Scarcity And a Desire For More

Edit/Addition: Creating artificial scarcity and a desire for more is an oft used psychological technique by brands that comes from basic psychology. Some reading here. An example could be Apple generating more sales when the demand somehow seems greater than the need showcased by long waiting lines or launch delays due to sold out tags. This post however talks about my personal growth and family stories around not necessarily desiring objects a lot 🙂

My mom was a young mother at 25, the age at which I hadn’t even met my husband yet. As a young bride in a household of 20+ people at any given point, there was a lot to absorb. After the kids were born there was always some middle class rationing of food. Some kids hogged on red, yummy meat more than others (Kashmiris do love their Roganjosh/lamb).


Aunty X was visiting once with her daughters in tow. The daughters (falling in the double minority of being kids and guests) were served the choicest pieces of meat. Yet with several attempts, their levels of food greed were quite easily satiable. Aunty Y was amazed with such immaculate eating habits of the girls and readily put guest Aunt X on a spot, almost taunting on why the girls weren’t eating “anything.” Aunt X was a smart cookie and immediately shot back with a response.

“Whenever I cook something, I keep the whole bowl in front of them. They can eat as much as they want. I don’t create any scarcity and and I’ve noticed as kids they do have limited appetites. There’s no desire to want more, if they feel they’re allowed everything.”

My mother said that she internalized this learning for her children. It was important to not leave a child with the desire to want more and instead provide for the best possible.

Many years later when I was a gawky teenager, Aunty X visited us in Noida. I was in my stick thin and higher than average tall teenage years. I did not really need high heels (to appear taller or thinner or whatever). But I insisted on getting these beautiful white heeled sandals inspired by television and girls around me. My mother was not budging. Aunty X convinced her that I could in fact have those shoes. And I did. Soon-ly, I understood that they weren’t the most comfortable shoes, but after that I never really had the desire to want something out of mere peer pressure. I had it. And it was over. I’ve mostly chosen for comfort since.

I grew up in a middle class home. We weren’t the richest or the poorest people I knew. My mom’s been a teacher and my dad was far from being a millionaire. Enforced by my mother, we were never left dissatisfied with food or any consumables. It wasn’t because we had too much money, but because my mom thought it was important not to create a feeling of scarcity. She’d overextend herself to provide like mamma bear. We never heard a no based on price. We often heard a no based on utility. How would you use this? Where would you wear this? It was never about how much does it cost. As a result, we never enquired about the cost until we could justify the value.

On each of our birthdays, we were both given gifts (usually clothes), so no one felt left out. We never had any birthday lists to wait for or earn. If we could prove why we needed something, we could get it based on the value it would bring. For birthday gifts, we chose carefully- on what fits, and never on how much it costs. I never had a birthday shopping budget or an upper limit. I also never ended up overspending. We never associated value of a good in terms of its price but what it brings to us. On certain occasions, if we did buy something expensive and felt guilty, my mom would always tell us, when we spend well (and have a good time), God gives us more too. The good time mattered more than the exact dollar value.

When I was learning new words, I would ask my mom what it meant. She would never give me an exact answer but a few sentences to show me the usage. It was important to learn context and meaning before we jumped at being so exact.

In my grown up years I had no lists for products I want and can’t live without. I had no strong brand affiliations and I definitely have not known how much brands would cost. Because I never thought it was important. And this is not to say that I don’t like brands. I associate with stories and quality. We buy most of our Sarees from Meena Bazaar. It is more expensive but the experience has been cultivated for years and it’s worth it with its quality. I would love buying a Shinola because I support their interest in developing with the local community. I like Morgan and York over Starbucks because I find them kinder, nicer and local, despite a slight price increase. I could buy off Moosejaw because they do such a great job with their packaging and copies. I buy off Amazon (often the cheapest) because it’s so reliable.

I have hardly had an experience where I felt I’ve shopped too much. I have never craved anything to an extent that I have sleepless nights (except books, yes). I don’t feel less in anyway because I don’t own all the products that I see on Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. I mean, who cares?

I feel it’s only because, we were taught to think about value and not the price tag. We were shown how to think about experiences and not count pennies to spoil the feeling. I don’t think my mother realizes what a great job she did.

P.S. And Aunty X, that was so evolved of you!

  1. Hi Upasna… I am so glad you wrote this post. This is exactly how my parents brought us up. There was never scarcity. But never wastage either. It was always utility and value, not the cost. Interestingly, I dont care about buying branded products either. And prefer local independent over chain.

  2. This takes me down the memory lanes. We grew up in a more or less similar kind of atmosphere but then during my teenage years, my dad quit his high paying job to become an entrepreneur and invested everything he saved in it. Now we were suddenly facing the scarcity of basic things. And it was such a complicated situation. We were never very rich but we were never this poor too.So I grew up in an atmosphere of intense hard work and passion (by my dad) and my mom trying to convince us that this is all for good. My brother was too young to understand anything, but I was facing a bad peer pressure because I could not even afford experiences etc. So I overcame that pressure by replacing it with hard work. And that’s the value I grew up with. My parents always told me, if people have things, you have hard work. Nothing can substitute it. And like you said , I can see how my adult behavior draws its core values from my childhood and also how much unlearning I have to go through to now enjoy this hard work without any pressure. I loved the post Upasna 🙂 Made me nostalgic ! Also I never had an Aunty X but lots of Aunty Ys

  3. Hi Upasna,

    The ghost of Ann Arbor here. A new book just came out last year by Aja Raden called “Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World.”

    I like your story, but it’s time to understand why other people value the things that they do. This book hits the spot. As she describes in her Preface, Raden discusses in detail 1) the nature of value and desire, 2) the corrosive human tendency to covet, and 3) the constructive consequences of “our ongoing, obsessive love affair with beautiful things.” The hardcover copy set me back almost 30€, but this book is well worth the price. Hope you enjoy.

    1. thanks Brian! I am just ordering it. I would love to know about this tendency to covet in detail 🙂 sounds fascinating. I miss your large LB library! 🙂

  4. It brought back memories growing up. I remember my mom scolding a friend of mine when he asked how much the gift I had given him costed. It was almost a taboo to talk about the price of things in our home. That coupled with the fact that we do not need too many things to survive has made me (i think) a minimalist consumer. At least, that is what I aspire to be 🙂
    I also do feel lucky that the parents could afford to give the impression that we were allowed anything. If one is really very poor, that might be difficult to do for material things.

    1. I agree, it’s hard to create this impression when you are marginally poor. Yet, the poorest people seem to be so happy with the smallest (and most simply profound) things of joy. I think the real wealth is in our ability to choose. I do believe that the middle class or those who just found money are many times brand obsessed. They choose it and prioritize like that. Not that it is anything wrong, it’s just a different way of living. I often find my answers usually lie in my childhood values.

  5. This post had made me sooooo nostalgic. Replacing your mother by my father though 🙂
    I do wonder a lot about my grown up choices as a consumer/shopper. The answers as you mentioned are hidden in these childhood values.
    Also, in awe of Aunty X! 🙂

    1. Yes, I need another post on Aunty X and feminism 🙂 I am of the firm belief that all our adult behavior is governed by two things: a) our childhood , b) our ability to un(re)learn

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