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All Shopped Out

September 30, 2012

Sherman's Lagoon Logo One of the colour comics strips in last weekend’s newspaper really caught my attention. It wasn’t that it was particularly humorous (are ANY of the ‘Sunday Funnies’ actually funny any more?), but more that I could relate to what the main character (Megan – a great white shark, and wife to Sherman [also a great white shark] of “Sherman’s Lagoon” by Jim Toomey) had to say. Their exchange (you can view the actual comic strip here) went like this:

Megan:  While I was shopping today, something occurred to me.
Sherman: What’s that?

Megan: I realized that I don’t need any more stuff!
Sherman: I was wondering when you were going to hit the wall.

Megan: What’s the point of shopping if you don’t buy anything?
Sherman: Good question.

Megan: And if you do buy something, is it a bargain if you don’t need it?
Sherman:  Another good one.

Megan:  Do bargains exist in the universe separate from need?
Sherman: Hmmm.

Megan: I’m not sure I can answer that question. It shakes the very foundation of the meaning of life for me.
Sherman: [no response]

{The next panel shows both sharks deep in thought.}

Megan: While you ponder that, look what I bought.
Sherman: Can’t wait.

Shopping‘Random shopping’ used to be something of an enjoyable escape for me – a way to relax after a long week of teaching, an excuse to get out of the house and away from the myriad chores I couldn’t avoid if I stayed home, a pleasant distraction with the added bonus of potentially finding a great bargain or two (whether it was something I ‘needed’ or not).  Going to the mall was ‘something to do’, and if I bought something while I was there, all the better (I’ll be honest here – I used to feel quite bereft if I returned from a ‘shopping spree’ with nothing to show for my time; it was as if I’d somehow failed myself by not finding something to spend my hard earned money on).

SaleI found bargain hunting particularly rewarding. Whether I had something specific in mind to buy, or was just ‘browsing’, I’d wander in and out of the stores with an eye to the sales racks and bargain tables (I rarely, if ever, pay full price for clothing or household items; my mother taught me early on how to shop frugally, and it’s a skill I learned quite well).  Scoring a deal on a great pair of slacks, a fashionable blouse, or a funky jacket for work was cause for celebration; picking up items for the boys (and, later, their girlfriends) for Christmas and/or birthdays – months in advance – was energizing; finding that ‘perfect decorative accent’ for any one of the rooms in the house was exciting; adding to one of my collections (carousel horses, antique silver, dolls) was particularly thrilling. It was more than just ‘shopping’ – it was the thrill of the hunt that drew me to the mall every couple of months.

CoatsNow, however, two years into my ‘retirement’, I find – like Megan the great white shark – that I don’t NEED any more stuff.  Since I don’t go out to work anymore, there’s no need to check the sales racks in Zack’s or J. Michaels or Laura (in fact, I’ve whittled down my ‘professional’ wardrobe by almost two-thirds in the past two years and I STILL have more ‘dressy’ clothes than I’m ever likely to wear).  The three quarter length white faux fur winter jacket, the full length black leather coat and the short red leather jacket from Danier, the two ski jackets, one raincoat and two water resistant rain jackets in the front hall closet will likely last me the rest of my life.  The ten or so pairs of shoes (cross trainers, sandals, a couple of ‘dressy’ pairs) I still have (down from twenty-plus pairs) are more than I really need.  And I have enough yoga pants and tee-shirts (my go-to outfit now that I’m ‘working from home’) to see me through 2015 at least.  I don’t NEED any more clothes!

Exercise RoomAs for household items, I’m overloaded with those as well.  We’ve been in this house for twelve years and I’ve (re)decorated every room except one (the ‘exercise room’ which houses a treadmill, a stationary bike, a weight bench, two bookshelves full of old textbooks, some miscellaneous furniture, and dozens of boxes of the kids’ stuff that we’re holding for them until they find permanent places of their own), and have no intention of changing anything before we move (in five or so years) so I don’t need to shop for furniture or artwork or ‘accessories’ (truth be told, I’ve been whittling down our possessions for the past few years as well – assigning items to donation boxes for various yearly charitable garage sales, so it’s hard to justify buying anything new when I’m trying desperately to get rid of the old).

Kids On Christmas MorningI do occasionally still troll the malls looking for gifts that might be appropriate for the kids for Christmas and/or birthdays but they’re more appreciative of cash or specifically requested items these days (vs. toys and clothes and books) so even that small joy has been diminished (and since they’re still living in apartments, buying them a lot of ‘stuff’ isn’t a very good idea anyway).

The ‘upside’ of this new realization is, of course, that I’m saving a considerable amount of money.  The ‘downside’ is that not needing anything has sort of taken the fun out of going to the mall. I don’t drive over on a whim anymore – instead I wait until I need to pick up something specific, and then I rarely browse though the stores that might have sales on things I don’t need. ‘Shopping’ simply isn’t a leisure time activity for me anymore.

NeedsOverall, this is a good thing, I know.  When I look around, I’m almost embarrassed by how much ‘stuff’ I have (not to mention how much I’ve gotten rid of / replaced over the years). Sadly, we’ve become a society obsessed with having ‘more’ – and most of what we purchase is based on ‘want’, not ‘need’ (and, yeah, there’s a HUGE difference – no one NEEDS the latest iPhone, iPad, eReader, computer, car, clothes, makeup, etc.).  We actually build obsolescence into new products (they’ll need to be replaced not long after the manufacturer’s warranty expires), and companies market this year’s model (of whatever they’re selling) as ‘the one you have to have’. We toss out perfectly good items (or try to sell them on eBay or Craigslist) the minute something newer or prettier or flashier catches our eye.  We spend even when we can’t afford to (the average Canadian spends $1.54 for every $1.00 they earn; credit card debt is at its highest level ever – yet people keep buying ‘stuff’ they don’t NEED).  It’s really rather sad.

I miss my forays to the mall, but I’ve replaced them with alternate activities like reading or gardening or simply appreciating all the wonderful things I’ve accumulated in the years leading up to … the other side of 55.


  1. October 16, 2012 1:45 pm

    Hit the nail on the head—-You are so right about all the stuff we accumulate no matter what age we are! couldn’t agree with you more!

    • October 19, 2012 7:51 am

      We certainly seem ‘hung up’ on having ‘stuff’ around!


  2. October 15, 2012 11:59 am

    Great comments! 🙂
    I generally don’t get much pleasure out of shopping anymore. And I look around my house and think to myself, “how much of this ‘stuff’ will the kids just throw out when I kick the bucket?” So I am now trying to eliminate most of that ‘stuff’, but mostly through ways that avoid landfills, i.e., charitable donations, etc.

    • Margo Karolyi permalink
      October 15, 2012 12:20 pm

      I keep telling myself that the kids can do whatever they want with my ‘stuff’ once I’m gone – it won’t matter because I won’t be here (although I do hope they keep the odd piece just for sentimental value). My sister has a good rule – for every item she buys, she has to get rid of two things she already has!


      • JSD permalink
        October 15, 2012 12:23 pm

        Hey, that’s a great rule!! 🙂

  3. Margie permalink
    October 4, 2012 10:21 pm

    I don’t even like to shop, yet we still have more stuff than we need! A great number of things arrived when parents downsized their houses, and figured I should have the valuable things they no longer want. I’m getting much better at saying “No”!

    • October 5, 2012 9:23 am

      I have stuff from when my GRANDMOTHERS died (forty and thirty years ago), as well as more stuff now of my Mom’s (who passed away six months ago). I keep thinking I should sell it (since I don’t use it), but then I get feel guilty and change my mind. I know its gotta go someday, though – I’m not taking all this with me when we do the final ‘retirement’ move to the country (maybe I can just pass it on to my own kids – what do you think??!!?!


  4. October 1, 2012 12:51 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m trying to purge my house of things I don’t need or use and rarely go shopping unless there is something specific I’m after. I am, however, still caught up with having some techie stuff that makes my life easier (or maybe that is just an excuse), but even those things are not coming home with me very often now.
    Great post…thought-provoking.

    • October 1, 2012 8:29 am

      I tend to keep ‘tech’ stuff until its antique – when I took my old cellphone in (2 years ago) to exchange it, the ‘kids’ in the Telus store said they’d never seen one like it (it was probably 10+ years old). The new one only makes phone calls (no text, no email, no Internet). I guess I just haven’t had the need yet.


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