Life is a like a CarWash

This morning I felt the need to clean out the grass clippings that were almost completely covering the black carpeting in my Jetta (that’s right, I drive a fancy car). After a few weekends of kids’ track meets and lacrosse games and the advent of warm weather, my car was in dire need of being de-grassed and I was motivated for a little spring cleaning. I decided to head to the Promenade Carwash.


I have a small handheld vacuum cleaner, and yes, I could do the job myself and save a little money… but this particular carwash has a killer vacuum system that will suck a french fry out from under your seat at a distance of five yards. But here’s the trick – you can’t just go to the carwash and pay to use the vacuum cleaner: the vacuum is “free,” but you have to pay for a carwash to get the “freebie.”

Don’t you just love marketers?

And of course when you go to buy a carwash, there are always varying options: Silver, Gold, Platinum. As if you are not doing your car justice unless you get the Platinum. I just wanted to get the grime off of my car and use the high-powered vacuum, but after reading the options – I suddenly feel like I have to have a clean undercarriage and that my car will rust out without a professional “Rust Inhibitor.” Platinum it is.

But what do all these “pluses” really do for us? Things like “Tire Shine,” “Wheel Brite,” and “Air Freshener.” Are you incapable of putting an air freshener in your own car? And how could you possibly get “Tire Shine” without “Wheel Brite”?!? That just wouldn’t make sense.

In the marketing world, these extra add-ons are known as “upsells.” Sometimes an upsell can be very helpful to the customer – like when you buy a bicycle and the helpful clerk suggests a pump for the tires. But companies have taken the upsell to an extreme for the almighty dollar and the result is that we buy tons of crap that we don’t need and is even sometimes harmful to us. Want to upsize that 2000-calorie combo death meal with extra bacon? It’s only 30 more cents for 500 more calories!

Did you ever think about the fact that we are actually PAYING for the right to harm ourselves? Seems pretty silly when you look at upsells from that perspective.

Take for example the average size of an American home, which, according to the US Census Bureau, rose from 983 square feet in 1950 to over 2,300 square feet in the 2000s. Builders upsold us bigger and bigger houses all while McDonalds upsold us bigger and bigger meals so Ralph Lauren could upsell us bigger and bigger fancy pants. At least we have bigger and bigger walk-in closets to fit it all in. The interesting thing is that the size of our families during that time actually went DOWN from 3.1 persons to 2.6. Yes, the size of homes more than doubled while the size of families went down. Crazy.

What did all of that upsizing and “Platinum” packaging get us? The worst employment situation since the Great Depression. Life is like the carwash: we are constantly inundated with options we not only don’t need but that are often harmful to us.

A bigger house doesn’t make us happy. In fact the stress of maintaining it makes us unhappy. We maintain jobs we hate to exist in a lifestyle that up-sellers proclaim will make us ecstatic. The truth is that our lifestyles control us, not the other way around. Examples like this are endless in our society. In fact I would be hard pressed to find a segment of our lives that is not overrun by things we not only don’t need but that are harmful to us. While the economy was going down and employment was getting worse, more and more of the wrong people upsized to a Master’s degree rather than focusing on better skills to implement their Bachelor’s degree (full disclosure, I dropped out of college but fully support higher education and lifelong learning). That’s why you see poignant magazine headlining articles entitled, “Education, is it a Bad Deal?”

To encourage a healthier society I am calling on Congress to ban all upsells of any kind. That includes impulse items at the grocery store. From now on there will only be kale and books available next to the checkout stand – bye-bye candy and trashy magazines. Of course to be fair, Congress will also have to ban all forms of lobbying. I’ll save that call to action for another day.

Let’s list as many examples as we can of B.S. upsells from companies who are doing it for only ONE reason: to make a quick buck. To be fair, let’s also list the responsible companies who are actually helping us with their upsells, even though these companies are likely still focused on making more money. I’ll start on a positive note. Jamba Juice: “Would you like a shot of wheat grass with that order of organic steal cut oats and blueberries?” I feel better just typing that out.


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