I went to the mall today.
It was a “need to” trip; most definitely not a “want to.” I almost never want to go to the mall.
This is because, for me, malls are a kind of hell. They’re full of people, for one, and I find people, as a group, stressful. Their existence is problematic enough; add the whole “I think they’re staring at me, and judging me, and finding me insufficient” thing and who needs that?
Secondly, the mall is filled with clothes and clothes are something I find very triggering. Wandering amongst them and the mannequins that no reasonable person would expect to look like except I do, is awful. I start to feel inadequate. I feel fat and ugly and hopeless and pathetic, and I want to do nothing more than flee.
Third, the mall is noisy, and I hate that too.
Going to the mall is an experience that drags me down. I suspect misery is not the feeling the architect was trying to engender; I feel bad that I appreciate their efforts so little.
But my watch died, a new battery was required, and the watch repair shop is in the mall. I could try to do it myself, I suppose, but the last time I tried, the watch ended up broken and useless, so now I let the nice couple who run Time Masters take care of them for me.
Going without a watch is not an option. I wear it 24-7 and an empty wrist makes me agitated. I check the time constantly when it’s absent. I feel naked. I’m not a jewellery kind of girl, in general. Wearing it would smack too much of making an effort and caring for my appearance, but the watch? It’s a necessity; a sort of Swiss-made security blanket.
The trip went about as well as I expected, which means I felt miserable, conspicuous, and out of place. I felt overly seen and overly vulnerable, despite my efforts to channel my inner Jennifer Lopez.
The battery replacement was going to take half an hour. So much for a quick in and out. The options were limited. Sit in the chair in the store and make awkward and inane conversation, or brave the throngs. I chose option two; it doesn’t require as much in the way of personal interaction.
Unless you buy something, which I did. I picked up another new notebook. It’s a weakness. Unfortunately, it meant faking pleasantries with the woman behind the counter. I’ve gotten very skilled at hiding my internal discomfort and screams.
The purchase killed five minutes, the purchase of a root beer with a cardboard straw, which I took the time to note and approve of, another three. What to do next? How to fill the moments? How to avoid eye contact with the centre of the aisle buskers and salespeople? How to stave off the incipient panic I could feel welling up in my chest?
Luckily, I had a thought. Something to focus on that wasn’t my misery. It was about the products available for sale.
What’s up with all the stuff? Who needs all these things, most of which are essentially useless? (I’m aware of the irony in speculating about conspicuous consumption when I’ve purchased an essentially useless thing; I have notebooks at home, however, they aren’t spiral bound with a cute and inspirational cover). The sheer volume of things available is mind-blowing. And this is just one small mall in one small town. We are drowning in consumerism.
It’s not just the clothes. I admit we need those, though the constant push for new and updated and correctly stylish is somewhat wasteful and gross. I suspect want accounts for most of the clothing purchases anyhow, not need.
There’s so much superfluous flotsam and jetsam. Do we really need all this crap? Who really needs six different types of flavoured oils? Is there actually a market for engraved wine glasses? How many rings can a single person reasonably wear? Does anyone actually require a cell phone case that lights up?
We are burying ourselves alive in useless, surplus crap and I have no idea how to get away from it, at least en masse. Our entire system is predicated on consumption and it’s self-perpetuating.
People work to produce the stuff. People have jobs transporting the stuff. Other people remove the stuff. Some people sell the stuff. Some people buy it. Then they get rid of it so thrift stores can sell it to new people, while the original owners buy more replacement stuff. We work to get money to get more and newer and bigger and better. Everything is geared towards eternal and unrelenting consumption.
I’m not convinced it’s making us happy, despite what commercials and advertisements promise. I’ve never felt rapturously fulfilled by my face cream. New jeans don’t heal the hurts to my soul. Joy doesn’t come with a big screen television.
I wish it did. I wish you could buy your way happy and well, but you can’t. It seems to me that the system is both fundamentally flawed and utterly entrenched. It’s a machine that keeps marching on. It’s self-sustaining.
All of which left me feeling dispirited and hypocritical for participating in a system that I was busy deriding. There isn’t much in the way of alternatives. You can opt out, and I have little in the way of disposable income so that’s easy for me, but the system rolls on regardless, grinding people up for nothing.
On the bright side, however, my fifteen minutes of deep thoughts and frantic scribbling in the notebook I keep in my purse did serve to stave off the looming panic attack.
So mass consumerism proved to have some value today, after all.