Shopping and trading have been human activities from the earliest civilizations. Going Shopping in the twenty-first century sense of the phrase, however, has been around for fewer than two hundred years. Going Shopping means going out to see what is on display, to be tempted as at a carnival midway, by the many things displayed in department stores, supermarkets, malls, and big box stores.
My parents could never “get ahead,” as Daddy used to say. Mama’s favorite entertainment was going shopping, and it became mine too. Daddy was a blue-collar wage earner, and Mama stayed home cleaning and cooking. We had a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, but there were much grander houses with a lot of stuff that we didn’t have. My paternal grandma lived in one of those houses, and so did the McCalls, where my mother worked as a baby sitter and maid-of-all work from age nine until she married my father when they were both nineteen. The McCalls’ gave me Neiman-Marcus hand-me-downs.
I was thoroughly and continually prepared for Going Shopping by a barrage of advertising that encouraged me to covet not only my neighbors’ possessions but those of the rich and famous and of models who didn’t even own the things or live the lives that they so artfully tempted me to covet. Coveting is big business. Far from being a sin, coveting is the heart and soul of the American Dream. It is woven tightly into every waking hour and creeps into my dreams. The goal of advertising is to keep everyone dissatisfied with what they already have. The ecstasy of a brand new iPhone or Lexus is cut short by the announcement that the NEW iPhone with MORE features is available and that there is a car still better than the brand new Lexus for showing the world how successful I am. I have legitimate needs, of course, for food, clothing, and shelter, but the truth is I have acquired enormous numbers of things that I don’t really need or even really want. I have spent 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 and storage units.
Breaking the habits of constant coveting and Going Shopping has been a long process. Like a recovering alcoholic, I can say only this: “I’m a shopaholic. It’s been three years since my last shopping trip.” I’ve saved time, money, and storage space in those three years. I really enjoy the things I buy because I plan for them and set aside money to pay for them without guilt or doubt. I have a use for them and a place to put them. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Ingrained habits die hard, but I no longer Go Shopping, and I think I’ve made some headway in overcoming covetousness.