my green vermont

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Dying To Shop

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

For most of the last decade I\’ve been in shopping withdrawal.  Along with the woods, the cow-dotted meadows, and the pastoral quiet of our former place in rural Vermont came an almost total absence of stores.

And in my heart I believed that this was a good thing.  It kept us from buying things that had been manufactured under dubious conditions in the far reaches of the planet and that we didn\’t need in the first place. It forced us to focus on our souls instead of on our stuff.

The availability of everything I could ever want on the internet kept this withdrawal from being absolute, of course.  But as far as actually seeing, touching, and smelling material goods for sale, I was as isolated as a hermit in her desert cave.  Occasionally this lack of stores got annoying, such as the time I had to drive forty-five minutes–albeit through a gorgeous snow-shrouded landscape–to buy a spool of brown thread.  And whenever we left home and ventured into civilization, a casual drive past a strip mall would have me slavering with the desire to buy something, anything.

Now I live around the corner from Vermont\’s ultra-cool shopping mecca.  The little market three minutes from our cottage carries four brands of Spanish olive oil, one of them from my mother\’s village in Catalonia, and goat cheeses from at least a dozen local farms.  There are furniture stores overflowing with exquisite pieces made by Vermont woodworkers from Vermont wood, and  boutiques selling clothes woven by Vermont weavers from the wool of Vermont sheep.  There are stores that cater to the enlightened pet owner and kitchen stores that make even me want to cook.

So I have been doing a lot of slavering, but mostly in vain.

If, for example, I go into the market for some breakfast yogurt, I have to ignore the olive oils and the cheeses and the racks of locally-baked breads bristling with grains.  For there is only so much even I can eat, and every day of the year Wake Robin provides us with a lovely, nutritious meal, and the oils would go rancid and the cheeses moldy and the bread stale in our pantry if I succumbed to my urges and brought them home.

I also have to give the furniture stores, the boutiques and the kitchen stores a miss.  Having just pressed one of my daughters into taking my husband\’s grandmother\’s wedding china, what am I doing even looking at noodle bowls from Japan?  We have given away, sold, or thrown out eighty percent of our belongings in order to fit into this cottage.  I\’d better do a thorough examination of conscience before I bring even a salt shaker into our tiny space.

Maybe I could buy some clothes?  Clothes don\’t take up a lot of room, especially if they are made of silk.  But we all know where cheap silk comes from, and what those brilliant dyes are doing to rivers across the globe.  Besides, I have clothes hanging in my closet that are a couple of decades old and still perfectly wearable.  So buying clothes isn\’t a good way to assuage my shopping urges.

I suspect there isn\’t one.  Maybe what I need is to start meditating again, sitting on the floor and breathing, focusing on my soul, etc.  As it happens, my meditation cushion, which dates from sometime in the 90s, is looking scruffy.  There is bound to be a meditation store nearby….

4 Responses

  1. It's a powerful urge, one I have been fighting, too. I don't want for anything; I don't need anything; and that somehow makes me feel bereft. I think because for the first third of my life I couldn't afford anything, and I had to save and save and save in order to buy, say, a typewriter, or a dining room table. Shopping was careful and kind of heady. Maybe this desire to spend is a way of holding onto our youth.

  2. Do you suppose the urge is hardwired into us, part of our hunter-gatherer DNA?Since I’ve been mostly housebound, I’m forced to do 99.9% of my shopping online. I’m fortunate to live where it’s possible to get even groceries delivered. But though I was never much of a shopaholic, I find myself longing to BROWSE. Just yesterday I was considering what are my favorite kinds of stores to browse, the ones where I miss browsing for pleasure. Bookstores. Hardware stores. Nurseries. Fabric stores (I don’t know why; I don’t sew, I just like to look at fabrics). Specialty grocery stores. Cookware stores. Those are places where I derive as much (or more) pleasure from looking as I do from purchasing.

  3. You've put your finger on it: it's not buying so much that I was missing, but browsing. It's a way to get visual, tactile, and even olfactory stimulation (remember those ladies who used to spritz you with perfume when you walked into a department store?). That said, I find that CFS forces me to keep my browsing brief–all that stimulation can do me in if I don't watch it.

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