It had been a busy Sunday already, but with the start of school looming in front of me, it had to be done. Uniforms and school supplies had been ordered, backpacks and lunchboxes purchased, and my classroom was nearly in order. I just wanted a new pair of shoes and possibly one new shirt before the start of the school year. I could head out to Target, walk along the strip mall that includes a couple shoe stores, and then I would be done and ready to start the year.
Three hours later all I had to show for my time away from home and family was some fajita meat for an extra late dinner and a pile of personal frustration.
I used to love shopping. When my husband and I got married and I got my first teaching job, I enjoyed the act of going out and spending my own money, at least in small spurts. I enjoyed buying clothes and shoes and little things for the house that we really didn’t need but hey, it was cute and on sale so of course we needed it, right?
Shopping was my chance to take a mental break from the daily grind of my job, a teaching position that nearly drove me from the profession forever. Even when I didn’t buy anything, there was something about just window shopping that I found relaxing. This was still during the early years of the internet explosion, when social media sites were in their infancy and shopping and television were the only affordable forms of mindless entertainment. I would come home after a couple hours of shopping ready to face whatever I had to deal with next, even if it was an irritated husband because I had taken much longer than I initially anticipated.
Then we had kids. Suddenly shopping by myself was rarely an option. And if I was shopping I wasn’t with my babies. As a working mom, leaving my kids with my husband so I could go shopping by myself weighed me down with guilt. I would go from initial excitement about freedom to anxiety about what was happening at home to feeling rushed because I needed to get home sooner to irritated because I wasn’t giving myself enough time to truly evaluate every potential purchase. While our kids are now older and are much easier to handle in the stores or with only one of us at home, my feelings about shopping have only gotten worse. The introvert in me has no desire to spend time with crowds of people when I could be safely tucked away at home. The conservationist in me wants to make sure that every purchase I make both fits into our budget and has a definitely place and purpose in our house and I don’t want to feel rushed in making that evaluation. The busy working mom in me just thinks about all of the things I could be doing if I weren’t out spending money.
So when I came home after three less-than-successful hours, all of those desires piled on top of me. I couldn’t believe that I had just wasted all that time and came home with nothing to show for it. I made one more attempt to go shopping in public after the kids were in bed and then I came home defeated.
I would finish my school shopping online.
After years of using shopping as an escape, it has become a dissatisfying, time consuming task. I don’t enjoy it anymore, and with the exception of grocery shopping (which I typically don’t mind because I enjoy cooking and I’m dedicated to planning our meals around sales that I need to evaluate in person), I would rather just stay home. Because I can direct ship gifts, I do most of my Christmas and birthday gift shopping online. When I am certain about clothing sizes I try to buy nearly everything I can from my favorite online stores, only going to the affiliated brick and mortar stores when I need to check sizes and styles or return items that didn’t end up working out. We make bi-weekly family trips to the big box stores and attempt to stock up as much as space and finances will allow, but if the items can be ordered with a computer or phone, we are sure to choose those.
In some ways it is true that time is money. After all, if I’m spending my free time unsuccessfully shopping, I cannot get that time back and it sometimes causes me to resort to more expensive options, such as eating out when our family could be eating a healthier and much less expensive meal at home. But if we are also looking at “money” as value added, the time that I’m spending running errands is also potentially taking away value from family time and my personal, professional, and psychological health. I could be reading a book, swimming with my kids, or taking care of my house instead of spending hours on end driving and walking from one point to the next with nothing to show for it once I come home. When I open my computer I’m not beholden to store hours, beating the lines, or the ease of aisle navigation. I’m not stuck with only the stores that I can easily drive to at a moment’s notice. I can purchase from artisans, non-profit organizations who use their goods to further noble causes, and fair trade companies who openly practice ethical business practices, and I can do it all from my living room.
I value those who work hard to keep local businesses running smoothly and I appreciate the fact that I live in a country where stocked shelves are a given, not a luxury. But I’m also thankful that I now live in an age where I have a choice and that I have the ability to take care of my family’s material needs with the click of a button.
So I’ve embraced the online shopping lifestyle. It’s not for everyone and we all have our preferred modes of retail, but for me, making my computer my go-to check-out scanner has added significant value to my life and the life of my family. It allows me to have the time and energy for more important things. I don’t live for online shopping, but online shopping does help me live more freely.
For those who still want to brave the world of public commerce, thank you for keeping our local economies going. And for those who, like me, find comfort in the ability to just stay home, know that you are not alone.
It’s far from a revolutionary thought, but sometimes we need to be given permission to spend a little more time on our computer so that we can spend a lot more time doing the things that really matter.