Retail therapy

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 1/20/21

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the term “retail therapy,” but I do know who said it. It was my friend, Robin, who—along with her mother, Rosalie—owned a …

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Retail therapy

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I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the term “retail therapy,” but I do know who said it. It was my friend, Robin, who—along with her mother, Rosalie—owned a business in Los Angeles, CA that sold “high-end” gifts, home goods, jewelry, greeting cards and everything in-between to retail stores across the country. Their company, Rosalie and Friends, was the premiere wholesale showroom on the west coast, and just strolling through it, admiring the vast array of cool stuff that would eventually make its way to specialty shops across America, was always great fun.

To be honest, I’m not all that big on shopping, per se. While I do like “nice things,” I don’t love stores, waiting in lines, or spending money I don’t have (can you say wholesale?), and I own plenty of nice things (IMHO) already. Still, we’ve all been spending more time than usual at home because of “the c-word” and you know what they say: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

 Months ago, while idling within clicking distance of my keyboard, I began doing a little window-shopping online. It all began innocently enough, ordering normal, everyday stuff I needed to keep the house stocked while avoiding going out. You know, breath-freshener for the Wonder Dog, cleaning supplies and, sadly, face masks to keep me safe when I was forced to go out into the world. Little by little, things I didn’t necessarily need, but that looked desirable, began to creep into my psyche.

“Hmmm,” I mumbled while scrolling the internet. “I’ve always wanted one of these,” I said, referring to a felt letter-board with what turned out to be teeny, tiny letters and symbols that are extremely difficult to maneuver onto said felt. “Well, that was money well spent,” I grumbled to the dog, after using the thing three or four times, swearing at it from across the room. Next came a bathmat I didn’t really need, which upon arrival, was made out of what appeared to be tomato-red “fun fur.”

I decided it was “too much of a bother” to return it, so it sits on a shelf in my linen closet, taunting me with its hideous uselessness each time I replace the towels on laundry day. Still, I found the diversion “therapeutic” and Robin’s words came to mind, so I used The Google.

“Retail therapy is shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood or disposition,” were the first words that popped up. “Often seen in people during periods of depression or stress [hmmm], it is normally a short-lived habit. Items purchased during periods of retail therapy,” the blurb concluded “are sometimes referred to as ‘comfort buys.’”

“Oh, I get it,” I murmured at the flickering screen in front of me. “Like comfort food, only more expensive and less useful. Hey, we deserve a little pampering,” I said to the dog. “There’s a pandemic going on. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.” Dharma wagged, and The Google concurred.

“Even if consumers do use shopping as a coping mechanism during the coronavirus outbreak, there’s still the issue of supply,” I read on a website simply called Quartz (www.qz.com). “While demand might increase in the form of retail therapy, supply is still struggling to keep up given the number of factories that remain closed.”

I typed more words into the computer’s search window. “Is retail therapy a real thing?” I asked and waited impatiently, credit card in hand, for the answer to appear on-screen.

 “Retail therapy really can help you feel better,” I read gleefully, “As long as you don’t [uh oh] overspend. But remember,” the sage advice continued, “retail therapy isn’t actually therapy.”

“What?” I squealed. “Sure it is! I haven’t even clicked ‘order now’ but I feel better already! I mean, I really do need buffalo-plaid kitchen curtains,” I said, maniacally scrolling. “And that retro tin sign that says something about hippies. And masks,” I sighed. I need more masks.”

“Remember that saying, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping?’ Turns out there’s some truth to that adage,” Kit Yarrow, PhD wrote in a 2013 article titled, “Why Retail Therapy Works: Five therapeutic benefits of shopping—and how to spot a habit gone awry.” Unsure that I wanted to know if I had “gone awry,” I decided to leave the rest of Yarrow’s article for another time and clicked away. “Your order qualifies for free shipping,” I happily read out loud to Dharma, who had been asleep for hours, “and should arrive by Saturday.”

I’ll sleep better tonight knowing that yet another Scrabble board (this one’s magnetic!) and a custom jigsaw puzzle with the dog’s adorable face on it are winging their way to me even as I write these words. Do you feel better? I know I do.

Fun fact: The term “retail therapy” was first used in the 1980s with the (uncredited) reference being this sentence in the Chicago Tribune of Christmas Eve 1986: “We’ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.”

According to www.healthline.com, “If you’re experiencing mental health symptoms or you’re struggling with a serious problem, talking to a therapist can have more benefit than pulling out your wallet.” I’ll get right on that.

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