NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Entering The Age Of the Nonsumer

There was a day when an afternoon of window-shopping sounded like fun. But the attraction of retail therapy has dimmed for me across the years — and what killed it dead was actually shopping for windows.

Back when I marched with the “shop ’til you drop” brigade, prowling through stores to select choice wares was deemed to be a pleasure. I was raised on the prairie, after all, where serious shopping was mostly a matter of settling on the meager choices in the mercantile aisle of the local Fairway.

Exposed to serious merchandising along the urban byways of Fargo-Moorhead, I fell in love. The selection made me dizzy with delight, among the tempting splendor of shelves plump with every appealing brand. And sidewalk sales! The adolescent urges long fed by Seventeen magazine but channeled through Montgomery Ward blossomed into a serious mission. The plastic in my purse still had plenty of freeboard then, and my fit young feet could manage long safaris, stalking the wily bargain.

No more. Somewhere along the line, my idea of a good time has evolved far beyond the ethos of accumulation. I have enough … and, actually, quite a bit more.

My primitive passion has cooled. I’ve become a nonsumer. Rather than “just looking” in hopes of spotting the perfect something — somehow lovelier, cuter, prettier, more clever or superior in some way to whatever I already own — my first choice is to stay at home.

This remarkable transformation began with subtle signs. Trips to West Acres stretched out to semiannual events; after raising a teenage daughter, it was a glorious relief. When we were on vacation, a day of cruising charming shops became dropping into one or two, then pleading to stop for coffee. The Mall of America’s appeal shifted to people-watching at Caribou.

But a recent stop at Albertville, Minn., threw it all into the spotlight. Russ settled in for the long haul with a thick book on World War II spycraft in a cafés that poured plenty of refills, while I set out to seek treasure in the Eldorado of off-price retail.

I was back in exactly as many minutes as it took to stroll from one end to the other, repulsed by too much of what, honestly, I already have. When I returned to the car with one tiny sack — a teensy T-shirt sporting a pink roller-skating dinosaur (hint: not for me) — I recognized what I’ve become. A nonsumer.

The metamorphosis from “want” to “have” to “please, no more” has been gradual. When a loved one asked what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday, I began to recite the curmudgeon’s motto: If I can’t use it up, wear it out, eat it or accidentally break it without regret after a decent interval, I don’t want it.

Reality has dawned, and it isn’t pretty. Shopping for new, at this stage, has metamorphosed into exchanging our nickels and dimes in a futile race to keep what we already own operational.

As Russ and I now relax at home amid the overly ample piles of what we’ve already collected … we listen for hints around the house of what’s next on the agenda. No matter how serene the evening, something must be on the brink of breaking down, wearing out, being pummeled by bad vibes or possibly leaking onto the carpet. As all aging homeowners understand, this is our mantra: What next?

At some unrecognized point along the way, the pleasurable act of exchanging money for … stuff … evolves into merely matching the pace of what’s regressing. We neither need nor want to take on more precious cargo — be it stylish, charming, whimsical or gorgeous. We’ve got enough to do keeping up with what’s already decaying behind our backs.

Window-shopping? Ha! Instead, welcome to the brutal reality of actually being forced to buy some.

Who knew windows could rot? I had no clue. Russ, on the other hand, saw the possibilities in a few seconds. After decades as a nonsumer himself, ossifying while I browsed the thickets of retail America, he suddenly understood. Shopping, ahoy!

A monster emerged from the depths of the dedicated nonshopper I thought I knew so well, a man who — given a choice — would buy a favorite shirt in every color so he’d never have to enter a store again.

Suddenly, he glimpsed revenge for all the hours he’d dawdled while I pawed through the racks of mark-downs. Our rotten windows had finally provided him with a totally legitimate excuse to satisfy all those pent-up consumer longings.

He spent days studying the research, then hours more prowling home-improvement-store displays with the crafty prowess of a hunter stalking game. He haunted window display with laser focus, reveling in casements and double-glazing, weighing energy efficiency and aspiring to baked-on finishes that meant never painting trim again.

Money was no object. Wherever could he have learned that?

Most wives, I think, have grappled with how best to tell their honey about some unexpected plunder they’ve hauled home in the back seat of the car. Men don’t. I found out about the half-dozen windows he’d contracted for installation when the crew arrived to unload the truck … the ultimate impulse purchase, roughly equal to a week on Waikiki.

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