Retail Therapy

Dearest Rachel –

I’m pretty sure it’s not a phrase of your own provenance, although I’m fairly certain I heard it from your lips a number of times. I think you used it to describe several of your friends and their behavior, and while neither of us engaged in it (much), it wasn’t exactly an alien concept; it’s a nice feeling to get yourself something new, and to both use it for that first time and to show it off to your friends. Indeed, I’m getting a lot of that vibe myself these days, as our two new rooms have finally taken shape, for the most part.

But like I said, it was a term I think you would use to describe the activity of some of your friends from time to time. I don’t think it was used with a tone of disapproval, apart from your concern that they seemed at that moment to be living beyond their means; not to mention, the stuff being purchased only served to add to their own clutter. However, we being who we were, with a plank stuck in our eye, we were in no position to address the speck in theirs.

And yet, we did try on occasion. To be sure, sometimes it was thrust upon us, in a way, when the stuff being acquired was, upon further reflection, rejected by themselves or their family and, having nothing better to do with their acquisitions, and knowing that you would never countenance seeing it thrown out without being used, offered it to you, whereupon you would receive it gratefully and promise to give it a good home, or put it to good use. So, ultimately, you rarely had reason to engage in the practice personally.

Which is not to say you didn’t. After all, the things your friends bought that they were no longer interested in were rarely the sort of things you truly enjoyed acquiring. Not to mention, they were from places you weren’t likely to frequent – although that may have been a chicken-and-egg situation; why shop at a place, when you might just end up with their merchandise without having to bother? But you had ‘retail therapy’ places of your own: garage sales, thrift shops, used book stores. We would make a pilgrimage to Evanston nearly every holiday season early in our marriage to pick up secondhand books and music in the many such places located in that college town. We only changed habits when the Half Price Books chain entered our market, and we didn’t have to travel as far for such stuff.

And on that score, I will readily admit to having been every bit as guilty of indulging as you were. It may not have been a competition, but it would have been interesting to ascertain which of us brought home more from such adventures on a regular basis. So please understand, I’m not criticizing the practice in the least, as I’m in no way worthy of throwing stones here.

In fact, I worry that I’m wandering into dangerous territory as time goes by on this front. It’s been gratifying to see room first become available for use, as I (with the help of Jan and Kris and so many others) clear things out, and then become so much better-looking and efficient, as the construction and remodeling approach their end game. I’m not sure that it’s addictive, exactly, but it does leave one wanting the process to continue. Maybe this explains why, every time I came home from college, something new would have changed about the house I grew up in. I find myself wondering if I’ve caught that bug. There’s always something that could be added to improve on the changes made thus far, and, unfettered as I am by either financial constraints or a partner to reign my worst impulses in, I could easily – and quickly – overstep my bounds.

For now, though, these steps I’m taking are relatively small – although certain additions, such as those made to the ‘man cave,’ might be considered impulsively excessive already by some. As an example, I’ve decided not to return the kitchen table – there’s no real place for it, to be honest – but if I want to hang out in the kitchen eating breakfast while Daniel sleeps, I can’t just be standing over the sink, scarfing down cereal like some fresh-out-of-college, no-idea-how-to-act-civilized, ex-frat boy. Nope, I’ve got myself some chairs.

So now I can sit over the sink, scarfing down cereal like a… well, you get the idea.

It crosses my mind that this might not be the same thing, though. Part of the point of retail therapy is that you get out of the house to look at this or that before buying it; it’s the sort of thing that may explain certain people’s ability to enjoy grocery shopping (which, admittedly, is a hit-or-miss situation with me; the trips I enjoy are probably the least necessary, although it may simply be that the necessary ones aren’t enjoyable because they’re necessary). Does that apply when you order stuff online? Or is it possible there’s a therapeutic nature to the process of assembling the pieces when they arrive? These were a bit of a challenge to put together – I had to take the first one apart, in fact, since I had put it together such that the hydraulic function (yes, those seats are adjustable in height) wasn’t working at first, but I got it together eventually.

But ultimately, the question remains as to whether this heals anything, or if it just staves off whatever issues I (or whoever indulges in this process) is trying to avoid dealing with. If it’s the former, I’m not sure what I’m trying to heal from, or how it’s expected to do that – there’s no possession, or even a collection of possessions, that could substitute for your absence, which is the one thing I could think I’m trying to recover from. If it’s the latter, then there’s the danger that I’m just going to accumulate more stuff in this fruitless pursuit, thinking it’s doing me more good than it really is.

I wish I knew; I wish you – having now been graced with the wisdom of heaven – could tell me.

But until you can (at which point, I’ll be there with you, and won’t need to know any longer anyway), wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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