Stewardship of Life


Shopping: Drug of Choice for the Masses?

“Shopping makes everything better!”

Sweta, Rockaway, NJ (from a Dove chocolate foil wrapper)

I like Dove dark chocolate. You want to make me happy? Give me a bag full of Dove darks, and I’m one delighted woman. Not too long ago, however, I was chowing down on a Dove bite and read the above saying on inside of the wrapper. I was not impressed. Shopping makes everything better? Are you kidding? Sorry Sweta, I must disagree.

Shopping, for all intents and purposes, has become the drug of choice for the American masses, an opiate for all that ails us. If you don’t believe me, just look at your mall parking lot on any given weekend. You’ll certainly see more cars parked there than outside most houses of worship. Even in a time of national crisis, one of our former presidents urged us to go shopping, a passive act of patriotism more appealing to most Americans than planting a victory garden and rationing aluminum foil.

Before you start calling me a tightwad, goody-two-shoes, party-pooper, hear me out. I’m not trying to criticize you if shopping is your favorite leisure activity; I’m simply suggesting that we as a nation needs to analyze our habits and behaviors in order to understand what we do and why we do it. Heaven knows, marketing professionals are doing this every day and tailoring campaigns to convince us that our lives will be better, more complete, and satisfying if we will only purchase/consume their particular product. If you want to “shop-till-you-drop” in search of the ultimate bargain, more power to you. As for me and my limited spending capacity, I’ll choose a quick stop at the Junior League Bargain Mart and the Goodwill and spend the rest of the day reading or taking a walk outside (as opposed to the carpeted halls of some American consumer mecca (a.k.a. shopping mall). No better, no worse, no judgment: it’s a matter of personal choice and belief that shopping simply does not make everything better.

I’ll give you an example. I know a woman who is bi-polar. She lives for the shopping networks and for acquiring new clothes and trinkets. This woman has more than 200 pairs of shoes, two large closets full of clothes, and four vacuum cleaners (even though she doesn’t clean house). She spends a ton of money on her hair and nails and on expensive vacations, while her family was reduced to filing for bankruptcy twice and even lost their home. Shopping is a recreational activity for her, a way to try to fill the hole and an attempt to medicate herself. Sadly it doesn’t work, and the depression that follows a major spending spree is awful. In her case shopping certainly hasn’t made anything better; it’s made this particular family’s life a living hell.

Teenagers are another example. Our teens have more disposable income than ever, and marketers want the lion’s share of it and are ready and willing to invest whatever time, energy, and methodology it takes to see that they get it. Why are some brands cool and others not? Why will someone pay $40 for a t-shirt when a similar one with a different label can be bought for $14? Can a tiny label or logo really be worth $26 dollars? Is the purchasing experience that much better in the store where the shirt is $40? Is it possible to derive $26 worth of pleasure from swiping your card in one store and carrying that store’s bag around the mall? I guess for a lot of folks that answer would be a resounding “yes.” For a few of us, finding that same shirt at the resale store for $4 will provide an equal rush and an even greater one as we invest a cool $36 in something else that matters to us. Like I said, it’s all about choice.

If you are interested in exploring this topic in more detail, check out American RadioWorks series “Consumed.” The producers of this series pose an important question:“What does our consumer culture say about who we are?” They also examine the distinct possibility that our consumer lifestyles are not sustainable. You’ll even find an online game to play called Consumer Consequences that aims to measure the sustainability of your consumer habits. (For complete disclosure, my score was 2.5.)

So tell me, do you believe like Sweta that “shopping makes everything better”? I’d like to hear from you. Please consider sharing your thoughts.

Photos by designpackaging, retinafunk, and llimllib used under a Creative Commons License.