08 January 2007

Why We Love Our Stuff, Part I

I have a confession to make. I've never been a big shopper. I kid you not.

As a young girl, I dreaded shopping trips to the mall, which weren't even all that frequent (my mom, for her part, has never been a big shopper either). I hated the act of trying on clothes, disliked the endless trolling through aisles of big box department stores, could give a flip about a sale. I will say this: a couple times a year, the shopping urge did strike me, and on those days I could put in a good six hours or so and drop a sizeable wad, if a sizeable wad were within my means. As I grew older, my shopping trips became less frequent, but often more costly (a girl needs a few things to wear, after all, and a few things with which to feather her nest, and if she only gets the urge to procure these things on two or three occasions a year, well, you get it).

And then, one summer day in Cincinnati (of all places), I discovered MY FAVORITE SHOP. My favorite shop is actually a national chain, but They are very particular about where They place Their stores. In fact, the nearest one to me is almost fifty miles away (the better for my pocketbook, to be sure). That summer day several years ago in Cinci, bopping around town with my friends Laura and Lindsay, we walked into what instantaneously became My Favorite Shop, and in that moment my take on why we buy--more specifically, why I buy--was changed forever. Here was a store that got me at a very visceral level. Visually, aurally, emotionally, intellectually, I was moved. Even the fragrance of the store spoke to me in a powerful way. The merchandise ranged from the pedantic (mugs and journals and underwear) to the remarkable (a $10,000 winepress table; a jar of pastel pillow mints [circa 1900] "discovered at a London flea market"). I found not only lots and lots of STUFF that called my name, but I found many stories to go along with it, and hence, a reason to invite that stuff into my life. That day, I became a shop junkie.

Years later, again cruising My Favorite Shop with my friends Mel and Brooke, I tried to justify my intentions to purchase a rather pricey, snowfall-white knitted hoodie with satin trim. "I couldn't see myself spending that much on a sweater," practical Brooke opined. Mel, who is smart and careful and thrifty, agreed. I, the hopeless romantic, had this to offer up: "If I look at the sweater and I can see myself making memories in it, I know it's supposed to be mine." Brooke and Mel laughed--laughed! But they had a valid point: we were all relatively new teachers, and everyone knows teachers aren't raking in the bucks. But we were doing alright. I paid my bills every month, socked a bit away in savings, and you know what? In a matter of two minutes, the snowfall-white knitted hoodie had already painted itself into my fantasy life. I could picture myself taking a walk in that sweater on a winter evening, preparing dinner for a friend, snuggling on the couch. As I told my friends, I needed that sweater to make memories in. And make memories I did.

So this is a treatise on why we love our stuff. But first, one caveat: this is not, not, NOT a paean to materialism, overindulgence, or spending beyond one's means. In fact, I don't actually enjoy spending money. But I love me my stuff. And, well, unless you are in a position to barter or are a skilled craftswoman using found materials, in our society we have to spend money to get our stuff. And a second caveat: this is not about a love for shopping. Like I said, I really don't enjoy the process of shopping, save for my not-frequent-enough excursions to My Favorite Shop. But again, I love me my (let's all say it together) STUFF.

And here's why: our stuff can inspire us. You can roll over in the morning and look at your tri-color running sneaks lined up by your closet door, and the idea of sacrificing some sleep for some time on the treadmill doesn't seem so bad. Our stuff can comfort us. Your favorite mug, filled to the brim with cocoa and a dollop of whipped cream, feels just right in your hand when you're worn out and need a little affair with your couch. Our stuff can speak volumes when we sometimes can't. A potted plant or a candle with a glorious scent, offered to someone who is hurting, can provide a moment of solace. Our stuff can seem to give us energy. I always feel a little more awake--because I look a little more awake!--when I'm wearing my Dandelion blush. Our stuff can make a statement about us before we've said a word. As a former English teacher, I am not embarassed to say that my second favorite part of speech is the adjective (words that describe nouns). For me, a piece of jewelry is like an adjective for the self. I tend to wear what one of my sales reps describes as "statement jewelry." Yes, I want you to notice it and have a thought about it. Good, bad, or indifferent, my earrings or ring or bracelet are my statement for the day. Our stuff can marry us to our memories in a way that's almost indelible. My mom handwashed my baby dresser for me with a lovely, peach-y, candlelight color, and it made a beautiful statement in my first grown-up living room, topped with a candleabra. I consider this dresser my first heirloom piece and I'm going to keep it forever. Our stuff can put other people at ease. I felt so at home in my boyfriend's parents house the first night I felt comfortable enough to grab a chenille throw, wrap it around me, and doze off--in front of his dad!
So don't be ashamed if you love your stuff. It doesn't necessarily mean you're materialistic or superficial. It may just mean that, like us, you attach memories, sensations, experiences, ideas, and moments to the tangible objects that people your world. Like characters from a novel, your stuff can speak to you, and hey, we think you should embrace it!
In my next blog, I want to take you on a mini tour of the shop and show you some of the STUFF we've found for you that I especially love. Photos to come, too.

No comments: