For the past 4 years I’ve looked forward to Black Friday shopping like a fish looks forward to food. As soon as it gets close it’s the only thing I can think about. The familiar motion of just walking by a store becomes overwhelming and I have to venture inside.
Thursday night, after the family was tucked into bed, I would make my way to the outlets, the mall, the craft stores and anywhere else that was open to score once-a-year deals on things I truly didn’t need. Black Friday was the time to get them. They were half price, or 30% off, or buy one get one and I needed them all.
When the beast was fed, I would creep back home in the wee hours of the morning, snuggling into bed and leaving my purchases strewn across the floor to greet me in the morning when I could show my family what great bargains I scored. I was an excellent shopper.
And then the feeling when I wore my new delights! My favorite feeling was cutting the tags off an item to wear it for the first time. I would sometimes put it on before cutting off the tags, so as not to miss a single second of that magic feeling. I looked forward to the compliments I would get (whether they came or not didn’t matter). I would feel my best because I knew I looked my best.
Eventually I was buying clothes for that feeling. For the rush, the excitement, the exhilaration of cutting off tags and compliments and confidence. I didn’t need new clothes. I needed excitement.
I was a consumer. Not only that, but I was a mindless consumer. I didn’t know what I actually needed, I knew only what would make me feel good. I went shopping with money to spend, and only left when I thought that the feelings in my bags would last until my next trip. I never felt satisfied for long. They made sure of that.
I went to the mall last weekend. I did not go with money to spend. I did not go seeking exhilaration or confidence or deals.
While cleaning out my closet I found a pair of shoes I hadn’t worn since I bought them (over a year ago). I wondered if I could return them since the tags were still on. I did need to replace a pair of black flats…
A few weeks ago I slipped on ice leaving my apartment. After the trip to the emergency room I was given a clean bill of health. I started to wonder if the fall could have been prevented. Lo and behold, the shoes I’d been wearing were so worn there was no grip on the bottom. They were worn through at the heel, exposing the lining of the interior, and the toe had a hole clean through to my sock. I hadn’t noticed, but this type of damage clearly didn’t happen overnight. I threw them out and swore to wear boots outside for the rest of the winter.
At the time, I was struck by something else. I’d thrown out a pair of shoes. One of my rules for my year without new clothes was that I got to replace things that became worn out. I owed it to myself. I was allowed to get another pair of shoes.
So I found myself at the mall. Armed with the pair I’d found in my closet, the plan was to do an even exchange and get out of there without breaking any rules.
But of course, the shoes could only be returned at a discount. I found a coupon, and I still had to shell out $8 to pay for the new black flats. I swiped my card, bit my lip, and wound my way back through the maze of stores and elevators and halls until I was safely back in my car.
But the $8 didn’t sit well with me. The whole drive home I was plagued by the money I’d spent. I unpacked the shoes and could barely put them into my closet. I know $8 is hardly anything for a new pair of shoes. I know it’s a great deal if you’re in the market for a pair of black flats. But I wasn’t in the market for a pair of black flats. I consulted my closet.
There, tucked perfectly into their shoe cubbies were two other pairs of black flats, in beautiful condition, because I had worn them before but simply cast them aside when I bought new ones. Newer, better, more exciting shoes. I hadn’t even remembered I owned these.
So yesterday I returned the black flats. I marched myself back down those winding halls, right past the people in the Starbucks begging me to come in, past the free samples at Teavanna, through the mob standing at the hair straightening booth in the middle of the hall, and right back to the shoe store.
I returned the shoes. The woman didn’t even ask why. I’m glad she didn’t because I’m not sure what I would have said.
I feel guilty for owning these.
I don’t need them.
Upon further reflection, I bought them as a result of unconscious consumerism and I don’t want to live my life that way anymore.
None of these seemed quite right so I was happy to avoid the conversation.
She swiped my card and I saw the whole amount returned to me. I felt a wave of relief. The money was safely back in my possession. I was in control again. The guilt and unease that had plagued me for the last week is finally gone.
I don’t need the shoes. Owning them wasn’t helping me become a better person.
So this week I chose to be a conscious consumer, spending my money consciously and honoring the challenge I set for myself. I could have easily brushed it off and filed it away under “replacing” since I’d allowed myself this caveat.
Instead I am in touch with my feelings and truly know what I want. I want to travel. I want to retire early. I want to do something important with my money.
And that doesn’t involve buying another pair of shoes.