Simply put, I like to look. I once stalked designer wallets for a month before I bid on one on eBay (and got it!). I started looking at furniture for my New York City apartment weeks before I’d moved there or even met a realtor. I’m currently in the market for a file cabinet and have a few good contenders, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. And like 40 percent of Americans, I’ve done my share of “showrooming.” (When you go to see an item in a retail store, but then buy it online. It’s a thing.) Plus the reverse, online-dating style: I peruse my options online before going to see an item in person.
The Internet made round-the-clock shopping quick, easy and convenient. But rather than shorten my spending cycle, I’ve found it has deliciously extended it — and with it, the sense of fulfillment I feel. You might call it delayed gratification. I call it financial foreplay. And the payoff is worth it.
Real Shopping Is More Than Just a Transaction
That’s because shopping isn’t just about the act of buying, any more than intimacy is just about sex. The whole dance matters: The discovery of what attracts and appeals, the process of becoming familiar, of choosing. It’s no wonder I’ve felt more than once that I’ve been seduced by a purchase. I’m not sure if I court it, or, thanks to eerie Google and Facebook ads, it stalks me.
Bear with this metaphor a moment more: While you can technically “have” sex whenever you want it (if you’re willing to go with whatever options are available), you can also buy anything, right now. Neither offers much in the way of fulfillment. More or faster purchases do not equal more happiness, especially when made transactionally, impulsively and in quick succession. To enjoy what you get, you have to know what you want.
You Were Born to Shop
I work hard for the money I earn, and so how I spend it matters. When I set my sights on something (headphones, Argan oil products, productivity apps) I’ll do my homework — happily so. I’ll sort and browse, wander and consider. It’s part of my nature, as it is yours.
That’s because we’re wired to hunt and gather. Retailers didn’t invent this urge; they simply capitalize on it. We’re the offspring of people who were driven (by hunger, shelter, a desire for a warm fur pelt) to find what they needed, and they were obviously good at it because, well, here we are. And if you lived then, you knew there were some things you could count on and some you couldn’t. You might be out to snag a small woodland animal for the fam, but on a good day you might come across a buffalo. Score.
We are consumers — always have been. Maybe you hate that idea because you feel it reduces you to little more than a target demographic. I get it. Call it what you want: We are still basically hunter-gatherers, looking for things to hunt and gather. Our culture plays no small role in encouraging that ancient itch — and yes, it helps that more goods are available more widely and cheaply than ever before. But it also plays on our basic nature: that we like to seek and to find.
Now, you and I fortunately don’t have to face down our dinner or hope the birds haven’t cleaned out the blackberry bush. But our ancestors’ skills and intuition, honed out of a battle to survive, have evolved to make us really freaking good at spotting ripe heirloom tomatoes at a farm stand or a sample sale from the street. It is what it is.
We’re Bad at Multitasking, Great at Stalking
Study after study shows that, particularly in light of our modern-day deluge of distraction and information, we’re really crappy multitaskers. But a singular focus on a thing we want? We’re made for it. In the age of distraction, giving yourself the luxury of that focus is also a relief: It’s hard to worry about this or that other thing when you’re hot on the trail of waterproof boots in the midst of a winter sale.
My mother will make you crazy with this. She does her homework. She studies. You don’t need to check her work: You’ve got to go with the Breville juicer. The Air-O-Swiss humidifier. This particular line of boil-in-the-bag rice — because she’s tried them all. Granted, she’s in her sixties and doesn’t work full time. But this isn’t about having oodles of time or money. This is about value. It's about enjoying the journey, not just the destination. My mom knows the secret to loving what you have, and now you do, too.
In an age of rush and convenience, slowing down around purchases by tapping into your natural foraging abilities is worth it. At the very least, you’ll become more mindful of how you spend your money — and augment the pleasure you derive from your possessions because you’ve invested in the decision. You might even delay the purchase altogether. As far as I’m concerned, a deferred expense is money saved.
With shopping, as with sex, the anticipation is everything. By the time you finally close the deal, you haven’t just bought a thing. You’ve earned it.
Terri Trespicio is VP of Talent & Business Development for 2 Market Media and a lifestyle expert. She is the author of Full Disclosure, the bi-weekly column for DailyWorth. Visit her at territrespicio.com or on Twitter @TerriT.
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