I Shop Therefore I am
A few years ago Culture Now, a social magazine about art, design & media, selected my submission as the winner of the Zeitgeist essay contest “I Shop Therefore I Am.” It’s a monologue about the rollercoaster ride that comes with consuming.
I shop therefore I am. My apartment is a living, breathing museum dedicated to myself, overflowing with the relics that make up my existence. Curated tours leave my head every second of every day, touching on the finer details of my warped sofa, Dutch coffee table, professionally-framed wall art, disorganized shoe nook, and especially the revolving memorabilia of my closet. New work is regularly added to the collection. A muted wooden spatula gets tossed for one that’s sleek brushed metal, one that’s much more present-day me.
I shop therefore I speak. Every conversation becomes littered with fractcal remnants of my latest purchases, the new indie album I downloaded and don’t really like but would never admit it, the polo shirt that cost too much but looks like it cost just enough, the lamp that compliments my rug but not my inner self. The more I buy, the more I grow intellectually, developing new skillsets that allow me to discuss the latest, the greatest, the new, the improved. All for the suggested retail price and not a penny more.
I shop to feel what other people feel. If I squint my eyes just right, every barcode becomes a shortcut to someone else’s DNA. I amble down the aisles, fingering fabrics, judging patterns, mentally coordinating a hierarchy of brand names. Temporarily fitting myself into the shoes of the midwestern mom, the club rat, the dystopian diva, the underprepared preppy, the slick, the pierced, the forlorn. I come to understand how a belt I think is hideous is hidden gold to the right person, somewhere out there, eyes widening, thigh-slapping, desperate to wrap it around their waist and feel alive.
I shop to mold myself. Through a carefully curated step-by-step process, I can transform myself into someone I want other people to see. Every purchase sends a piece of Old Me to the incinerator and gives New Me a chance to shine. While Old Me would never wear these toe-suffocating captoe dress boots, this flailiing silk shirt, these nose-defying, wooden-framed sunglasses. New Me is all about vintage Onitsuka Tigers, 7 For All Mankind jeans, and I didn’t even know it until I saw it. The stuff celebrities wear in People and Us Weekly is the outfit I wore the week before. Anything that defies logic while it creates personality is welcome in my closet, as long as it generates talking points amongst the fashionably jealous and makes early adopters crane their wire-framed noggins to take note.
I shop because I believe in America. When people stop shopping, the cogs of our country stop spinning. We can’t let industry huff, puff and die. My patriotism can be measured by the fullness of my shopping cart. There’s something beautiful about walking into Bed Bath and Beyond and finding something I’ve never heard of before that I can’t live without.
I shop because I’m scared of being left behind. Of becoming one of those old farts who can’t tell Gucci from Prada from Fendi. One of those people who decide they’re happy with 80s hair, 80s music, 80s fashion, and press pause, incapable or unwilling to identify with anything post-1989. I won’t let my knowledge of the latest restaurants, electronics, and fashions become outdated. I’m too afraid to run out of today’s predominant currency, pop culture.
I don’t shop therefore I’m not. I don’t wear the latest or trendiest jeans. I don’t fit in at the hottest clubs, the ones so scorching they don’t need names. I don’t know the flavors or sizes at Starbucks. I couldn’t tell you last week’s Top 40 Countdown. I don’t know why that new store opening on Broadway is getting so much attention. Is it British? Indian? Japanese? Are there lots of them or is this the first one? I draw blanks when the sushi category comes up on Jeopardy. But don’t worry. I’ll go out for sushi tonight and I’ll work on it, I promise.