I Miss Shopping

One of my old haunts (No longer around)

One of my old haunts (no longer around)

As a teenager, I raked in money from babysitting, and spent it on shopping. I would go to used and vintage clothing stores, used record stores, used book stores, stationery stores, and anywhere that sold interesting oddities (antiques, curiosities, and imported knick-knacks). Then I set off for university and was penniless for 8 years. During that time I only bought necessary clothes, house wares and gifts. Then I had a house and a child and I had minimal interest in buying stuff for myself, while the kidlet’s stash of stuff grew and grew! Eventually Link became a teenager and we went shopping together regularly for many years. We shopped at new and used and vintage clothing stores, used CD and DVD and book stores, flea markets, antique stores and farmer’s markets. We loved shopping! We’d make a point of going downtown once a month to do a circuit of our favourite shops and to see what was new.

About 5 years ago, that changed. I wanted to dramatically increase my savings rate. And I realized I was going to get stuck with all the “stuff” that Link had accumulated over the years, and lost interest in: the anime stuff, the punk stuff, the goth stuff, the steampunk stuff, the YA novels, the video games, the LEGO sets. Meanwhile, with the addition of used CDs, my own collection more than doubled from 200 to over 500, and I ran out of shelving space! So we stopped our shopping expeditions. We missed them.

We started the following two years by investing in a sewing machine for Link, who worked out how to modify and make clothes. Then Link’s allowance got stricter and they would spend it on fabric and notions. The time we used to spend shopping, I now spent driving Link to “fan meet-ups” for the latest media obsessions. It was a good trade-off. Link learned to be frugal, had a social life, and we still spent time talking. Meanwhile I developed a savings regime which I still follow.

Better yet, we discovered “free.” Link’s meet-ups with anime and cosplay groups were always free except for the cost of the costuming, which was their main hobby. We revived our interest in low-cost outdoor concerts and festivals: Canada Day fireworks, the Pride Parade, the Buskers Festival, the Fringe Festival, and the all-night art event Nocturne. Every now and then we’d splurge: the sci-fi/comic convention, the travelling Cirque du Soleil show, Monty Python’s Spam-a-Lot!

Our local rock T-shirt store (still there  7+ years later)

Our local rock T-shirt store (still there 7+ years later)

Well, along came Rom and then I got to do transatlantic shopping! I was infatuated with shopping in London, and although it is 22x smaller in population (and, I am sure, shopping options), he always liked shopping in Halifax, too! So I would be taking him round and making sure he knew all the best spots. However, the shopping trips were limited to our (pre-immigration) visiting time with each other and they never became part of daily life.

Somewhere along the way, though, I decided I had enough stuff. I realized that our little family of 3 was never going to need a larger house than we had now, and after Link left home, we’d be swimming in extra space. I looked at the shelves and ledges and cupboards and closets and said, “This is the most I will ever have.” It wasn’t a sorrowful realization; not at all. In fact, it was a relief. I was not going to upsize. We weren’t going to build an addition. I wasn’t going to buy bigger, newer furniture. I wasn’t going to create deluxe staging areas to show off my collections. This was it! I could relax now. I’d made it.

In fact, Rom and I only use one floor of our two-floor house, which has 800 sq ft on each level. If we ever choose to go smaller, we are already accustomed to being together (or “underfoot”) so we know it’s possible. He would just have to sell off all his guitars 🙂

This weekend, I accompanied Rom to check out the new Frank and Oak menswear store in Halifax. We hadn’t been downtown in ages and the streetscape keeps changing. I realized that what I miss isn’t buying things, but feeling connected to the vibrancy of the city. I like crowds, I like architecture and art and design, and I like seeing what types of businesses have come to town. (The Frank and Oak store is a short-term showroom to generate interest in products on their website). I like visiting new restaurants and music venues and festivals. I like continuing traditions like painting ceramics with Link at the Clay Café when they’re in town!

Street art

Street art

It’s good not to be penniless any more. I can have a meal or go to places that charge admission. But I’m aware that it’s city life I want to experience, not purchasing power. It’s fun to marvel at the design aesthetic of a new store, but it’s also fun to find all the public sculptures downtown and to share a bench with bold starlings at the waterfront and (my favourite) to roller skate in the summer at the outdoor speed-skating track. The sense of wonder I used to feel when browsing a clever shop, I now feel when I listen to a drummer in a park, or pop into an art exhibit.

It’s not completely out of my system. I have some cheats. I save shopping for clothes, gifts, and small housewares for when I travel. I enjoy bringing some London and Toronto home with me. Ultimately, it is the cities I love, though. The time I spend in them, and even the photos I take, mean more to me than what I buy.

As for “stuff,” I got a lot. I would say I’ve reduced my stuff-load by about a third in the past five years. So in the next dozen years I should be able to knock it back by the other two-thirds, right?

Not so sure about offloading the LEGO, though!

Do you go shopping just to go shopping? If not, do you miss it?


  1. Totally agree – especially about the Lego!

  2. Enjoyed your post. I do occasionally shop just to shop, though I don’t often feel the need to buy. When we had nothing, buying things was so compelling. Now we could buy, but the allure is gone… Part of the problem is the “morning after” where you have to figure out what to do with the new object where space is limited.
    Shopping online is purely utilitarian for me. I do enjoy going to shops where things are laid out in a creative way… It’s inspiring!

  3. We window shop almost daily. I just leave my wallet in the car and we walk. It’s one of my favorite things to do, especially in expensive areas. I love the design and high quality of the item, and the window deplays really are beautiful. I think of it more like going through a free art museum. 😉

    • I like the window displays in big cities, too, and also the design and craftsmanship of different products. When we went to Frank and Oak this week, I wished there were women’s clothing stores locally who offered that experience of a carefully curated, higher-quality collection for the season.

  4. Fiona

    I absolutely love the vibrancy of the city experience, too. Melbourne sounds quite similar to Halifax in that there’s many low-cost festivals, street sculptures, buskers, art etc. No Harbour here though, although we’re on a Bay. I just love walking around and soaking in the atmosphere.

    I’ve never been a shopper but mainly through lack of opportunity. My teen years were spent on a 120 acre farm that was 40km from town. We went to and from school on the one available farm bus but we’d sometimes go 6 months without visiting a store.

    The Lego!! Yours is all in sets, isn’t it? Ours is in giant tubs, all mixed together for free-building. I can’t even imagine the time it would take to sort the sets into a sellable state for EBay!

    • I had an interesting contrast growing up; we lived only 10 km from the city, but were at the start of a rural school zone, so we travelled 25 km further into the country to attend school. Yet we could easily go shopping or to cultural events in the city. In retrospect it seems the best of both worlds, but at the time, I was always aware of the services and events I was missing in the city. And transportation was lacking. The kids who lived nearer to the school were more like you in that their family lives weren’t oriented toward the city.

      Yes, the LEGO is organized into its original models. At one point I started an inventory to discover which pieces were missing from the kits, but I gave up!

  5. I went cold turkey a few years ago, avoiding shopping centres (malls) to stop my buying of stuff. And then I had that year of buying no clothes. I don’t miss shopping centres but I do like shopping in town. And I do like buying nicely designed goods – clothes, shoes, handbags. I love being made up at the Chanel counter. I can spend hours in book shops.

    That said, I don’t go very often. Friends are amazed I haven’t visited a centre close by that was just redeveloped and expanded. But I have no desire to see more of the same. I’d rather go for a walk in the bush than visit a shopping centre.

    Like you I enjoy the vibrancy of city shopping. Mr S and I will be going next week – a museum, window shopping, enjoying the buskers and people watching and ending with pub meal and few drinks. Train it home. It’s the city visit we like more than the shopping. In fact we generally only visit one section of the shopping precinct each visit. Or fly through a department store.

    • I am happy to do without my local malls except for necessities, but I do like independent boutiques and even better, MUSEUM SHOPS! I love streetscapes and cafes and lunch places and green spaces. Your day out sounds excellent!

  6. Claire/Just a little less

    An interesting post Dar. I enjoy occasional shopping trips in interesting locations too. These days as a mindful shopper I can appreciate the beauty of things for sale without feeling the urge to buy them. I also enjoy the simplicity of buying everyday things like groceries and being able to stick to a list!

    • Hi Claire, I have always liked grocery shopping, even when it’s the same-old same-old. Comforting, I guess. And maybe the reward feedback of sticking to a list or staying on-budget, yet eating well. I’m more sensible when I shop for other things now, knowing I won’t be changing the style of my “decor” (or lack thereof). Every so often I get the urge to buy art (for home) and maybe someday I will.

  7. I think I’ve come to your realisation – I love cities. I love to people watch, to find new grafitti or street art, to discover new stores, what’s popular (restaurants). I perhaps have always been somewhat tight with money, and whilst I feel I spend way more now (and I feel the wrath of some on a Facebook group as I grappled with my desire to be non consumer, but how it seems to crowd a lot of a tourist’s holiday). Actually, being in Phuket and it’s little towns with hotels and restaurants all in between, it wasn’t as interesting to me – there was too much ‘same’ – too many food stalls selling the same things, too many of the same souvenirs. That’s where first world cities have some more diversity, especially as they get bigger, and that’s what I like to ‘discover’. That being said, my ‘last day’ demands (!) were to buy a handbag I’d seen and buy gifts (failed on two, but got one I hadn’t planned, so I’m content). Actually I also bought duty free alcohol, and both were not ‘run of the mill’ and I copped some friendly gibbs from the BF. It made me self conscious (his 2L of gin was the same price as one of my bottles – one is plum wine (I think!) and the other is Patron coffee liquer for my bro’s GF. But I prefer the ‘odd’ or uncommon or novelty. Buying Choya in Sydney isn’t easy or common – Gordon’s Gin is – and that’s why it was cheap in the Kuala Lumpar Duty free. (Thanks for the space to go on a little diversionary analysis too!)

    • Now you’ve made me look up choya and it is available in Toronto so I will have to pick some up when I am there next! I find the souvenir shops and kiosks in all cities sell pretty much the same souvenirs. Is there anywhere in Phuket that you can get original and local things? This is not at all related to Thailand, but when my niece visited last Fall, she brought a metal wall hanging that local women in Haiti made from reclaimed oil drums. I was impressed! I have been wary of publicly declaring myself a non-consumer, but most of the time I am pretty good! Just this week, two of my colleagues were talking about how much trash they throw out on garbage day; one did two bags every two weeks and the other did one. I have one maybe every 6 weeks (I know this is a measure you can relate to)!

      • Enjoy Choya!

        I probably could have found (or be told) art that was original, but small art seems dwarfed on big walls, and big is harder to return home with… I’m ok without anything special/unique from the trip, it was a third or fourth trip to Thailand, so it’s less ‘unique’ now.

        Six weeks is amazing – mine will be VERY soon, as in, one day, cause there was all this meat fat and stuff after yesterday’s dinner and I don’t Bokashi anymore, so it’s trash. And then the BF put pork leftovers in the compost box in the fridge and I also think that’s not for composting communally, so I’ll have to trash that too 😦 Bad few days!

      • My place has small rooms so I don’t need anything on a large scale, which helps with portability! Your garbage woes sound like a very temporary setback. I’m sure you’ll be back to normal soon!

  8. I still shop, but for different things now than when the kids were at home, and before that pre-children. At each time of our life we have different priorities I guess.

    We have a huge bin of Lego downstairs, the grands are not old enough yet to play with them though.

  9. I don’t mind the “shopping” part of shopping . . I just don’t like to actually spend money 😉 (The grocery store being the main exception – there I will spend the money if something intrigues me.) Browsing is fun though, especially in quirky shops as you mentioned – places that have things you’ve never seen.

    Glad you and Link got to bond in other ways! And I enjoyed Spam-a-Lot as well!

    • Yeah, I really miss bonding over shopping! But lots of other options. Glad you are a Python fan! I am always drawn to different grocery items, new products and imported items, but I am OK with resisting, especially packaged stuff. And save more new flavours for travelling. I am always up for trying new fruit and veg, though!

  10. I do miss the buzz of finding something pretty/useful/unique in a shop- but I don’t do the ‘shopping trip as an activity’ thing anymore because of the comedown (‘morning after feeling’ as Jen said above!) when you realise that the shiny new thing is just another thing to house/clean/look after. I still enjoy buying replacements for things which have worn out (such as clothes) but try very hard to buy with a purpose now, rather than for the thrill of it, as I did when I was a teenager.

    • I like buying replacements, too, and not getting too carried away. It is a rush to find a perfect storage container / kitchen gadget / solution to a problem – for me, anyway! And especially if I stumble across one rather than intentionally shopping all day.

  11. My problem is not so much about buying new stuff as it is about having trouble getting rid of the fails and old stuff. Donna and I have been in the same 900sq. foot apartment for 25 years, and it is starting to close in on us and it is mostly my fault. I have a particularly difficult time with books, CDs, LPs (that I do not listen to), cooking equipment, and of course, clothes that I have but do not wear.
    I like the excitement of book shopping (in an actual bookstore) and the anticipation of a good read.

    • Ha, Rom just moved a turntable into the office area and we dragged out some old vinyl this week! I really regret throwing out so much of my vinyl collection (I saved about 1/3). Oh well. I have not discarded any CDs after uploading them, either. Books, I can cope with; I stopped taking discarded library books home and rarely buy them since I can nab copies of new stuff from my library. I would say that “fails” is my biggest concern about shopping. I wish I could trust my own judgment, but I make a lot of shopping mistakes, and not always cheap ones. I have become ruthless about returning stuff, but there is still evidence of bad decisions lying around!

  12. gk

    If anything, I lament the time wasted in my past shopping – def do not miss shopping as a leisure time activity. The urge to acquire is extinguished (thank goodness!). Whether a result of age, wisdom, boredom…I don’t know.
    But, like you, I love the buzz of an urban landscape. Despite harbouring romantic notions of country living, I am very much a city being. Even though much of city life is based on consuming, I simply enjoy the visual stimulation of a city. The variety of people, buildings, window displays…
    I love to sit and watch the world go by – I like airports for the same reason. 🙂

    • One thing I learned when going to school in the “country” is that lots of arts and cultural activities go on, but it’s more underground! And that I should never assume people aren’t progressive, just because they live outside the city. Although I’ve spent too much time in airports, they have their charms!

  13. gk

    I forget to mention, we too, have a huge tub of Lego. Sorted by kit of course.
    What to do with it?! It’s moved many times with us, and each time I feel foolish for not offloading it. Well, Lego amongst all the other toys I have some attachment too (hanging on to the days of having youngsters?). We’re getting ready for another move and a significant portion of our belongings are these types of things – and meanwhile, the kids don’t care about them one way or another. Although, one was playing the N64 the other day…

    • Aargh, I hope it is a voluntary, positive move for you. I would panic if I had to move because I have yet to deal with all the toys and sentimental stuff in the house. I know I don’t want to keep all of it forever but I haven’t found a way to set priorities. Every time Link is here, we discuss and make decisions about stuff, but it is a long, long process. If I had to move, I would be tempted to put all the extraneous stuff in a rented self-storage unit. I am thrifty enough that after a few months of having to pay for my clutter, I would unload it all.

  14. I sort of miss shopping. But not the act of shopping. I miss the carefree-ness days of shopping when I wasn’t evaluating and comparing every price and seeing if there were better offers. Those felt like simpler times.

  15. We used to shop ALL THE TIME we also happened to be broke ALL THE TIME. There was a correlation there! After getting rid of nearly everything we owned, it was such a freeing experience that now we are really careful about what we buy and nearly everything we buy is second hand so we can use it for a while then give it away without any hard feelings (or feeling like we haven’t used it enough commensurate with its cost). I’m guessing, though, that shopping in London would be AMAZING!

    • I do like shopping when I travel, but I am learning to limit what I bring back. I usually save clothes shopping for when I travel, and on recent vacations, I bought souvenir tea towels! And I like buying gifts that the recipients wouldn’t be able to get at home.

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