holiday shopaholicalism
(Kim Anderson)
(Kim Anderson)

Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day. These cherished holidays give us a chance to renew vows of love, to celebrate Christ’s resurrection (or, for us pagans, the return of spring), to honor our mothers, to show a little gratitude for our brothers and sisters in the armed forces. Mostly, though, these holidays give us a chance to spend money.

I try to resist the impulse to blather on about consumption — about the insatiable beast into whose maw we pour all of our natural resources, including our own working lives — and out of whose ass come glittering new things, things we continue to hold more dear than the air we breathe and the water we drink. Because, you know, who wants to hear it?

Plus, it’s a losing battle. We can’t help ourselves. There’s something about spending money, about buying things, that satisfies us deeply — more deeply than, say, eliminating poverty or protecting endangered birds. Why?

Let’s take women first. There are roughly 3.5 billion women in the world, and all of them like to shop. I’m not saying just that they shop — everybody shops — but women enjoy it. Women spree. But take a look at what comes home in those pretty bags and boxes: clothes, including and especially shoes, jewelry and related adornments, beauty enhancements like soaps, lotions, and scents, not to mention the package herself — manicured and pedicured, waxed and buffed. It is an incontrovertible law of nature: The woman wants to be desired; therefore, she shops.

The wise man bows to this truth and, like me, will hold his tongue even when the woman complains about the chore of “reorganizing” her closet. The wise man knows that the female waxwing likes to spruce up her nest, maybe even weave a piece of found ribbon among the twigs, and he knows why. The wise man has learned to caress the linens and silks appreciatively, to nod over the new fragrance like a connoisseur, to grin happily at the $300 color job. It’s all for him anyway — or might be.

Now, how about us men — wise or otherwise. Men are different; it’s categorical that they don’t get excited about the prospect of a day of shopping with the guyfriend. Sometimes out of necessity they do go shopping with their wives, but these excursions, for most men, can be endured only with the help of a nice, fat Percocet. Here’s the thing, though: When men do shop, they go big. Cars, boats, beach houses, Rolex watches, vintage Martin guitars, a new bag of Titleist golf clubs. Why? For exactly the same reason women shop: To make their existence known to members of the opposite sex — not excluding their wives and not necessarily younger women, but women, dammit. In the case of golf clubs and vintage guitars, such items are of course penis extenders intended to intimidate and oppress other males, which comes to the same thing.

The monogamous relationship is on solid ground when the two partners go big together: first-class airline tickets for that week in Paris, August in Bar Harbor, the long deferred dream of the complete kitchen do-over.

Wait. What’s happening? Am I, your erstwhile advocate for the health and longevity of Planet Earth, seriously countenancing consumption on a colossal scale?

No, not exactly. I’m just saying that birds do it and bees do it and Father’s Day is right around the corner.

Photo credit: This image is by the marvelous photographer, Kim Anderson via Pinterest, Amazon, Facebook, etc. (promotional/fair use).
John Yow

John Yow

John Yow has written two books about birds, both published by UNC Press: The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds (2009) and The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal: The Secret Lives of Birds of the Southeastern Shore (2012). His blog, "From Pumpkinvine Creek" ( is generally concerned with the fate that awaits birds and all other species if we don't stop trashing the planet. Yow and his wife Dede live in the woods in northeast Paulding County.

  1. Will Cantrell

    John: Nice piece. I liked this a lot…and I tend to agree on all of your points. Of course have you ever noticed that on the day before Mother’s Day the malls are crowded, even packed to the gills in some places. Yet on the Saturday before Fathers Day you can roll a bowling ball down the mall and not hit anyone. That’s always puzzled me about people shopping for their fathers. I guess they must all have done their Father’s Day shopping three months early! Nice piece. Will

  2. Trevor Stone Irvin

    Point one:
    Women and shopping. What still amazes me after all these years is the love a woman has for shoes. I like shoes, I need shoes, I find shoes useful … but they don’t excite me. But something about a shoe does something to a woman. They seem to have some sort of magical quality and the more expensive, the more magical. My wife has
    shoes stacked long and deep like rainbow colored winter cordwood. I could have stayed warm for 30 winters without a utility bill, but she objects to using them as fuel. I don’t struggle with what shoes, to wear with, what outfit … I’ve never matched a pair of shoes to an outfit … I’ve never actually had an “outfit” to match anything to, I wear something on my chest, I wear something to cover my ass, and my work boots tastefully complete my sartorial ensemble.

    Point two:
    A vintage Martin is awesome and totally worth it … a Martin is worth stealing and risking jail time over – Just sayin’.

    Point three:
    I myself have achieved personal victory over lavish spending and conspicuous consumption by reducing my income to close to zero … problem solved.


  3. I must not be a woman. I hate to shop. On the other hand, because I appreciate that money is worthless unless it is spent, I admit to getting pleasure out of persuading other people to spend theirs.
    I do like giving money away. I mean, what good are a bunch of IOUs? I do not get in-town merchants complaining about pan-handlers. After all, doesn’t that population deposit every cent they collect almost immediately into some store’s till?
    On the other hand, I’m no longer keen on giving money to politicians. They do not seem to be people who know how to spend well. Maybe, like the merchants, they’re short-sighted.

  4. Eileen Dight

    I’m not a ‘typical’ woman either. I only shop for something specific except for food shopping: at any time you’ll find a dozen kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit in my fridge. I just counted fifteen varieties. In winter I’m paranoid about lack of fresh vegetables when snowed in for a few days. Nothing is wasted: I make fabulous soups, preserves and chutneys, although these days give a lot away. It’s a hangover from cooking for a family.

    Most of my shoes are tennis shoes and slip-ons – I don’t possess a single pair of heels. All of them are comfortable. Reorganizing my closet means a trip to Good Will with surplus. I don’t possess or want jewelry, but have hundreds of books and a weakness for lipstick. Although I’ve a large and loving family I only get a couple of Mother’s Day and Birthday cards and that’s cool. They know I value emails more. Count me out of the acquisitive category of women that like to shop. This bird doesn’t do it.

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