WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Shop till you stop

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.]

19 comments on “Shop till you stop

  1. kingmidget
    December 19, 2017

    If only I could get my wife to stop shopping for a year. She doesn’t spend extravagantly, but she shops … relentlessly. Not a day goes by without a trip to a Sam’s Club, a Walmart, a Target, a Costco, a grocery store. It’s just endless. I don’t get it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 19, 2017

      I’m lucky in that regard. My wife hates shopping. But there’s definitely a shopping-as-pastime phenomenon, and millions of people indulge.

      My weakness is shopping online for guitars. I have plenty, but I can’t seem to stop looking!

      • kingmidget
        December 19, 2017

        Besides having a lot of people around, it is the thing my wife enjoys the most. What she seems to draw the most positive energy from. Not me!

    • Carrie Rubin
      December 19, 2017

      I am not a shopper (well, except for Kindle ebooks–Lord knows I have oodles of those waiting for me), but Target? Come on, that store should be in a category all to itself, because I do likes me some Target. In that store, I become a shopper. It’s frightening, really. πŸ˜„

      Great post, Kevin. Loved your last line, and I think it’s spot-on.

      • Kevin Brennan
        December 19, 2017

        So right. We got sucked into a Target a few weeks ago and had to escape through the ventilation system. 😝

      • Carrie Rubin
        December 19, 2017

        Haha, now I know who was crawling through the dusty vents behind me. πŸ˜„

      • kingmidget
        December 19, 2017

        Get out of here with that Target stuff. It’s still just a store!

      • Carrie Rubin
        December 19, 2017

        I think they drug us.

  2. Woebegone but Hopeful
    December 19, 2017

    I just love the way folk with money are quick to tell folk without money how to live, particularly on how to economise.
    Nothing here that a good, honest and equitable tax code couldn’t put right ;the more you have the more you pay- (ok I’m rambling now…so what? I’m British, it’s our heritage….why in my day…….)

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 19, 2017

      We seem to be heading in the opposite direction over here: the less you make, the more you pay. What the?!

      • Woebegone but Hopeful
        December 19, 2017

        You got that right!
        (Just what happened here during the rule of Thatcher)

  3. Adrienne Morris
    December 19, 2017

    I remember when I first discovered ebay. I bought Civil War era prosthetic arms and legs and surgical supplies just because I could, but even that got old.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 19, 2017

      Sounds like a great conversation starter at your holiday parties! Oh that? That’s a Civil War prosthetic arm. πŸ˜‰

  4. John W. Howell
    December 19, 2017

    Be nice if the relatively famous would mind their own business.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 19, 2017

      Maybe if they got a little more famous, I’d listen … πŸ˜‰

  5. 1WriteWay
    December 27, 2017

    Isn’t it ironic … I haven’t read Patchett’s essay but I’m already bored by the thought of it. I really don’t care for people who already have plenty to tell me to go without. Just on principle.
    The height of my and my husband’s consumerism occurred when he was working 40+ hours for a private firm, when the weekend was only long enough to go shopping and get some instant gratification. Back when I still perused women’s magazines, I’d get itchy for that one bag or one pair of shoes or one yoga mat that would make my life complete … although none of those items ever did. When my husband downshifted into a state job, he took a 30% pay cut and so we had to “tighten” our belts … our belts were too damn loose anyway. Yet our quality of life went up because, suddenly, he had his weekends free to go on long hikes, canoeing, reading, etc. The real value was in the extra time we had to be together, not in the things we used to buy. It was Emerson, right, who wrote, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind”?

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 28, 2017

      It’s funny how buying stuff never fulfills the wish. And I know quite a few people who give in to every retail impulse, but they’re still not happy campers.

      • 1WriteWay
        December 31, 2017

        I still have my moments where I need to resist the impulse, no thanks to Amazon πŸ˜‰ I used to enjoy shopping but that was in SF and I usually didn’t buy anything. A friend and I used to window shop for the most part. She’d come over on the ferry and our first stop would be I Magnin for use of the ladies room (and to unnerve the higher-class customers), then to lunch, then window shop because we were too broke to actually buy anything. But those were fun fun days …

      • Kevin Brennan
        December 31, 2017

        That kind of shopping sounds pretty good to me. Lunch in Chinatown or North Beach would make it even better!

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This entry was posted on December 19, 2017 by in Et alia and tagged .
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