Monday, March 16, 2009

Shopping: Costco steals your soul

Em and I went to Costco (a bulk-priced warehouse kind of store for those who are unfamiliar) the other day, to pick up some paper towels and oatmeal (like you do) and I kind of found myself wildly overwhelmed and depressed by the entire experience. In the past, I've been excited about the prospect of good quality food and merchandise for a great price, but this time is just seemed so dissatisfying. I started to imagine all of those housewife parties you hear about when news about the economy comes on the television; you know, the parties wherein they go shopping at their local bulk warehouse together and then spend a few hours afterwards divvying up mayonnaise and oregano en masse. I thought about our country's cost-cutting measures of late, how everyone is talking about their tips for saving money, and I became increasingly terrified that we were whiplashing back to the Great Depression as a way of living (rather than a relevant economic reality) which progressed into the Baby Boom (after the war and all), which turned out more cookie cutter people than I care to think about.

I thought about how I could've picked up my soap at Costco, and probably saved some money, but I would've had to sacrifice my preference for Sensitive Skin Dove in order to buy their only available option, Plain Ol' Dove. The beer looked mighty tasty, but I would've had to buy a 24-pack which would've lasted my lowly self a solid six months. The enormo-jug of pretzels looked appetizing, and I imagined they'd be a great snack at work, but I would have to sit on the tub itself in order to still have room to work in my actual work-space. I thought about buying a box of brownies, but I would've had enough brownie mix to feed my entire apartment complex (and certainly nowhere to store such a large box in my actual apartment). I thought about all the kids whose parents buy them swing sets in the summer or for Christmas, and how it must suck that they have the same swing set as probably 20 of their neighbors. And then I thought about the clothes. You can see where I'm going with this, I hope.

There are a lot of people in this world who manage to not sacrifice a sense of self and a personal sense of style when they're simultaneously saving money. I have some concept of how that's done, and it will require canning foods and fiddling with my sewing machine and being incredibly imaginative. But I have imagination on lockdown, and from what I've garnered in my life, a lot of other people don't. The economists and coupon-cutting professionals news stations call on to help us process through the expansive meaning of this financial crisis are giving us general information. If we all do the same thing, what do we become? I haven't fully processed or imagined the ways in which we avoid becoming just like everyone else, but the dread that washed into my consciousness last night was palpable.

At this point in time, and perhaps this is a luxury, I'm unwilling to sacrifice my individuality in order to save a few dollars. I prefer Dove soap for sensitive skin, I think Trader Joe's has the best mayonnaise, I want to buy the less-affordable single half/whole gallon of soy milk versus a double-pack, and I certainly want to buy underpants that are both cute and in my preferred style. Costco has a certain allure, but with it comes numerous sacrifices. The acres of parking, the glassy-eyed zombie-like customers with no concept of personal space, the expansive yet restricted selection and the insistence that you maintain your taste or aesthetic preferences for the duration of the product's lifespan are all things that limit my interest in contributing to this method of living. I do not judge the people who elect to live their life the Costco Way, but I can't do it. I've experienced splendid, and affordable, culinary diversity on a pittance in the very expensive markets of Switzerland, and I still manage to always buy my clothes on sale or clearance. I will still visit Costco for toilet paper because they have my preferred brand, and I might pick up a bottle of wine or an appliance or a pair of glasses for a great discount, but I'm not interested in requiring myself to buy more food, toiletries or home goods than I need or want just because it's a great price. That is, in itself, a waste of much more than money, in my opinion.

[Image courtesy of Business Week]

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