Shopping In ‘Merica

I was at Target on a weekday afternoon, there to buy essentials mind you, and the parking lot was packed. I had to park next to Buffalo Wild Wings. And walk!! The place was more crowded than at Christmas! What in the world were all these people buying? Didn’t most of us just overfill stockings and line the floor beneath our Christmas trees with badly wrapped presents? And TJMaxx was the same. Folks weren’t in line making returns either; they were buying MORE. More of what? What did we all need so desperately? As for myself I NEEDED of a trio of gold framed decorative mirrors to hang on my bedroom wall.

Wait up… did I just write a trio of decorative mirrors? I did…didn’t I.

This need vs. wants thing is getting complicated. In Sweden, life was so much simpler. For one thing, I usually couldn’t find what I wanted to buy. There were no Targets or Wal-marts nor aisles of Star Wars memorabilia in the grocery store. If I needed maroon tights or hangers or a spool of blue ribbon, I’d go to a shop where they sold those types of things. It could take days to track down items to the point of deciding I was better off getting rid of some clothes then buying more hangers, or wearing another color of tights or forgoing ribbons on packages.

Things in Sweden were rarely on sale either, rabbat. If there was a pair of shoes or a nice handbag, the cost was always 2-3 times higher than what I’d pay in the U.S. Which meant I’d usually wait to buy it when I was home visiting. Wait. Delay action. Postpone till a later date. Pause.

Nowadays, I have no reason to wait for anything. Target knows me so well; they put things I NEED at the end of aisles; I don’t even have to go looking for them. It’s like they know me better than I know myself.

Compared to Sweden, we have plenty of space in our closets. Of course, in Sweden we had no closets. It’s not that unusual really, most Europeans don’t. They have wardrobes, like the kind of thing you might walk into trying to get to Narnia. They don’t hold much, but they hold enough. The limited space forces you to pare down what you don’t need and prevents you from buying more. Wear what you’ve got until it wears out. There’s a foreign concept.

But walk in closets in ‘Merica, now we’re talking. There are virtually no limits. You can quite easily tuck in an extra shirt or pair of pants and forget it’s even there, until months later when you discover it hanging with the tags on. (The good news is I have a red sweater waiting for next Christmas.)

The problem with consumerism is that it’s consuming. It consumes money, naturally, but time too. Not just the shopping but also the wanting, the time it takes to price compare, hunt down the item, search online or drive here and there. The feeling behind the process is that you’re incomplete, you’re not enough, you need more. (And more is still never enough.)

What if for one month, you said, enough is enough and took a break from consumerism? Imagine what a consumer hiatus could do for your life? It would free up time and energy, leaving you available for other pursuits. Like Bob’s prescription in the movie, What About Bob, his psychiatrist tells him to take a vacation from his problems and it transforms his life, (and the psychiatrist’s, but that’s another story.)

In Sweden I was invited to the birthday party of friend turning 40. It was a lovely soiree, filled with accomplished women seated at three long banquet tables. Toward the end of the evening, the host and birthday girl, asked us each to stand and share one decision we’d made for the coming year–something to inspire us to make positive changes.

I can’t remember what I shared, but I’ll never forget what the woman seated next me said when she stood up. She said she decided for one entire year not to buy any new clothing. (Say what?!) She wasn’t going to buy new shoes or work clothes or accessories, and instead use what she already had. “Sometimes buying more doesn’t make you happy,” she spoke softly. There was a vague reference, if I recall correctly, to how clothing gets manufactured in third world countries, or maybe that is just my memory adding things. In any case, she was absolutely heroic in my eyes and more daring than the rest of us. I clapped enthusiastically as she took her seat while the women at the table (now on their second and third glasses of wine), looked nonplussed. To be fair, it was 2 am in the morning.

Telling people you’re not going to shop isn’t exactly a bandwagon anyone else wants to jump on. It sounds rather dull, in fact. But it can be liberating. Nothing to buy, nothing to consume yourself with… extra time means more time for the gym, that bike ride, posting a blog….

I’m guessing Marianne Williamson, who writes a lot of books (some of them Oprah reads), must not be spending lots of time in malls. She’s too busy writing about joy and gratitude. She penned this tidbit; “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

Things ARE good, aren’t they?! We don’t always see how good they are when we’re out looking for more. What if we replaced that next shopping trip to Target and did ‘x,y or z’ instead? Free up space for the things that matter. (And leave a parking space for those who really need to buy essentials.)


6 Comments on “Shopping In ‘Merica

  1. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Work fills the space allotted.”

    I’m convinced that our belongings fill the physical space allotted to them as well. Huge new closet? It must be filled. Same goes for storage or kitchen cabinets or garages.

    We have access to everything and yet it doesn’t make us happier. We shop because it was on sale. Or we saw it on an endcap. Or showed up in a catalog.

    One thing that’s changed since we left Seattle for St. George is that we order so much of our house supplies from Amazon. I’ve purchased shoes, shirts, underwear and a ton of odds and ends at Amazon. But it also makes me consider how much I really need something. I’d like a new pair of shorts, but not sure they’ll fit. I’ll wait on that.

    I’ve found that I seldom regret waiting to make a purchasing decision. Even if that product goes off sale. I guess I didn’t need it so urgently afterall.

    I loved your post and your voice.

    • Thanks Brett. Amazon is awesome! I didn’t realize how “settling” in had turned into buying more. Nothing was ever ready. Now I’m happy to say I’m getting my walking in hiking, not combing the aisles for deals. It’s refreshing on so many levels!

    • It’s so easy to buy kindle books that for a while I stopped going to the public library. With my new mantra I went to the library this weekend and rekindled an old pleasure of getting lost in a sea of print and paper.

  2. Lana, I absolutely LOVE this blog post!! It is so well written and so the truth!! You have a great talent in writing!

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