Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Firing my retail therapist

Growing up female in Southern California, I learned soon after I got my first job how to handle stress effectively: retail therapy. A little shopping, a little something new and sparkly, and voilá! Serenity with a return-ready receipt.

I used to love shopping. Now, not so much. Boxes seem less like presents to open, and more like waste, packaging and stuff for which I'll have to find storage space. I went to New Orleans with a relief group to gut houses last spring, and saw the toxic festering piles of throw pillows, princess dolls, and mardi gras beads. Video tapes, shampoo bottles, cookbooks--all melded together by heat and toxic sludge. There used to be a stop-smoking program I heard of that showed you disgusting things as you smoked, as a way of aversion training. New Orleans had that effect on me as a shopper. The thrill is gone.

The world is full of fascinating, useful, innovative, and beautiful objects. The marketplace is packed with them, along with a lot of "cheap" and poorly-made crap, which nonetheless can have a certain appeal. I put "cheap" in quotes because, of course, it isn't really. Too often things are low priced because they are made by people working under unimaginable conditions, in countries without hazardous waste disposal policies, and sent to the US in the hulls of huge polluting ships. The more mindful I become of where these trinkets come from, the less I find retail therapy working its magic.

I wish I could say I've outgrown stress, and though there seems no good reason for it lately, I still find myself wound up to that shopping point. At that point, if I can't get out to the garden, I sometimes find myself shopping, only leave the store empty-handed and disgusted by consumer culture. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an addiction, but it's a habit. Can't stop trying to scratch that amputated limb.

This year, we tried Christmas with fewer presents, but at the end, we caved a bit. Even if we can begin to dream of Christmas without the wrapping paper and perfunctary gift cards, it's hard to resist the traditions and expectations of our families. There's a lot of yuletide inertia working against change.

So, ex-smokers chew gum. What will it be for me? How do I get rid of this phantom shopping bag I feeling dangling from my hand?


Noelle Aguayo said...

Meme, what is the meme challenge? I couldn't agree more about your last entry. I remember a certain conversation from about 6 months ago where I aired similar sentiments that were met with anger and 'greener than thou' responses. Yet, I think that anger comes more from knowing what's right and feeling trapped by our commitment to consumer culture, and the challenges of finding what products are overall the least harmful to the environment, workers, human rights, etc. So overwhelming! Why would we, at this point in our lives, change all of our habits? I feel like that person who finally emerged from the cave to see that life was beautiful outside, and the cave was really a dank, dark existence. But so much more complicated. Is there an SB compact group?

Noelle Aguayo

George said...

Hear, hear.

I can still buy CDs, wine, and books though, no?

Darn this is hard.