Confessions of an Online Shopper

            Window shopping or browsing in a mall was never my cup of tea, but that is not to say I didn’t enjoy shopping. I certainly did, especially during the end-of-season sales.

            Nothing felt better than entering a dressing room loaded down with new clothing, hoping a few pieces would fit me well. Oh, the sweet victory of returning home with something new to wear, paying only 40 percent of its original purchase price. I was going to wear my new clothing outside, in the world, with other people. Now I fear that t-shirts, fleece V-neck pullovers, old sweat clothes, and pajamas are the order of the day.

            This last year, with its pandemic challenges, has proven to me that make-up isn’t at all necessary, not as I once believed. It’s proven that elastic waistbands can easily be rebranded pandemic waistbands, for they are critical to spending weeks at home where wandering around the house looking for something to do is not unlike a safari where the prey are cobwebs. It’s proven my husband really loves me regardless of my appearance. His vision has become dog-like, seeing what he chooses to see versus the reality – an unkempt, baggy-attired hausfrau.

            Back to shopping – with the absence of in-person shopping trips, I’ve found myself spending time doing what I never did before, window shopping and browsing but, of course, virtually on the internet. I can spend the better part of an afternoon looking at slacks with real zippers and buttons while fantasizing about wearing them out to dinner while on vacation in some fabulous port of call. Then the dog will bark, or the phone will ring, and I’ll find myself standing in my spare bedroom-turned-office, turned in-home physical-therapy clinic, wearing yesterday’s sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt complete with dog-hair accessories.

            Shopping is now done online. While my husband does the grocery shopping, I’ve purchased so much merchandise from Amazon they send me purchase rewards to be spent on my next order. Oh, they know me so well. The algorithm of my browsing history is well documented. The algorithms send me messages in the form of ideas on what next to buy. If I bought a certain brand of doggie treats, maybe I’ll buy a container to store them – only $19.95 – or some doggie shampoo with conditioner – only $19.95 – or even a doggie blanket for only $19.95. Confession: Sometimes, I’ve taken the bait.

            This is not me! This is not the woman who prided herself on shopping out of necessity, perceived or imagined. This is not the woman who used her lunch hour to rush into a two-story store and pinpoint in under five minutes the exact size and color of an item she knew she would find.

            Alas, I’ve become a wandering soul stuck in a virtual nightmare where, click after click, I go deeper into a merchant’s labyrinth, eventually finding myself with a tiny shopping basket icon filled with must-have items I didn’t know I needed. Please give me strength!

            But what makes the process of online shopping truly seductive is the return policy they all seem to have. No longer must one face a real person and explain why an item is being returned – “Hmmm … it’s too small.” Oh no, now you simply toss the item – no explanation needed unless you elect to give one – into the packaging it was sent in, slap the pre-paid return label on the outside, and, voila, it disappears. No harm, no foul.

            Recently I was truly surprised while trying to return an item to Amazon. I couldn’t get the return label to print, so, through the miracle of a virtual assistant, I was “told” to keep the item or donate it, not to return it, period, end of remote dialog. Upon reflection, I deduced that it would have cost them more to process the return than to simply let me keep the $15 purchase. It waits by the front door for its trip to a local second-hand shop. Thank you, Amazon.

            The dog has been the biggest beneficiary of my online shopping excursions. Why, you ask? Because every single article of clothing I’ve ordered for myself has been returned. There are various reasons, poor quality material, sizing issues, and the “what was I thinking when I ordered that” moments. The dog appreciates his one-size-fits-all treats.

            When I retired from the corporate whirlwind of black slacks, black jackets, black shoes, and crisp white French cuffed blouses, I gave away the uniforms. I wanted to purge my closet and my soul of those reminders of just how all-consuming one-upmanship was in those cut-throat boardrooms. What was left in the closet were exercise garments and jeans, not the mom variety my body would come to appreciate. It was time for the next chapter, and that meant the right togs to wear.

            Enter L.L. Bean and Duluth Trading Company. Their selection of casual clothing was perfect for my new life as a gardener, journalist, physical therapy addict, and home cook. By the end of March 2020, I decided even those clothes were too good to ruin simply hanging around the house. One day I would wear them again out in public but not now. Out came the paint-smeared sweatpants and matching paint-smeared shirts, clean but battered clothing, not unlike myself.

            My online shopping moved on to comfy clothing that most would call loungewear or PJs. But even those purchases, while filling up some vacancies in my daily reminder, haven’t been as satisfying as buying petite bites for my dog. Most have been returned. Harry remains the winner and still champion of my virtual shopping excursions.

            So the closet waits for my return. It waits for that day when I pull out a few hangers, toss them on the bed, and debate the merits of a floral top complemented with black leggings. My make-up table and compacts of eye shadow wait beside a vase of brushes and eyeliners, all weighted down by dust that has accumulated due to lack of use. But I know one day I’ll return to caring about whether a smoky eye is better for daytime and if I should go for the heavy black mascara.

            One day in the future, I’ll return to my favorite clothing emporiums, slowly scanning the racks for just the right items, then I’ll saunter into the dressing room. And, as I change into the pieces I’ve selected, I’ll remind myself to never, ever take the little things for granted; even acts of consumerism vis-à-vis is a joy not to be taken for granted.

This Mattapoisett Life

By Marilou Newell

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