Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A philosophy of stuff

One of the malls near where I live opened up a whole new wing of stores last week. Naturally, I had to check it out (because, well...I might write something about it someday...so it's part of my job! You know, research. Right...) This new wing includes a Mac store, which made me happy, along with a whole host of super-upscale stores not formerly found outside the city: There's a Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Gucci, Ferragamo, Kate Spade, and a bunch of others. (Now, by way of full disclosure, I was at the mall to exchange a blouse at Ann Taylor, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate having a higher level of window shopping to peruse than the usual Aldo and Claire's Boutique options). The new parking garage was open, well-lit, and filled with soothing music. There was a guy playing piano. You get the picture. All elegant, all lovely.

The only problem was the people. Without exception, every single person I passed in that section of the mall looked miserable. (I haven't seen that many pinched faces gathered in one place was since I was a lawyer.) It was bizarre. I saw three generations of this unhappiness in Nordstroms, as two parents and a grandmother hovered anxiously around a bored teenage girl trying to decide between two gorgeous designer handbags. What's up with her? I wondered. Why isn't she squealing with glee? I met three women on the elevator, probably in their mid 40s, talking about the outfits they'd just purchased. Again, none of them seemed excited or happy. It was like one more day at the office.

That's when it dawned on me: shopping is really only fun if what you buy fills a real gap in your life. If your sneakers are worn out or covered in paint, you'll enjoy having a new pair. If you don't have a suitable outfit for a party your friend is throwing, it's fun to find just the right thing (and some cute earrings to match). Your new stuff may cost $20 at Target, or $2,000 at Gucci, but if you get the chance to use it, that's what brings the squealing-with-glee part to complete the shopping experience.

I guess I'm just making the connection that owning things isn't fun. Using the things we own is what makes them fun. Maybe this is why I've always balked at mugs and bumper stickers encouraging me that I should be grateful just to be alive. Not that I undervalue life, but living, in and of itself, can be rather a mixed bag. It's using the life we have that makes it fun. Otherwise, it's just one more afternoon on the couch.

(I should probably have mentioned at the beginning of this post that I've been thinking about this whole rich misery thing ever since I saw The Nanny Diaries a few weeks back. Steve and I talked all the way home about what AWFUL PEOPLE those Upper East Side mothers were, and then realized, "Wait a minute...if those characters hadn't been wealthy, we'd have said that they were hurting people, struggling to figure out their lives. But because they have money they don't get compassion?" Jesus said that it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get to heaven. Those seem like pretty long odds. Nothing in the Bible indicates that wealth is bad, but there does seem to be a way in which it can distort our attitude, and if we're not really careful it will suck the enjoyment out of both buying the stuff we need and using it. It has me thinking that perhaps I should be praying for the family I saw in Nordstroms, rather than judging them???)

And if this is all to serious for you on this lovely sunny day, let me just add that THAT DOG pooped squarely on her leash this morning. It won't come clean. So I anticipate that the new leash I buy at Target will bring me great squeals of glee...

10 comments:

Stephanie said...

I'm with you on the using stuff brings ridiculous sorts of glee. I don't think that's like a "forever and ever amen" sort of statement. Sometimes I think that the sense of play in acquiring stuff--like if there is something you really want and have wanted for a long time and, finally, you find it--exactly what you envisioned--after a scavenger hunt of sorts--can be part of the fun of it.

And I'm with you on the not hating on folks with coin to drop but just wishing them their happiness--and a real, deep-seeded (deep-seated?) happiness that has as chance to flourish...and wishing that the circumstances of their lives do not overwhelm them.

I know too many people who are overwhelmed by circumstance, whether that be money, poverty, job stress, deformity, etc. I think no matter what a person has in his or her backstory, there's a chance to get totally trapped by it. And it's a really good thing for me to remember right now. For the first time ever, I don't feel horribly trapped by much of anything. But I know that there is danger lurking everywhere. Just gotta stay grateful and aware that what I do have I could easily not have. And the things I don't have--well, the fact that I do not have them does not doom me or keep me from being happy or fulfilled or feeling like I have the resources (and luxuries!!!) that I need to live a happy, peaceful, satisfied life.

L Sass said...

There's nothing I hate more than some item of clothing that I bought hanging in my closet, unworn. If I spent money on it and it wasn't useful... I feel guilty.

On the other hand, I shelled out full price for a new pair of black capris at J. Crew in May. Then, I paid an extra $10 to have them shortened. I felt momentarily guilty for the $88 expenditure, but I've worn them once a week since I purchased them. Well worth the price for something that fits well and is a great professional option, I say!

Larramie said...

The problem you noticed, Trish, might be that shopping has become a diversion/a filler of time rather than a purposeful activity. I've never been one to hang out at the mall...of course, direct me to a bookstore and I'm in heaven-on-earth! ;)

Sarakastic said...

I think for some people, shopping becomes their job, especially if they are trying to keep up with designers. I just find it exhausting because most expensive handbags look exactly the same to me, which is why I carry a bright yellow one. Hey, it matches the orange star sunglasses.

Beck said...

Buying stuff can be fun - for me, it's such a rare excursion that it's a freaking DELIGHT.

LEstes65 said...

Once again, That Dog brings perspective.

Swishy said...

I love this post! That's why I love you ... you're so perceptive! I'd noticed that too but never thought of it that way before.

Lindsey said...

What an interesting observation. If I try to give any bit of sympathy toward a celebrity who I think is going through a hard time, Edgar says something about how much money they have and that I shouldn't feel bad for them. Well, the old saying goes, money doesn't always buy happiness. (okay, i do think it helps though...if I had tons of money I'd have more opportunities to travel, etc. and I wouldn't worry about bills!) Still, regardless of a person's finances, there is always room for sympathy or empathy.

Patti said...

so many use shopping to fill the hole that needs love not prada...but, me? i am a gleeful shopper! i have been known to do a happy dance in the aisle.

ellesappelle said...

So true. Thanks for reminding me of the truth of that. You're right also on the fact that rich people don't get that much compassion, possibly because we're all so insanely jealous deep down. :) We really relish seeing someone like Paris Hilton get her comeuppance which is a bit sad I think. Thanks for getting me to think a bit more deeply about my reactions to richness.