“It has been my experience that folkswho have no vices have very few virtues.”—Abraham Lincoln

Vice is not something that can be labeled and stuck on a shelf like a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of booze. Instead, in this consumer-crazy culture of ours, we are vice itself. We live in a world where the few have much and the many have little, yet we take and take and take, and sure, sometimes we give a little bit back, but when you really look at it, really break down how you live your life, you realize that you’ve been sucked in as much as that guy you know with the swanky condo, designer everything, brand-new Lexus, and every trapping you claim you’d never want but secretly wish you could at least afford, if not have.

Take me, for example. You could hardly accuse me of living large. I have a tiny little place in a subdivided greystone on the edgy West Side of Chicago. I live there because it’s cheap, and I’m broke. It’s freezing in the winter and broiling in the summer, and the maintenance is pretty much nonexistent. My car is ancient and I’m pretty lucky it’s still running, really.

So, am I asking for a pity party? Hardly. I have every “essential” I could possibly want. When my old television bit the dust and I got a nice new one, well, I could hardly just use an antenna, could I? Absolutely not. So, cable TV for me. Then there was the whole dial-up internet thing. I mean, who the hell has dial-up anymore? I had to go high speed. And man was I ever sick of those late fees at Blockbuster. I could own the movies for what it was costing me to rent them. Then I found Netflix and was free from late fees forever. The problem? I pay them 20 bucks a month, and I’ve had the same three movies for the past three and a half months. And since it gets automatically billed to my credit card, I don’t even notice it.

The list goes on. There are the DVD and CD clubs I joined to expand my collections. Unfortunately, I never send those damn “decline this month’s selection” things in, and while I generally return them to sender, I occasionally get curious, or think it’s something it’s not, and now I’m stuck with and have to pay for things like my very own copies of The Aviator and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ack! And then there’s my hardback book habit. I wander into a bookstore, innocently enough, looking for something to read, but I never make it past the new releases. Next thing I know, I’m walking out with three hardbacks, at $27 a pop!

My dogs eat pricey dog food. I buy them eight million toys a month because they tear through them so fast, and dogs can’t live without toys, can they?

You get the point. We all have these “vices.” Some people claim we’ve been victimized by credit card companies, and to some extent, I guess that’s true. But at some point, whether we realize it or not, we make a choice. We ignore how much we’re consuming because consumption makes us feel less alone and less afraid and more like everyone else. And even when we don’t think we have the vice, deep down, we know we’re just like the guy with the Lexus, accumulating crap we don’t need. We are vice.

ML Van Valkenburgh once lived in the Lowcountry, where she frequently indulged her weaknesses for hardback books and expensive dog toys.