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To shop or not to shop—did abstaining from shopping cure this shopaholic?

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

I have not shopped for myself for 11 months, 4 days, 16 hours and 30 minutes.

My no-shopping adventure began last Jan. 2, when I decided to really clean out my clothes closet.

Let me explain. When Gene and I built our retirement home here on the Carolina coast, I wanted a big walk-in closet. In our last home, my clothes were stuffed into a small wall closet with heavy sliding doors that often fell off the track. I dreamed of a big closet the same way golfers yearn for a single-digit handicap or a hole-in-one.

Today I have a walk-in closet that is bigger than the master bedroom in our first house. Gene and I are supposed to share the closet, but truthfully, I have at least two-thirds of it.

There are shelves galore, shoe racks that tip out gracefully, stacked drawers, a built-in laundry hamper, cubicles for sweaters and sweatshirts and racks for dresses, slacks, shorts and shirts.

As I sorted through my stuff last January, I realized there was too much of it. I looked at clothes that were more than 20 years old and were still in good condition. I couldn’t possibly wear them out if I lived to be 103.

In that instant I pledged to spend an entire year without shopping. Not a sweater, not a sock, not a jacket or a top. No golf shoes, no belts, no underwear.

I wouldn’t miss clothes shopping, I told myself.

The problem was, I did not realize shopping is a cultural thing, totally ingrained into our behavior patterns. Shopping is power. We go into a store, look around at thousands of items, rummage through racks of clothes or displays of shoes, and we can choose whatever we want. Clerks are there (like servants of old) ready to assist us in any way they can.

There is a sense of the hunt. Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors left their huts and caves to hunt animals and to gather fruits and grains and nuts. Today our food comes to us from all over the world, packaged and ready to cook, sometimes requiring only a minute or two in the microwave. Our clothes are manufactured halfway around the world by people we never see.

We have lost the thrill of the successful hunt, and so we substitute big box stores, boutiques and malls.

Shopping became intense with the invention of credit cards. Years ago, my parents operated on a cash-only basis. When my mother and I took an hour’s ride on the old B&O railroad into Baltimore to do Christmas shopping, we went with cash. We counted out each penny, and when the cash ran out, we came home.

Today, everyone uses credit cards to splurge on things she cannot afford because she knows she can pay for it in installments over a period of months or years.

I almost lost it when my Galpals came to visit in April. Eight of my dearest friends gather each year for a week at a beach house on Ocean Isle. We play golf, go out to dinner, and shop!

I told them of my earnest decision to spend a year without buying anything for myself, and they were aghast.

When we all strolled into Island Breeze later that week, I was aghast at my rash promise not to shop. I never saw so many cute clothes in my whole life. I helped everyone else with a piece of drool hanging out the side of my mouth, but refused to even try anything on for fear I would falter.

Later that week, the Galpals hit the outlets in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Discounts, coupons, two-for- one sales! Beautiful colors, gorgeous styles! Once more I brought out sizes and styles for my friends, who giggled and shrieked with glee in the dressing rooms.

“Isn’t this the most darling jacket?” or “I just love these slacks, look at the detail on the pocket,” and “Elsa, can you see if they have a shirt to match this vest? Thanks, you’re a doll.”

By the end of the week, I had a twitch under my right eyeball.

But as the weeks went slowly by, I found myself fingering a pair of brown slack socks in CVS. The week before Halloween, I saw a cute T-shirt in the Walmart and almost forgot myself.

Last week on Black Friday, I was in the Short Pump Mall in Richmond, Va., surrounded by thousands of people, all walking around with bags of stuff. I was Christmas shopping for the family.

Reports say nearly 74 million people did the same all over the United States that day and I was delighted to be one of them. I bought a golf shirt for one son-in-law, a warm-up suit for my daughter Kim, a Virginia Tech T-shirt for my grandson…..

There were sales signs everywhere. Fifty percent off, 70 percent off. Buy one, get one free. This was a Black Friday unlike any I had ever seen before, or perhaps it seemed that way because of my withdrawal from malls.

I almost cried when I thumbed through a sale rack in the women’s golf section at Dick’s Sporting Goods and found lots of great bargains in my size.

The year is almost over now and I can honestly say I learned a lot.

In America, we all have more than we need. Our closets and drawers are stuffed because fashions change each year. The lime green of last year is out this year. The purple this year will be gone by the end of 2009. We never wear anything out because there is always more to buy.

Shopping is a control thing. There is so much that we do not control in our lives. Shopping gives us absolute power and we crave it. A day spent at the mall is like a mini-vacation.

Today my closet looks the same as it did last January. Only a handful of items are truly worn and need to be replaced. I could do another year of no shopping. Honestly, I could.

I only need some white crew socks and underwear, plus a couple of white turtlenecks, and maybe that new high-waisted top I saw in Belks … red strappy heels, brown sandals, those embroidered blue jeans at Haverty’s, the golf outfit at Tiger’s Eye, the cute windshirt I saw at Martin’s last week.…

Help! I don’t think I’m cured.

GOLF GAB GROANER

Bart, one of the worst players at his club, was out for his usual round of golf one Friday. His caddie was new, having just been certified by the caddie master after a few days of training.

Bart hit one bad shot after another during the round. Finally, after shanking his third ball into the same pond, he felt he needed to explain himself to the new kid.

“You see, son, I recently took up the game of golf to practice self-control,” Bart explained.

“Really?” said the incredulous teenager. “In that case, you should have become a caddie.”

ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.