Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Ann Patchett didn’t shop for a year. La di dah.
Every now and then a relatively famous person will get on her high horse and tell the rest of us how to live. Gwyneth Paltrow pushes some kind of green enema I want no part of. Tom Selleck thinks we all need to take advantage of reverse mortgages. Now author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) wants us to stop shopping.
It’s a bad week to recommend that. Her piece in the Times about this appeared on the penultimate Saturday before Christmas. Big shopping day.
What Ann seems to have realized is that we do a lot of shopping for feel-good reasons. We don’t always, or even often, need the things we buy. And if you add up all the money you spend on stuff for feel-good reasons, you might grasp that you’re wasting a lot and could share it with more people instead. Kind of a Christian idea.
I’ve never been a big shopper, and these days I buy maybe one pair of jeans and two pairs of shoes a year (because they wear out, mainly). I hardly ever buy books or CDs anymore (other than books by people I know, that is), but I’ll confess to using Amazon for things I do need or borderline need or sort of want, like my new cap with a pineapple on it. (It goes with my pineapple tattoo, heh heh.) I just bought a new set of kitchen utensils because ours were going on thirty years old. I bought three higher-quality pickleballs (because they wear out too) and indulged in a pair of tea strainers when someone gave us some loose tea as a gift. Back in July we splurged on a nice orange teapot to boil water to make the loose tea in our tea strainers.
Patchett took a whole year away from shopping, even eschewing new lip balm. Turns out she had plenty of it in coat pockets and drawers, though I don’t consider buying lip balm to be out-of-control materialism.
Somewhere in there the shopping-as-entertainment culture infected America, and after 9/11 we were expected to shop as part of our patriotic responsibility. I don’t think it worked. People racked up credit card debt just to show that they’re good citizens, took out equity lines on their homes, and then got their asses handed to them in 2008.
I had quit my job long before that to write full-time, so my wife and I were accustomed to a comfortably ascetic lifestyle. Not much dining out. Little air travel. One or two concerts or something like that each year. So when the economy tanked we weren’t much affected. Living simply had given us a certain immunity to trouble.
There are people out there who buy only what they need because they can’t afford anything else, and then there are the people, who are about to get a massive tax cut, who buy everything they want, having convinced themselves that it’s good for the economy – dependent, as it is, on the sale of yachts and gold toilets.
I wish Patchett had directed her advice toward the latter and, instead of telling us to shop less, implored them to share more.
[Image via Wiki Commons.]