Why I Stopped Going Shopping

I no longer go shopping, and though I can’t claim victory, I have made some headway toward overcoming covetousness.

Shopping and trading have been human activities for milennia, but “going shopping” has been around for fewer than two hundred years. Even in the early twentieth century, people decided what they needed or wanted, and then went to specialized shops where those needs could be met. “Going shopping” means going out to see what is on display and buying for the joy of buying, being tempted as at a fair, by the many things displayed in department stores, supermarkets, malls, and big box stores. We are thoroughly prepared for the experience by a constant stream of advertising, encouraging us to covet not only our neighbors’ possessions but also the possessions of the rich and famous and the possessions and lifestyles of paid models who don’t even own the things or live the lives that they so artfully tempt us to covet. Coveting is big business. Far from being considered a sin, it is The American Dream. It is woven tightly into every waking hour and creeps into our dreams. The goal of advertising is to make us unhappy. Ecstatic joy over a brand new iPhone or Lexus is interrupted by the announcement that the NEW iPhone with MORE features is available and that there is a car that is better than your brand new Lexus for showing the world how successful you are at being whatever it is you want to be.

Of course, we have legitimate needs to meet, but we also acquire an enormous number of things that we don’t really need or even want. Then we spend inordinate amounts of time shuffling those things around, dusting them, storing them, eventually selling them in garage sales or hoarding them in ever larger and more cluttered houses.

I have never been well off. Daddy was a blue-collar wage earner, and Mama stayed home cleaning and cooking. We had a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, but I knew that there were much grander houses with a lot of stuff that we didn’t have. I knew because my grandma lived in one of those houses, and so did the McCalls whom my mother had served as a maid from the age of nine until she married my father at nineteen. The McCalls’ daughters gave me their hand-me-downs with Neiman-Marcus labels until I was grown up. Neither Daddy nor Mama had a clue about how to manage a family budget, so they could never seem to “get ahead,” as Daddy used to say. They passed their cluelessness on to me, and I followed their footsteps into my own adult life, always thinking that everyone else must be making more money than my family because many of them did seem to “get ahead.” One reason my family could never get ahead was that Mama’s favorite form of entertainment was “going shopping,” and I learned to love it almost as much as she did.

Since I stopped going shopping, I not only save time, money, and storage space, but I really enjoy the things I buy because I have identified a need or desire, planned for it, and set aside the money to pay for it. It is a liberating idea. Stop going shopping—just looking around to find something you can be persuaded to want. Decide what you are going to buy, where you are going to buy it, how you are going to pay for it, and where you are going to keep it before you ever leave your house. It’s that simple, but it’s not easy!

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