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April 23, 2014
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The need to want


I am writing from the early hours of Cyber-Monday after what the New York Times refers to as a “gloomy Black Friday.” I have a confession to make. I didn’t shop on Thanksgiving (I would never!), nor on Black Friday. I didn’t even shop on Small Business Saturday (although I meant to). On Sunday, I browsed the catalogs that managed to find us, even after two moves in one year. I almost clicked on a pair of moto-boots in black leather that were drool-worthy and on sale, but instead I closed my iPad and rested my eyes before going to sleep.

I never thought I would say this, but I may have reached my nadir with recreational shopping. What will happen to the economy without my almost daily boost? Will we have to go to war again? Are we still at war?

I’m not sure when my will to shop failed, but I remember falling as I entered a Home Goods store in Middletown the week before Thanksgiving. All my forward-thinking, intent-on-finding-a fabulous-bargain locomotion ended when my foot caught the lifted edge of a floor-runner and down I went like a sacked Pittsburgh Steeler, iPhone and car keys flying.

When asked if I was all right, all I could think to say was, “I only have an hour to shop.” I spent a precious 10 minutes of that hour resting with an ice pack on the knee that had been scraped bloody through my corduroys. A husband who had been dutifully waiting for his wife-shopper assisted me off the floor and whispered to “get everything you can out of this.” I interpreted that to mean I should sue Home Goods for failing to adjust their floor mat before I toppled. “I have insurance,” I told him and thanked him for his help.

A little wobbly but hale enough to shop, I made my way through the condiments and candy aisles past dog beds and pet-bowl mats in the shape of bones, all the way to lighting and rugs. There was a nice nine by 12 for less than I paid at a Pottery Barn sale last month, but I left it hanging there. Two velvet pillows in a tangy orange would have brightened the new turquoise couch, but I left them on the shelf. Buddha was well-represented in the home decor aisle. A giant head of Siddhartha Gautama would have set me back only $29. But, no. I rubbed it for luck and left empty-handed, except for the band-aid the store manager gave me.

The next day my body ached. Nothing serious, just all those tensed and twisted muscles reporting in. But it got me thinking. Before my fall at the mall, my husband and I had a talk. Our new home was (almost) fully furnished and our American Express bill was reaching new heights every month. It was time to distinguish between “need” and “want.” That’s a rational thought. But was my shopping rational? I knew it wasn’t only that. Some of my wants were based on unfulfilled needs of another kind. (Hey, psychotherapy wasn’t wasted on me!) It was based on the primal fear of not having enough. A fear passed down from a family of the Great Depression. Maybe even before that, from An Gorta Mor, the Irish Famine of the 1840s.

Feelings of deprivation can be powerful motivators that can lead to all kinds of destructive behaviors. Addictions like gambling, alcoholism and drug use, or overeating can all be traced back to early deprivation, either emotional or physical.

The holiday season can be a great excuse to overdo it, with drinking, or eating, or shopping. But being honest with yourself and someone close to you can put a damper on those urges. Believe me.