I am not a big shopper. I’m not one of those women who consider cruising the mall an indoor sport, and I shudder when the pantry gets bare and it’s time for another foray to Food Land. Most of the time, it’s a necessary evil, and I prefer to make targeted strikes (no pun intended, though I do know the layout of Target alarmingly well). Detailed list in hand – 1-qt. Ziploc bags; bedroom rug, 8’ x 12’; Roget’s Super Thesaurus, 3rd ed. – I venture out, debit card at the ready, credit card safely at home.
My kids used to watch “Hey, Dude” on Nickelodeon. The show depicted a motley crew of teens working on a dude ranch. Each kid was a stereotype, from the cute guy to the doofus to the rich girl. I’m thinking now of the rich girl. Let’s call her Tiffany. Tiffany’s favorite pastime was shopping, of course. One episode showed her in her cabin, fresh from a trip to town for a wardrobe refresher. She sat on the floor, surrounded by new pants, shirts, and boots, wielding a big pair of scissors. This was her moment, as she held up the shears to snip off the price tags and declared, “This is the best part, when I make them mine!”
Not my favorite part. In fact, isn’t that a little bit of a letdown? Once you separate the garment from the price tag that says you 1) got a great deal, or 2) paid full price with no apologies, isn’t it a bit anticlimactic? Sometimes I save the tags, for a little while anyway, in a vain attempt to keep the thrill of the purchase alive.
From my pained experience with shopping for not only myself but my husbands, son, daughter, friends, and extended family, I see nine steps in the journey. Maybe if I lay them all out, I can figure out which constitutes my moment of Zen:
- Feeling the need. There you are, minding your own business, when from out of the blue comes a nagging sensation of – what? Destitution? Incompletion? Simple greed? Whatever it is, you find that you really, really need a particular thing to solve a problem, whether that problem is dry winter air, or a mountain of curling photos, or having nothing to wear with that sweater you got for Christmas.
- Identifying the solution. This can be fun. If you live in a first-world country, there is a merchandise fix for every problem, isn’t there? Dry air? Humidifier. Loose photos? Entire systems for storing, displaying, protecting your most precious snapshots. Nothing to wear? New clothes to revitalize your old clothes.
- Determining the brand. Some people love this; others avoid it entirely, or put it off until they get to their favorite store. People who subscribe to “Consumer Reports” will spend days figuring out whether this lawnmower’s stupendous turning radius trumps that one’s low emissions. These are the people who actually get on the phone to see if Ace Hardware carries the Black & Decker waffle iron so highly recommended by “Cook’s Illustrated.” My dad did this, and so, because I am lousy at it, I prefer being married to a man who does the same.
- Choosing the store. As noted above, Target is my default destination. But some needs require striking out for unfamiliar territory, like my recent search for a comfortable reading chair. Now that Leath is gone, I had a heck of a time finding another furniture store. I did, though, and The Floor Show had not only acres of seating but free popcorn and cookies. You gotta love a store that takes care of dinner while you’re deeply involved in competitive sitting.
- Finding the thing. Books have been written on how we choose from a too-large selection of stuff, including the new “How We Decide.” Not surprisingly, they claim that our emotions play a much larger part than we might care to admit. Even on those rare occasions when I compare brands before setting out, if Brand X speaks to me – with its aqua hue, its curvy lines, its chrome-plated instrument panel – that’s the one I’m taking home, sometimes to my eventual dismay.
- Consulting a friend. I often require the services of my daughter, who not only knows the layout of every store in town, but has learned how to help Mom make up her mind. She inadvertently revealed her strategy to me once by asking, “Which one do you WANT me to say I like?”
- Checking out. I don’t know about you, but this is not my favorite moment. The total is always wildly higher than I anticipated.
- Taking it home. Unpacking the shopping bags is either fun, or depressing. The new thing either fits in well, or sticks out like a sore thumb. Removing the tags, as noted earlier, is not something I find all that joyous.
- Using it. Wearing a new skirt is great; I wish I could do it every day. (Or, okay, every Monday.) Using the new waffle iron is less of a sure thing, since it involves cooking. But if the waffles turn out well, happiness reigns.
So there you go. Nine moments on the treacherous road to satisfying a need by spending money. My favorite moment, I’m afraid, comes way at the beginning, when the need arises and I nurse this ever-hopeful belief that somewhere out there is The One Thing that will make life better. Does that ever happen? Maybe not, but hope springs eternal in the heart of the American shopper. And it’s good for the recession, too, so get out there and do your part!