Well, I did it. (High five, high five, high five!) I went an entire YEAR without going to Target.
Did you ever doubt me? I definitely did! As with most resolutions, I crept into the year with some serious skepticism, found myself wondering why I took on this challenge, and then had moments of curiosity about why it was ever a big deal to begin with. For a little background, you can read last year's post HERE and catch up at the half-way point HERE, all leading up to today. Yup, this post has been a year in the making...so, here we go.
This morning, I got up like any other day, drank my giant mug of coffee and bribed my girls into eating breakfast and getting dressed so that we could get out the door before noon. Whew. Matilda is old enough to know exactly what "Do you want to go shopping?" means, and so it didn't take too much persuading.
However, when I said "Do you want to go to Target?" and she said "What's that?" I was taken aback for a second in remembering how she would have zero context for what or where that was. It was so strange. Like, when your little kid sees Michael Jackson or the Olympics on TV and you have to explain to them how this is something iconic and they should file it away in their little brains as part of the American Institution of life. Remember this, kid, tuck this away, you don't want to look like an idiot when someone refers to this later in life. Target, indeed, has become an American Institution. And, like it or not, shopping has become an American pastime that we all rather pride ourselves in.
Coming off the heels of Christmas, we're all still wringing ourselves dry from dripping with the saturation of overt consumerism that we call "gift giving". We've seen deals come and go. We've wrapped and unwrapped and exchanged and gift carded our fair share of things just as we all do at the end of every year. By the time January comes along, we're sad to see the glow of our Christmas trees dim, but we're all slightly anxious to step back into routine and relax in the comfort of our newly visitor-less homes. As much as we dread the emptiness of a new year upon us, there is something calm and lovely about it too. Clean slates. New hopes. And a chance to right some wrongs that perhaps we misstepped the year before.
And so, a calm bravery swept upon me as I drove my girls to the land of Target...a journey that I, not so long ago, took with ease and familiarity. But now, as I parked and yanked a cart from the army of red crates before me, I found myself perplexed with caution and delight.
Here I was - I made it! A whole year of Wal-Mart and Big Lots and Old Navy, and finally, finally, finally, after all the months of manna, I'd been let into the Promised Land once more. Target! Hello my old friend!
And yet, I felt no comfort. I felt no reciprocating joy at my return. I felt no peace at piling my cart with trinkets or deals that I had conquered by the aisle. My guard was up, and I was very serious about this battle.
What the heck is going on? I've gotta get out of this funk!
I had envisioned a lovely return to Target. I had envisioned a relaxed, enjoyable mixture of entertainment and refined shopping. I was determined to combine my needs for what I came for (shopping list in hand) along with my desire for an uplifting experience. This seems reasonable, right?
Naturally, as most things in my life seem to, this required some caffeine behind it. I had to start the trip off right, and so, the girls and I stopped off for a snack (latte for me, milk and madeleines for them) before continuing our shopping escapade.
This would help, I thought. I just need to get back into the feel of how it used to be. Relax and have fun. I won't go crazy, I'll be fine. Just stroll around and take it in and see what I discover. What's this trip all about? What do they have in store for me? Get what I need and see how it all compares to the last year of shopping that I've encountered.
Ah, okay. (By the way, I know this all sounds dramatic and ridiculous to those of you who just went shopping and perhaps thought nothing of it. I get that. I absolutely and totally have been there.) But, this trip was (in a word) weird for me. I have been away. I have seen the Matrix. I have returned and have a newly developed, extremely acute awareness of what Target is wanting me to experience right now. And, well, it wasn't working.
Here's my analysis: Target is brilliant. I mean, freaking genius. They are purposeful in every way. They are masterminds at drawing my attention to where I think I'm the one making decisions for myself in my best interest. But, I'm not. Well, I wouldn't have been before today, anyway. And, while I've been outside of the store and not shopped Target online at all in 365 days...I'm not immune to their ad campaigns in the mail or on TV and can wholeheartedly say they have just about the cutest most clever marketing out there. Agreed?
Here's the Target experience:
I walk in. Lovely red carts all lined up. Not the heavy metal ones. No, these babies are plastic and easy and with a complimentary wipe station right next to it because they know I'm a mom who's hoping her kids do not get the flu, thank you very much, don't mind if I do. Latte? Why, sure! Why not. It's right there and the kids want popcorn or milk or something and it will help quiet them down while I shop so what's a few bucks up front to ensure a productive visit? Done. Now remember, we're here for hand soap, diapers and toilet paper. That's it.
First stop: dollar bins. Hello bargain shopper! Right away I feel like I've come to the best place possible. Everything is a DOLLAR in this 12'X10' area, so how harmful could it be? Cute socks, some stickers, maybe a little monogrammed anything because it's only a dollar, so why not? Okay, on to the first item on the actual shopping list.
Wait? Does that come in my size? Women's clothes is first thing when you walk in. Cute stuff up front, bargains in back. And, does that say Neiman Marcus? Aren't they that shmancy New York store that is like super-high-dollar that I saw on that makeover show that one time? How could I afford that? But, one glance at a price tag and I get a little rush at the thought that I can afford it. No, I can't think of a setting that is yet-on-the-calendar to wear this cute dress to...but, for that price I will come up with a new excuse to show off this new little number. I want it. And my husband will agree once he sees me in it. I'm sure.
Okay, back to shopping. Stuff for kids. Toiletries. Paper goods. Check check check. Is that Nate Berkus? What's he doing here? Oh my gosh, that is the cutest towel set I've ever seen. That bedding matches? AND a throw pillow? I love it. I want it. But, I shouldn't. But, I could. But, now I feel guilty. Okay, I should buy my husband something so I feel less guilty. Okay, I'll swing by electronics and get him that CD that's only $11.99 and he'll thank me later for it all and just be glad I spared him a shopping trip with these little hooligans.
Fine! We'll stop by the toys. Here, take this. Fine, what's $5 for your happiness and whatever stops your whining. I'm exhausted. Crap, I totally forgot about dinner. Let's swing by the groceries. And, oh yeah, we're out of milk. Whatever, I'll just grab it since I'm here already. Yogurts on sale? Chips? Okay, that looks good. That's it, we're leaving.
Clearance sign. What? Well, I'll just peek. 70% OFF? For real? I don't have anywhere to put this candle, but isn't it my cousin's birthday next week? Birthday! Oh yeah, I just about forgot my nephew's birthday! Let's grab a card on the way to the register. Better get a gift card too.
Okay, we're really done. I'm outta here. That'll be how much? But all I bought was toilet paper, right? Sigh. Whoops, I totally forgot to buy diapers.
Does that sound familiar to anybody else? Don't leave me hanging here! They've got us figured out. Here is the beauty of Target: They are cheap enough that it feels like you aren't buying expensive things, but just expensive enough that you don't feel like you're buying cheap things. Catch my drift? They have perfectly priced themselves to entice you just enough so that the ways in which you justify your items outweigh any hesitations you might have. And, somehow, they have products RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR FACES to help us eliminate any hesitations we might be dealing with, perpetuating the spending cycle.
They are geniuses at this in two major ways: 1) product placement (this is kind of a no-brainer) and 2) gift-cards-as-coupons. This has "sucker" written all over it. All over the aisles of Target is this new "incentive bargain". You don't get to actually save any money today, but rather, when you buy 2 (or 3 or more or whatever) of something, you can get a $5 (or more) gift card to come back and spend later.
Well, guess what me and every other shopper out there are doing when we see this sign? We're subtracting $5 (or more) from the listed price and convinced we are getting a heck of a deal. Beware! They just hooked you in to come back and shop again (for, no doubt, more than $5 worth) and are counting on at least a zillion of us to misplace, lose, or forget about that $5 card they just handed us. Boom - brilliant.
Here's my last thought on Target's marketing. Their brands. We love them. We're not ashamed to buy "Target brand" anything. It's not grosser or weaker or uglier than the name brands that we're used to being suckered into. It's not "Wal-Mart-grade" or "Big-Lots-caliber". Not in the least. We're totally prideful in Archer Farms, Market Place, Up-n-Up, Method and all the other pseudo-saver-types that catch our eyes and let us know that we are doing the economical thing by not splurging for the elite-top-shelf-quality-brand that we recognize a mile away. Target knows this. Target appreciates this. And Target places their version of whatever-it-is EXACTLY NEXT TO the others so that you can feel like you are competitively shopping with the utmost of accuracy.
Bullseye. Target, I'm starting to see your true colors. You did me wrong, making me think that I needed you so badly. Turns out, you are just aisles and aisles full of things I never knew I could completely live without. And I would know - I did it!
The thing about Target, the thing they most brilliantly have mastered, is that they have figured out my weakness of where my line of "giving in" is at. See, I don't have a problem with caving and spending an obscene amount of money on a Coach bag or Prada dress. I am not that tempted to buy designer furniture or one-of-a-kind art. I very rarely (if ever) find myself accidentally stumbling upon products I grossly can't afford or have zero use for. This is why it's not as difficult to deny myself things when I'm in a fancy store - I already know what I'm in for. I know I can't afford it. It's not an option, and so, I don't entertain the desire.
But, when you place similar items ever-so-slightly out of reach and plunge them into a setting surrounded by every day essentials...they immediately become pieces to a puzzle that you never knew were missing. You can envision it. You see it. You like it. And then, since it's right next to the aisle of detergent that you use every day, you suddenly can't see your life without it.
Until I saw my life without it.
This might all seem quite abstract to you. Perhaps you haven't thought about all this quite as in-depth, but chances are good several of these observations have crossed your subconscious at some point, right? Nothing that I'm revealing to you is actual news, necessarily, it's just that I'm probably the only person you know who's stepped outside the box to see what difference it might make.
And so, here's the difference: What do I really want?
I guess it is sort of that simple. I had no plumb-line to gauge my wants before ridding myself of the temptations that compelled them. Leaving Target for a year gave me the opportunity to rely on my own perceptions of how far I was willing to give, get, or go in order to gain what I really wanted. Sometimes this meant multiple grocery trips in one day. Sometimes this meant waiting for a better deal. Sometimes this meant traveling further to find what I needed. Sometimes this meant intentionally caving for the sake of convenience. But, it was all on my terms. Sure, others attempt to lure you in with deals or lights or coupons, etc. I'm not immune to marketing or propaganda. I didn't leave America or television behind, I understand that. But, I side-stepped the beast that had baited me for years. I got a glimpse of my true appetite and took the time to seek out what I deemed worthy to consume.
Will I be regularly shopping at Target from now on? No, I don't think so. Many of the new habits I developed over the last year have stuck for good. I feel like I've gained a new perspective on things being just things and value lying in the intention and use behind them. I have found wonderfully creative alternatives for just about everything from gift-giving to recipes to clothing and home improvement. And you know what, I haven't lost one friend along the way because of it! No one is the wiser to the pennies that I've been saving, and no one has ever stopped me and gasped out of the notion that I may or may not have purchased said item at a second hand store.
I have plenty to say about this whole experience and I'm certain more blogs are to come as these revelations (now, post-Target-boycott) become clearer to me. In the meantime, I'm thrilled to have made it out of Target alive, necessities met, and only one little $5 incentive-card burning a hole in my thrift-store-pants pocket.