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|To Buy or Not To Buy - Page 4|
Shopping, then, is exploration. It can reveal or give form to pieces of the self that might otherwise remain dormant. When we reframe shopping as a process of search, a vital activity that reaches far beyond the traditional associations with simply buying or possessing, we move our quest for identity and meaning forward. In the act of searching out the exact word, the right vocation, the perfect gift, the fitting epitaph, we seek to become more fully ourselves.
Shopping's link to exploration is readily apparent. Less overt but no less significant is how often it brings us into a world of connection, of relationships. Many of the shopping stories I've heard underline the importance of salespeople and companions—shopping buddies, friends, spouses, or children—either as symbolic transference figures or as real providers of affirmation and expertise. My own shopping story, the experience that first drew me into trying to understand the psychology of shopping, is about the healing power of connection.
When I was a child, my shopping trips with my mother, who'd grown up poor during the Depression, were nearly always difficult. Within minutes of entering a store, the climate between us would grow icy, as one selection after another was rejected—usually because of the price. But if my mother was the yin of shopping, the yang lived next door. Sherry had grown up wealthy on Manhattan's Upper West Side during the '30s, and she and her daughter always returned from shopping trips laughing and excited. What struck me, though, was the relationship Sherry had with a particular store and the people who worked there. It was as if she'd been to visit a close friend, an accepting and embracing intimate; it was a place where she felt thoroughly comfortable, completely at home. Here was a template I wanted to trace.
I first happened into Charivari in 1973. Newly married, I was living on the Upper West Side, just a stone's throw from my soon-to-be store. In the beginning, their clothes seemed too expensive and too sophisticated for me. Part of me felt undeserving, and another part wrestled with a fear of being envied, of being judged as spoiled or superficial. But I kept going back, searching for something. It was more than the clothes; there was a tender, genuine care that came at no extra charge. So when one afternoon my phone rang and the manager let me know that an expensive blouse I wanted had been marked down—"I've put it away for you. It's in the closet."— I felt stroked rather than sold to, taken care of rather than taken.