Mother Theresa Never Went Shopping

February 5, 2011

S is for Shopping

Joe and I were driving home from St. Louis after a satisfying Sunday afternoon shopping. Satisfying for me, anyway. I’d bought a Dooney & Burke handbag in bone all-weather leather with British tan leather trim. It was the nicest and most expensive bag I’d ever owned, and it hadn’t even been on sale! The thought of wearing it filled me with gladness. Joe had the radio tuned to one of those earnest NPR programs about suffering and injustice in the world. I listened to a story about brick-makers in Indian, a family indentured and forced to labor morning to night, their lungs slowly destroyed by dust in the quarry where they worked. They had no hope. They would never have the two hundred dollars to pay off their debt. Less money than I’d paid for my Dooney & Burke bag.

At that moment I understood recreational shopping is essentially a sociopathic activity. One spends money that might be put to better use, buying unnecessary items, the making of which consumes natural resources and degrades the environment. Hell, our collective consumption is despoiling the world. It has been years since that St. Louis shopping trip. I wish I could say my little epiphany transformed me into a more charitable, ethical, spiritual human being. But it hasn’t. I shop for clothes, shoes, cosmetics, books, DVD’s, and electronics I don’t really need. The thing is they make me happy, if only for a while.

I love to shop online. An almost infinite assortment of consumer goods flashes across the computer screen – mine with a few keystrokes, the click of a mouse. So effortless. The stuff almost seems free until the email comes announcing my credit card statement is ready to be viewed. And paid. I don’t buy more than we can afford, yet I buy things that are frivolous and occasionally useless, things I regret. Right now a pair of XCVI parachute pants is hanging in my closet, tags still attached. They’re slate green Tencel with brass snaps on the outside of the legs. I bought them on clearance, figuring I could wear them around the house, but they’re not quite comfortable enough. They fit perfectly and look great. They’re just not me.

Since they aren’t returnable, I’ll most like auction them on e-Bay. Just like the cashmere cardigan with the floppy ruffles on the hem and sleeves, another regrettable purchase.

More often, though, I like and use the stuff I buy. Some things get more than enough use to justify their cost. The Eileen Fisher wool pants that look great, go with anything and feel more comfortable than any jeans. The Stuart Weitzman black Gore-Tex ankle boots with leather trim and decorative silver buckles that nonetheless can be opened – the most stylish rain boots I’ve ever found. I could go on, but the list would grow boring except to other clothes hounds.

Then there are electronics – computers, printers, cameras, Palm pilots, portable hard drives, software, etc. And sweetest of all, my iPad. Bought not online but from an Apple store in Los Angeles. I went there with my sister, who was getting her Mac notebook repaired. While she was busy at the service desk, I strolled idly to the table where the iPads were displayed and picked one up. After a few minutes of stroking the responsive touch screen, I needed one. Not wanted. Needed. Desperately. Now. I use the iPad every day and bring it to bed every night. I don’t actually sleep with it – Joe wouldn’t stand for that – but it lies on the nightstand beside me.

Shopping doesn’t bring true happiness. It’s a drug to make me feel better when I’m bored, restless, depressed, or manic. It’s environmentally irresponsible. I should feel guiltier about it than I do. As death nears, I’ll understand only too well that material possessions mean nothing. Meanwhile, though, I’m alive. And Bluefly is having a sale.

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