and no longer have to live on the edge like that, but of course many Americans do. There has been such a widening of the gap between rich and poor in our country that too many today have no idea what it’s like to view paper towels as a luxury. I worry that my kids won’t understand how blessed they are…they’ve lived with paper towels and many other luxuries their whole lives. We talk to them about how fortunate we are compared to many Americans and the rest of the world. We tell them that we’re blessed largely as a result of luck, having been born through no action of our own in a time and place of extraordinary circumstances. But there is no way for them to truly understand unless they live it. I want them to understand, yet I guess I really don’t, if it means they have to experience it first hand. I wish my children a lifetime of paper towels.
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” –Henry David Thoreau