I once suggested to my visiting 80-year-old aunt that we could spend the afternoon together shopping. "Why?" she asked me, "I don't need anything." It was a generational disconnect of the first degree. Shopping for me back then was a recreational sport where bargains were hunted with the ferociousness of rhino horn poachers and one-day sales or 50 percent off clearance days were duly noted on the calendar as events not to be missed.
But the idea that shopping could be fun eluded my aunt. For her, it was a means to an end. She went into stores to buy things she needed and about the only articles of clothing she ever bought were hosiery and underwear when hers needed replacing.
Since I know that in her younger days she was something of a fashion plate -- right down to her matching hats for every outfit -- I suspected that recreational shopping was simply something she lost her taste for. Maybe it happened when all the clothes in the stores felt "too young" or when all the shoes that fit her made her feel too old. In any case, it just stopped being fun and she just stopped doing it.
I realized this past weekend that, at age 64, I may have reached this milestone myself. Truth is, the Great Recession stole the wind from my shopping sails and I never fully recovered it anyway. Walking around a crowded mall is far less appealing to me than walking down a hiking trail. And spending hard-earned money on things I don't really need and may not ever use is something I don't ever do anymore.
For the past year or so, whatever shopping I do has moved online and is limited primarily to clothes for my kids and essentials. I love the free-shipping-both-ways convenience of Zappos and Drugstore.com and the fact that I can comparison shop without draining my gas tank or sparring with anyone over a mall parking space. I do most of my shopping at night, long after the kids are asleep and long before I fall asleep myself. Online shopping and Facebook are an insomniac's best friends.
But the final confirmation that I never again want to go brick-and-mortar shopping came this weekend, when because of her over-scheduled life and my propensity toward procrastination, I had a do-or-die deadline to find my I-hate-dresses daughter a dress-she-didn't-hate for her brother's upcoming Bar Mitzvah.
She and I marched like gladiators straight into the arena: Forever 21 (which they prefer to spell with Roman numerals, reinforcing my visual of Romans chanting for my violent death and a lion licking his chops at me.) For the uninitiated, Forever 21 sells inexpensive clothes to teen and pre-teen girls; clothes are jammed on the racks haphazardly and without regard to size, most of the items fall to the floor where they stay until I think a janitor sweeps them up, and the music is so loud it makes your molars hurt. The line for the fitting rooms wraps out the door and there are no helpful salesgirls to run and fetch you a different size.
My trouper of a daughter tried on approximately 634 dresses in batches of six (dressing room limits) while I pretty much writhed in pain on the floor pleading for someone to lower the music. Like the tree falling in the empty woods, apparently no one could hear me.
Three hours. We spent three hours in there. When it came down to the final four dresses, I agreed to just buy them all with the plan that we'd send her Dad back to return the three runners-up.
"We don't do refunds, Ma'am," the perky pierced dressing room person injected in the conversation. Of course they don't. What was I thinking? Just exchanges for a store credit that would require spending more time in this wonderland of adult consumer misery.
My head throbbed for an hour after we left and while I publicly nominated my husband for sainthood for later venturing back for a size exchange, truth is he can turn off his hearing aid batteries, smile like the fish who doesn't know he is out of water, and pass the store manager a note that says "need this in a medium." Mission Accomplished.
But it did get me thinking how shopping may indeed be something that we just grow out of -- and that can occur at any age. When we leave it behind, we move ourselves to a healthier place. After all, why does anyone need to spend money on themselves for affirmation of their worth and value? And that's pretty much what sport shopping is. Out-growing your need to shop has less to do with no longer being able to find age-appropriate clothes and more to do with simply becoming comfortable with who you are, satisfied with yourself and what you already have.
My aunt's lesson, delivered years ago but perhaps not fully registered until more recently, is this: When you are handed the gift of having an afternoon to spend with someone you love and enjoy, that is enough. Cherish it. And maybe bring earplugs to Forever 21.
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