It was a typical day in the suburbs of America in springtime; birds singing, trees dressed in their early greens, the sky a brilliant blue streaked with white wisps of clouds. The 45 minute drive through the country from the small town where I am currently staying, to the larger city on the edge of the Northern Mississippi river, called La Crosse, was pleasant enough. We chatted and heard mellow music on the drive, but inwardly I was preparing myself for what I knew was ahead of us: Shopping.
I must confess that Shopping is a part of my soul, having spent my formative years in the suburbs of America during the 60’s and 70’s, as well as having raised three daughters for the past eighteen years. It is one of the great American female pastimes, right up there on the enjoyment scale with drinking beer and watching football matches for the menfolk of this great country of ours. Though I have been living in Denmark for the past two years, and so have quite a different lifestyle there where my shopping is mainly relegated to buying groceries, occasional toiletries and not much else, now that I am back on my home turf, where language is as easy as pie and I can read all tags and signs in every single store, where I understand what a twenty dollar bill is exactly worth, and where the word Sale really means something, Shopping takes on a whole new dimension for me.
Today we had a foursome; my eldest daughter, her best friend, and her best friend’s mother. Even numbers are so lovely to work with in these situations, you can divide up into twos and compare clothing choices and opinions so easily! After a nourishing meal of mexican food, we were ready. First to Target, one of my former regular haunts. A disappointing half hour later, I had only managed to find one measly package of underwear, while my daughter fared a bit better with 5 pair for $20, all in her hard-to-find hip size 4 (read: extra small). We moved on. Next, to TJ Maxx, the discount designer clothes horse’s dream shop. Again, not too much worth spending my husband’s hard-earned Danish kroners into US dollars on, but I found a package of rainbow-colored sox, on sale, 10 pair for 5 bucks. Thank you TJ Maxx! Here my daughter purchased a push up bra which fit like a dream, again on offer for only ten bucks. I watched silently as we waited in line for the next available cashier. There were five young women at the row of registers, five women of various shapes and ages handing over their prized finds along with plastic cards as the cashiers stuffed tops, pants, undies and other sundries into plastic bags, ran their cards through their money machines, and then smiled and said thank you! as they handed the customers their booty.
It struck me in that moment, that as millions of cashiers all across America (and the rest of what is known to some as the First World) were ringing up clothes made in China and India, Bangladesh and Guatemala, to mention a few, there were also millions of worker bee humans busily sewing those self-same clothes in factories across the second and third worlds, faithfully, every single day. Mountains of clothes and housewares, plastic items of every description, electronics of every flavor, the ginormous monster of capitalism continuously buzzing along, being fed with Asian workers, Indian workers, Arabian workers; while on the other end, it was spitting out stuff, stuff and more stuff which other worker bees, now in America, Australia, England, Germany, Denmark, and a host of other first world countries, were handing over to their customers, those greedy-for-a-good-sale consumers, namely us.
And yet. People need clothes and housewares and electronics, don’t they? After all, a woman has got to look good, right? And so does her kitchen and bathroom and living rooms. And hey, we all need those amazing iphones and ipods and imacs in order to fully be functioning in the year 2012, don’t we? It’s not so bad as all that, now is it?
Or is it? The next stop on our shopping extravaganza was, fortunately, the big, new, beautiful Good Will store. Now here was a shop to end all second hand shops! Tons of racks of clothing, beautifully arranged by size and color, from one end of the rainbow spectrum to the other. We are talking world class used goods, folks! And today, the pink tags were 50% off, well okay then! A very pleasant hour and a half then ensued, with many clothes tried, and several, including several pink tagged items, purchased by us. For very little of my Danish kroners turned to dollars, I managed to find some wonderful, gently used clothing which will come in quite handy next winter in Denmark, and a few things I can enjoy during the hot weather also. Now there was a satisfying shopping experience!
Tongue in cheek aside, as I write this blog tonight at 1 am (all that stimulation has prevented me from getting a good night’s rest) I am more convinced than ever that our culture is running nearly on automatic pilot, and it is unconsciously feeding the Great Destroyer, the monster of Capitalism. As long as each individual customer in all those stores in Suburbia, along with every small wage earner who works in them, continues along this mindless path of “You Buy, I Sell it to you and We collectively ignore or deny that essentially slaves in foreign countries very far away from here are working until they drop dead from exhaustion to give us cheap goods,” nothing will change. We, the collective We, those of us who have woken up from this Capitalistic Nightmare, realize that we have got to change this situation and quick, because at this point, the fate of our world and our species, along with most other species very lives depend on it.
This means, pure and simply, that it is a hundred times better for everybody if you buy your new clothes from Good Will, so they won’t be totally newly made, but they will be new to you, and save all kinds of energy and labor in the process. And really, how many more kitchen gadgets does a human being actually need? There is a fantastic flea market here in our little town, where every kitchen gadget known to man is standing, sitting or possibly lying on shelves to overflowing, from the thirties on. Why do we think we need to keep making more of stuff we never even needed in the first place, I wonder?
What we need is a Shopping Revolution, Dear Readers! I know I am not alone in these thoughts. What ideas do you have for reducing and reusing material items in your lives and towns? Please think about this seriously. If I could change the world starting tomorrow, I would start with this: people would stop buying so much stuff they do not need, which would free up all those poor folk from having to work at low-wage jobs which they probably don’t really enjoy, so they could get creative and begin to do things they really want to do with their lives instead. Then the worker bees in China, for example, wouldn’t have to slave in factories for most of their lives, and instead could do creative and healthy activities, like they used to do when China was still mysterious and beautiful. It works like a spiral, one thing would spiral into the next, and pretty soon, the world would become a much more livable, sustainable, and beautiful place.
In my new, improved world, Shopping would no longer be a major activity, possibly no longer even a verb! Instead leisure would revolve more around artistic, athletic, playful, innovative, educational, interesting activities, involving people interacting with each other in beneficial and fun ways, acting like communities, laughing together, sharing stories and coffee (fairly traded, of course) and meals together, dancing, singing and performing for one another, sharing ideas and hearts and minds together. Growing food together. People coming together would replace shopping as the new favorite pastime of the Western world. People talking to one another face to face would replace individuals ignoring each other as they sat glued to their iphones, or iwhatevers. This is my fantasy for the middle of the night, in the spring of 2012. How about it, doesn’t it sound more human, and perhaps more fun?