Courtney Carver has a new post up this week about stepping away from "shopping," however you define that. One of her audience members told her, "I couldn't do the tiny wardrobe thing. I love shopping."
Do you love shopping? Shopping, what kind of shopping? Mindless shopping? Necessary shopping? Is there a line between what used to be called "doing the marketing" and just "going shopping?" Does it matter how much money you spend? I grew up in a culture heavy on T.V. ads and giant catalogues, that did encourage recreational (or sometimes therapeutic) shopping, from making long Christmas lists to day-long mall trips, flea market jaunts, and compulsory stops at any souvenir stand. As adults, we have had our own struggles with stuff becoming too cheap, too available to us, too much flowing in and not enough reason or return on it. In the last couple of years, we have let go of a surprising number of things that were once very important to us. We stopped feeling that those things needed us to hold on to them.
And yet I feel like my childhood souvenir shopping (how many miniature canoes and postcards does one kid need?), and our middle-aged struggles with "how much," are comparatively small, when I hear the stories of other people who need to make large changes. If I say "I love shopping too," maybe that means something different to a woman who spends hundreds on a mall haul. Years ago I remember a teacher scolding our whole class for something, I can't remember what, some kind of low performance. I was very concerned and went to the teacher afterwards and asked what I could do to improve. He waved me off and said, "You're doing fine. I just wanted to worry the slackers." Did you ever notice that happening, say on an email list or in a group where you have to tell people to cut back on chatter or fix some common problem? Often you will get apologies from the ones who weren't causing the problem at all. But this shopping and stuff thing shouldn't be about comparison; it should be about figuring out your own limits, your own "enough."
I went shopping yesterday, while Mr. Fixit got Lydia started on painting the front porch. It was partly recreational and partly with intention. Also partly for exercise. I walked twenty minutes "uptown," and navigated road construction to get across a busy intersection to the shops. As I crossed a temporary walkway, an older woman walking ahead of me was startled by a loud piece of machinery and turned around so fast we almost collided. We had a nice two-minute talk about dust and roads while we got back to where we were going.
I went into Ten Thousand Villages to check out an item I'd seen online, something I want to save up for but didn't want to waste time planning for if the real-life version wasn't right. (It was. I'll be back.) I briefly scanned the promo books outside the bookstore, and they had Lila on sale, but it wasn't a day for buying books. I noticed a "for rent" sign in the window of a bakery where I sometimes stop for coffee in an effort to avoid the insidious American franchise across the road. The bakery won't be the first casualty of the uptown upheaval.
I crossed the dug-up road again to get to the small indoor mall. I bought one cosmetic item at the drugstore, browsed through one clothing store to see if they had any fall sweaters yet (I like to plan ahead), and then went into the grocery store where I bought a jar of Alfredo sauce for an easy-but-festive dinner, and some marked-down bakery cookies for dessert. I didn't even look at the magazines (a place that's easy to blow money away).The cashier at the express counter was so unusually friendly that I thought I must have met her somewhere else, but she was just as cheerful to the man behind me, so I guess not.
And that was it...plus a twenty-minute walk home, enjoying people's gardens along the way, and coming home to the porch and the steps all finished, thank you Lydia. If you subtract the walking time, I was in the shops for just over half an hour.
Was that marketing, research, or entertainment? All of the above?
Does the picture change if I just go pick those things up at the superstore? (Except you can't get fair-trade gifts there. Or, probably, a copy of Lila either.)
Does it change if I decide to go uptown and spend half an hour browsing every day? (I don't; it's maybe once a month unless I have some special errand.)
Does an occasional shopping trip, with the small things I buy, actually make a difference to a struggling core area? Will the bakery hold out longer because of my occasional coffee and blueberry scone? Honestly, I don't know. Shopping isn't always a bad thing.It isn't always just about what you bring home; sometimes it's about how you're going to use those things, what they're for, where you bought them. I bought a necklace at a yard sale last month, and when I asked the woman the price, she said I could put any amount in the jar, because all the money was going to support the hospice that her mother is in. I am not going to forget that woman. I still think about what it must have felt like to sit there and keep saying that, and see the jar fill up for something good out of bad.
Sometimes I love shopping.