Most of us work to support our habits and save passion for the things we choose to do in our off-hours. We pursue hobbies like…
- Collecting stamps, coins, or art
- Reading or writing
- Hiking or swimming
- Sewing or gardening
- Playing the accordion
These are all worthwhile pursuits that stimulate the mind or body, and add richness to our lives. But many of us spend vast amounts of time on an activity that seems to improve neither the world nor ourselves.
When did buying crap get to be a hobby?
We the people love to shop. It doesn’t matter if we need to buy anything or not; shopping is merely one of a broad menu of leisure options available. “What do you want to do this afternoon? Go to a movie? Take a hike in the woods? I know – let’s go to Costco!”
Need has little to do with these forays into retail territory, and even less to do with the stuff that winds up coming home with us. Shopping has become at best an entertainment, and at worst an addiction. Many use it as a way to kill time.
Go to practically any store – food, sporting goods, clothing,etc. – and you’ll see shoppers doing The Browser’s Shuffle. They lean on their carts and wander slowly up and down the aisles, their glazed eyes as empty as their carts are full.
I doubt this phenomenon is peculiar to Americans, but I suspect we have elevated it to an art form. We go shopping for the fun of it so often we even have a name for the practice; “retail therapy.” If we took part in psychological therapy as often as we did the retail variety, we’d be the most well-adjusted society in history.
This seems to affect women more than men and it cuts across all income levels. You’ll see the same, telltale Browsers Shuffle at Neiman Marcus and the Goodwill, although the quantity, quality and cost of stuff in the cart may differ.
The Shuffler at Goodwill is often a hoarder loading her cart with 99¢ plastic flower bouquets and little, poly-resin statues of teddy bears. Her Neiman Marcus counterpart, snagging $99 silk blouses in every color of the rainbow, escapes the hoarder label by the simple tactic of having a lot more storage space. She also tends to clear the way for new stuff by donating the old stuff as soon as it goes out of style.
For many, shopping provides the thrill of the hunt and a rush of endorphins when the quarry is bagged. Loneliness, lack of purpose in life, boredom – whatever the malady, retail therapy delivers relief.
I confess to being a thrift shop junkie. I like to think of myself as a treasure hunter who reuses and recycles in a noble attempt to save the planet. But I’m really more like a magpie on the lookout for shiny bits to pick up and take back to the nest.
I was at the Salvation Army store the other day when a tchotchke caught my eye. It looked familiar, so I figured I’d probably seen a similar piece in the pages of a home design magazine. I didn’t need it and had no idea what I would do with it if I bought it, but buy it, I must. I was tenderly loading it into my shopping cart when it occurred to me why this item looked so familiar; it was mine. At least it used to be mine. I had donated it to this very same institution months earlier after a round of tchotchke purging, which I had self-righteously told myself I was doing to help the poor. In my heart-of-hearts I suspect my motivation was more to free up valuable space for new arrivals.
The bottom line is; I was about to buy back my own crap.
After this little tirade you might be expecting a sacred vow to lay off shopping and devote all my free time to self-improvement. Nope. The fact is, I HAVE made a hobby out of shopping, one that is both fun and profitable. I buy and sell old stuff. Dolls, pottery – I’ve dabbled in a lot of different collectibles. My current passion is vintage costume jewelry. It’s a thrill when I snag a sparkly pendant from a favorite designer. I make new jewelry out of the broken and less valuable pieces.
This isn’t my only hobby, though. I do lots of other things like reading, crafting and hiking. I also like to do a bit of writing now and then. I figure I’m OK with the shopping as long as I stay within budget, and get rid of more than I bring in. And while I readily concede that this particular hobby isn’t doing much to save the environment, it does help make it shiny and pretty. At least the environment around my neck.