Radical Window-shopping

Radical windowshopping– a contradiction in terms, some would say. If shopping, plain and simple, is passive and uncreative, windowshopping could only be more so. But for me, windowshopping has an entirely different meaning. We live in a world of conspicuous consumption, where people buy in order to show off what they have. Marketing definitely has something to do with it– media messages connect objects to personality, saying that owning certain things will make you a certain way. Malls are filled with displays that not only announce new products, but also offer some suggestions as to how those products can improve multiple elements of your life. The result? Inspiration : ).

Shopping is, for me, one of the least life-affirming activities I could possibly be doing. There’s something about the process of wanting and then consuming that does not appeal to me, and I would much rather do new things with what I already have than purchase new things altogether.

That being said, I grew up surrounded by stores. From clothing to jewelry to home decors, Condado (my neighborhood in San Juan) is filled with shops, and I spent practically every day of my childhood walking past them and exploring inside. Viejo San Juan, too, is the same way, only there the assortment is slightly different. Spices, beads, cotton clothing, masks, paintings, music– San Juan is a beauty-lover’s paradise. And yet even there, I hesitate to buy anything. Instead, I windowshop. Meaning? I walk in, look around, chat with the store owner, try to figure out how things are made, and leave, filled with new ideas and inspiration for creative projects in the future.

Being filled with things you can own is only one of the features of a store. My cousin and I like to talk about stores as museums of sorts– it just happens to be that the things in the museum are on sale. But I’ve found that I’m most at peace with the concept of a store when I think of it as a place where things are not on sale– where we can view works of art and become inspired to craft art in our own lives. So, the next time that you find yourself in a store you really enjoy, try doing the following:

- Stand at the entrance and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and open them again. What is the atmosphere in the space? What makes you feel comfortable, and what makes you feel uncomfortable? If you’re drawn to the atmosphere of the store, what elements of the ambiance can you incorporate into the other spaces in your life?

- Pick an item that you find beautiful, or interesting in some way. How is it made? How it is being presented?

- Now assume that you are unable to acquire this object. Unable to possess it and call it your own, you can only be inspired by it. Let the item– whether it is a piece of jewelry, or a candle, or a jacket, or a pair of shoes– give you some new ideas for ways to live creatively. Maybe seeing a new pair of shoes can inspire you to go out dancing. Or maybe a superbly designed furniture store can propel you to finally rearrange your own living space.

We do not need objects in our lives. And yet, we are surrounded by them, all the time. And we are also surrounded by media messages that tell us that we need those objects, for reasons that run deeper than simply practical convenience. We are told that certain objects are necessary for certain lifestyles, and that our own fulfillment is therefore tied to consuming, consuming, consuming. I think that all of these ideas are insanity. But as long as we are surrounded by objects, we might as well treat them as they could be– as springboards for new thoughts and the realization of creative potential.

As reminders of the variety that is possible in our physical worlds, and what we can do to make the world around us a more beautiful place. We could start treating stores like museums, refraining for buying and instead looking around, interacting, and experiencing. We could stop buying, and instead look at the objects around us as an invitation to create, individually, and collectively. We could be radical windowshoppers.

Who knows, maybe then the huge franchises will close down, businesses will become smaller, and one day, when we see objects, we will not only be able to look at them superficially, and yearn to own them because of what they represent. We will be able to look at objects and talk to the people who made them, experience the object as part of a creative process. We will be able to look at objects and not have to push thoughts of sweatshops and abuses of power out of our minds– labor will be honored because greed and unsustainable demand would have subsided. Objects will cease to be replacements for all that we fear we do not have, and will instead be a concrete manifestation of the creative capacities of people.

When I go into stores now, I don’t know where most things are coming from. I don’t know the stories of each of the dresses, or pieces of jewelry, or shoes that I look at. But, in the stores that I enjoy walking around in, I am still captivated by their beauty, and I appreciate the experience of seeing them and asking about them. But I do not want to buy them. I don’t know their stories, and the act of consuming them scares me more than it appeals to me. So, instead, stores have become museums– and free museums, at that! Ideally, those museums would share the stories of the objects they house, but for now, I’ll treat them with a respectful distance, and practice radical windowshopping. Embracing objects as fuel for new ideas. Free fuel. And maybe occasionally, but only occasionally, fuel for sale.

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