Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blinded by the light: it's the season of sparkle.

I know I'm being a buzz kill. It's the holiday season, for god's sake.


Maybe my killer of buzzes comes from the way I've come to view the action of shopping. Most of us probably know by now that I have a jaundiced eye when it comes to retail.

Maybe I've been influenced in part by my lovely friend Debbie, with whom I shot the breeze at length today. Debbie's a personal organizer.

I know it's a sparkly time of year. I understand that the day after tomorrow, the day after Thanksgiving - Black Friday - people will start lining up at stores all across this great land just as I'm crawling into my jammies tomorrow night.

But something very essential about the season is lost on me.

Part of what's missing, for me, is wrapped in the fundamentals of this holiday's essence, which seems to be tied with a lovely, sparkling bow of acquisition, topped with the promise of deep discounts.

One in ten of us doesn't have a job. Hunger isn't relegated to Africa - it's probably living right down the street. Millions are wondering how to pay next month's mortgage.

But we must have the flat screen that's 40 percent off on Friday.

Buzz kill, right?

But the sparkly is so alluring. It's such a beautiful, seasonal distraction. 

We deserve it, though. Right? What with all we've gone through lately? Don't we?

Sounds depressing. 

And as Debbie mentioned today, depression kicks the shopping gene into high gear, because shopping makes us feel better. It makes us, at least temporarily, feel like there's hope.

And according to the message of the season, it's the season of hope for a lot of people.

A whole bunch of people hope they'll be in the front part of the line when Best Buy opens on Friday.

Praise you, baby Jesus, whose birth we celebrate.

Which brings me back to my point. And I do have one. 

It's a beautiful thing, to acknowledge the importance of others, during this season of giving.

It's also a beautiful thing to remember, as Debbie reminded me of today, that it's good to celebrate the abundance that currently surrounds us. We don't have to spend a dime to appreciate what we already have. That doesn't even count what we already have that we don't even use.

Many of us are blinded by the sparkle of the possibility this season is designed to make so resonantly clear.

And sometimes what we have right now, in this moment, is just enough.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dazzle: a brief history of hoarding.

I watched Hoarders last night for the first time.

I'd heard a lot about Hoarders, but I wasn't crazy-curious. I don't watch a lot of television. My motivation for watching Hoarders last night wasn't filled with schadenfreude better-than judgment.

But last night, I was doing research.

And to put it mildly, Hoarders is a wild ride of a show.

But back to the research.

I've recently written about where we shop, why we shop, and now it's time to delve into why some of us shop too much.

It seems that the act of shopping can be fairly benign when it's kept in check. But the retention of what we find and the attachment to its perceived value take the concept and act of shopping to new, fascinating places.

Historically, the act of hoarding has very old, deep roots. Some say hoarding may have first been identified back in the Bronze Age, when accumulation defined status.

More recently, and arguably most famously, the Collyer brothers' lives provide a haunting, cautionary tale.

Langley and Homer Collyer defined eccentric reclusiveness, having created a world not unlike the variety that's dazzlingly apparent every week on the Hoarders tee vee show.

Langley tried to protect Homer, because he was blind. Langley babied his brother, and saved every newspaper in case Homer's eyesight was restored.

But Langley had his blind side, too. He kept everything - not just newspapers.

Let's cut to the chase.

The authorities were notified because someone smelled something. After 100 tons of stuff was removed from the Collyer residence, both brothers were found among the remnants. Both brothers were dead, found at different times because of all the stuff that surrounded their bodies. They'd both died in their home, where apparently they felt most comfortable, among the stacks of what they'd collected. And like most hoarders, it seems that what they chose to collect was intended to enhance their private, reclusive lives.

A play about the Collyer brothers was written and produced in the '90s. Its title is The Dazzle.

Perhaps the title of the play was chosen based on how hoarders feel when they find something they think may potentially add an element of completeness to life; some dazzle.

Which leads me back to Hoarders.

I watched the show because I wanted to get a glimpse into what makes a hoarder hoard.

Not unlike the Collyer brothers, present-day hoarders seem to have issues.

To put it mildly.

Hoarding seems to be a symptom of a bigger, psychologically crunchy cause. And the stuff seems to be the physical manifestation of a much deeper strata of issues that requires much more than a dumpster.

But we'll go into that later.

I'm meeting next week with my friend Debbie, who organizes the lives of the scattered. The hoarders.

The dazzled.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'll Take It: A few words on why we shop.

I had an interesting conversation recently with someone who'd read my last blog about authenticity.

Now I'm sure you're compelled to read it, if you haven't already.

In the case of my valued reader, after having read the Authenticity: Friend or Faux entry, she got to thinking.

Whether it's Target or Goodwill, why do we shop? What compels us to acquire? Regardless of the price point, why do we feel so much better when we buy a bunch of crap to add to the abundance of craptastic crap which we already have, in profusion?

What a good series of questions, I say.

So I did a bit of an unscientific study. I asked a bunch of people about why they shop, especially when it's discretionary.

And I'll add my two cents, too. It's not like I don't have a crap-ton of personal experience when it comes to discretionary shopping.

I tend to over-think things, and I've definitely scraped a few brain cells together thinking about what's so very compelling about the reasons why I/we go shopping.

For me, the act of wandering through a store has manifold intentions.

As I've mentioned before, shopping - especially thrift store shopping - is like going fishing. I could get nary a guppy, or I could snag a huge, fat trout.

Shopping is the pour person's Vegas. I could leave with nothing, or I could hit paydirt.

In my book, a lazy afternoon of shopping can be the ultimate luck of the draw.

Sometimes I strap on my shopping shoes when I don't want to do what I should be doing. Really - clean the bathroom or saunter through a store? The choice is clear.

And typically, after an afternoon spent browsing instead of producing, I invariably bitch about how I never have enough time.

But shopping is my time. That's my logic.

And it seems, based on my unscientific study, that everyone seems to have a very cogent intention when it comes to going shopping.

For many, shopping is considered retail therapy. It's a time to climb out of the cubicle we're tethered to most of the day and actually walk around.

It's a time to relax. Be still. Get away, while being close to your Real World.

The act of shopping is a time to be unencumbered by the You Should Be Doing Something More Productive Than This mantra. Because there's an outcome. We found what we wanted.

New, fresh stuff.

For others, shopping is less self- and more other-driven.

Jealousy. Competition.

It's the "I must have that because s/he has that and s/he looks like s/he has it all. So I must have that which seems to make him/her so very content and fulfilled" line of thinking.

Other folks in my unscientific study mentioned many other shopping motivations.

Acceptance. Addiction. Reward. Boredom. Loneliness. Stockpiling. Fear.

A pleasant shopping expedition suddenly sounds so wrong.

Of course there are many very innocuous, less acquisitionally prurient motivations surrounding an afternoon of shopping, punctuated by a delightful lunch with a friend, perhaps.

Socializing. Admiring. Browsing. Getting good ideas. Simply seeing what's out there.

There's a colorful shopping bag full of data that's been culled which sets its sites firmly on the psychology of shopping. And in these troubled times, the place where each dollar lands is a bit more sacrosanct.

I know how this may sound; I'm just a hippie, getting all heavy about something that's intended to be light. Now a relaxing afternoon spent shopping is somehow wrong? Gawd.

It's not wrong to do something that brings you pleasure if it doesn't bring you - or anyone else - pain.

But with big things like (you fill in the blank) or little things like shopping, it's good to explore intention.

And it's interesting to look at the data, if only to see more clearly exactly why you shop.

But I bet you know already.

It's all about intention.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Authenticity: friend or faux.

Everyone in my circle probably knows by now that I have an issue with authenticity.

I'm not fond of fake Australian accents. I don't like to see anyone wearing a John Elway jersey, with the obvious exception of John Elway. I avert my eyes when someone plays air instruments they don't actually know how to play, especially guitar.

That's my OCD thing. I value authenticity.

So how does my disorder translate into being thrifty, you ask?

Thrifting is the ultimate authentic act.

Let's go shopping at Target, shall we? We can buy loads of stuff at Target, and most of us breathe a sigh of fiscal relief if we get out of those whooshing red doors without dropping a Franklin. The stuff we buy at Target easily integrates into our worlds. That's part of the Target love.

But, like driving a car off the lot or washing a brand new pair of jeans, the big bags of stuff you'll soon forget you bought at Target may soon be found at the thrift store right down the street.

Thrift store shopping has its deficits, and its very obvious advantages.

The major deficit to going all kinds of thrifty is that you never know if you're going to find what you need.

And some may argue that the unpredictability of thrift store shopping is a complete bonus.

Because often times, you find something better than what you were initially looking for.

Mr. Fabulous and I were talking about this very topic earlier today.

Before he met me, he didn't do much thrift shopping. But he knows what the good brands are, so he's a thrift store natural. We both have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough.

We spent some time this morning chatting about the amazing brands we've found at thrift stores.

J. Jill. Coach. Eddie Bauer. Columbia. My favorite Levi's, already nicely worn in.

Yes, we live in troubled times. But they're a bit less troubling when armed with the golden ticket that, once accessed, makes great merch even better when it's so good, so profuse, so cheap.

Yes, there's an air of authenticity, of true ownership, when items are purchased at a retail store. It's nice to get stuff that's new.

But the new-smell of victory is a bit sweeter when what you need is found on the cheap.

So what's authentic? The bag of retail goodness from a mall or a big box store? Or does authenticity come from the moment of finding, of appreciating its real value, of acquiring something special that doesn't require a second thought when it comes to affordability?

It depends on what side of the fence you choose to sit.

Hard times require creativity. And I've found that the ease and reliably predictable acquisition of new stuff seems so so faux.

The world in which I spin finds authenticity, value and a whole lot of fun not only in the outcome of acquisition, but in the process.

If I could just make sure I avoid places who employ faux Australian speakers wearing Elway jerseys while playing air guitar, my quest for authenticity will be complete.

It's really very easy, on all counts.