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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Shopping is a fleeting satisfaction

A break from consumerism can allow us to appreciate what we have 

I have three consistent coping mechanisms for bad days: dark chocolate, Gilmore Girls and buying new earrings. My obsession with earrings could make me the poster child for American consumerism. Most of the earrings I buy are meaningless. I spend two minutes deciding if I want to pick up a new, and often unnecessary, pair that holds my attention for no more than a day.

I’ve thought a lot about my shopping and spending habits since becoming a college student, but when I was younger, shopping was a very ordinary thing for my family. We made a trip to the mall at least once a month and came back home with multiple Forever 21 and H&M plastic bags. 

By the time I started college, I found myself with less time to spend for hours at the mall, and strangely enough, I didn’t miss the experience much. I realized just how big of a role consumerism played in my life, and as it turns out, I’m not the only person who feels this way. 

In the past few years, avid shoppers have been testing out a “shopping diet,” which requires them to abstain from purchasing new items, usually clothing, for a set amount of time. For some, this was an opportunity to practice Marie Kondo’s principles on tidiness and organization. Like many other dieters, the unintentional diet I underwent as a first-year made me realize my previous relationship with shopping didn’t make me any happier and might have even been unhealthy.

In 2017, Anne Patchett, author of “The Dutch House,” “Commonwealth” and other popular novels, wrote an op-ed about her own year-long shopping diet. She set strict rules about what items she could or could not buy. As an author and a co-owner of a bookstore, Patchett decided that books were okay to purchase. Items like shampoos and batteries were also okay to buy, but only when they ran out. Clothing and other non-essential electronic items, however, were off-limits. 

Patchett describes her craving to buy a Fitbit at one point, only to get over that craving within four days. For a year, she avoided the sale section in department stores and threw catalogs into the recycling instead of opening them in order to avoid temptation. The shopping diet left her with a new outlook on her use and value of time and money. She decided to continue her diet after a year.

Patchett is a good example of how shopping diets can be a self-imposed test of self-control in which there might be a meaningful conclusion about consumption habits. But for others, such as actress Jane Fonda, it’s a matter of being a conscious and considerate citizen. 

Last year, Fonda announced that she was no longer going to buy any new clothing for the sake of sustainability. Fashion has a hefty impact on the environment and carbon emissions. Fonda has been heavily involved in activism since the 1960s. Now, she is protesting for climate change and bringing attention to the dire state of the planet through civil disobedience and important lifestyle changes.

“When I talk to people about, ‘We don’t really need to keep shopping. We shouldn’t look to shopping for our identity. We don’t need more stuff,’ then I have to walk the walk too,” Fonda said in an interview with W magazine. “So I’m not buying any more clothes.”

This does not mean the proper shopping response is to purchase solely on the basis of basic needs rather than wants. Far be it for me to make that kind of a judgement about morality and responsibility. Almost everyone, myself included, enjoys consumer culture to some degree, whether that be time spent in malls and department stores or perusing online catalogs at home. As a teen, I took a lot of pride in being a price-conscious consumer, buying clothing based on dollar value before questioning if I even needed the new sweater in the first place. 

Incessant shopping was once a comforting and enjoyable exercise, but now I find more satisfaction in letting go of the clutter and noise that I accumulated in my closet. Surrounding myself with activities, clothing and items that actually hold some meaningful value to me allowed me to find a new kind of comfort in which I can appreciate all that I have. 

Written by: Simran Kalkat — skkalkat@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie


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