I had a friend (long deceased) who used to go to Lord & Taylor every day (and I literally mean “every day.”) It’s not that she needed anything; her house and her closets were full but she found that shopping provided a “fix,” a way of getting away from everything that was going wrong in her life: her marriage, her crazy children, erratic lovers and so forth. It lowered her anxiety level, calmed her down.
About a year ago, I wrote a blog entitled “Thrift Shop Therapy,” citing psychologist Erich Fromm’s theory that shopping (consumption) reduced anxiety and averted a societal nervous breakdown. I wonder what he would think about current forms of on-line shopping, even more pervasive and insidious ways to consume. “Instant Gratification”: Amazon can now deliver to your door within 24 hours. We used to call it “recreational shopping,” although “therapeutic shopping” was probably closer to the truth. We consume therefore we exist; if we stop consuming, we die. The package on the doorstep is life-affirming. Fortunately, when I tried to sign up for an Amazon account a couple of years ago, I was told that my credit card was “not valid.” Trust me, my credit card was valid…too valid. I took it as a sign from on high not to become an on-line shopper.
I have a friend who is addicted to on-line shopping, buying “bargains” whether she needs them or not. She recently informed me (gleefully) that she found her favorite sneakers “on line” for “half price” and ordered three pairs (she already has several.) It took a lot of restraint for me not to point out that she was never going to live long enough to wear out the sneakers she already owns.
In Post #33, I wrote about my love of thrift shops and tag sales, which I believe comes from a totally different place than recreational or therapeutic shopping. It appears to be a common condition among artists; I’m always running into one I know. We seem to need more visual stimulation than the average human being and, living in the suburbs, comfortable as it is, provides very little. It’s not like a city, with its ever-changing kaleidoscope of shapes, faces, signs and colors. The suburbs are visually boring: pleasant enough, peaceful, but boring. I love tag sales and thrift shops, not because I need anything – my closets, like everyone else I know – are packed with clothes and my house is filled to the brim with “objects d’art.” But I go out looking, at least once a week because I need the visual and social stimulation. It’s a chance to meet friends, old and new and, when the tag sale season rolls in, find myself in places I would ordinarily never visit.
Department stores and malls don’t satisfy the need for visual stimulation. They are too predictable, too formulaic. As soon as you walk in, you know exactly where everything is, what it’s going to look like and how much it will cost. On the other hand, thrift shops and tag sales are always filled with surprises. There’s a surge of adrenaline, a frisson of excitement when you walk through the door. There’s also an element of intellectual challenge. What is this vase you are holding? Is it a Tang dynasty treasure worth thousands or a $2 tourist souvenir? My favorite thrift shop (only open on Thursdays) is in the basement of the local Congregational Church. It’s a feast for the eyes – and for the pocketbook. $10 will get you a shopping bag full of treasures – whether you need them or not.