I’ve often wondered about hobbies. I think it is life-enhancing to have things that I invest in and enjoy outside of work. I struggle at times to see the raw utility in such endeavors, but I do believe that they contribute to a higher quality of life, providing avenues for connection and relationship with others, while also serving as an outlet for creativity and a forum for self-improvement even.
But there is one hobby with which I am especially struggling. Coming back to America, I’ve seen just how frequently shopping serves as a hobby.
Going to a mall on a weekend or even after working hours on a weekday and observing the incredible numbers of people who spend their off hours perusing the racks of their favorite department store caught me by surprise.
Is the acquisition of items really a hobby? When I think of hobbies, I usually consider various creative or entertainment pursuits. True enough, many people collect various things–I myself have a DVD collection that surpasses 650 titles–but I’m still not sure that mall shopping qualifies as a life-enhancing hobby.
When I was younger, I was a bit of a mall rat, prone to spending weekend hours at the mall’s video arcade, toy shops, and bookstores. But I still wrestle with seeing adults spending their leisure time in the checkout line.
Certainly, some shopping is necessary. Our modern culture has structured society such that we use commerce to enable specialization in our occupations which requires us to acquire the goods needed for survival from others, and we use currency to help regulate and balance that exchange.
But I see shopping that goes beyond acquiring items of necessity.
My wife is a deal shopper. She is excellent at online research and uncovering good bargains. She saves us a lot of money on things we need to purchase, and helps to bring some optional items within economic reach for us.
But she isn’t a rampant shopper. The credit card balances are always sensible and paid off each month.
What I’m confused about is another kind of shopping. The hobby-shopping seems to be an exhausting, ultimately unsatisfying hunt to purchase items that are not needed, and perhaps barely even wanted. It seems that the pursuit itself is a large part of this activity, yet it must be culminated by the swipe of a card or the closing of a cash drawer or else the time investment proves additionally life-draining.
Have we lost our imagination, our desire for creativity? Is such shopping not all that different from mindless TV watching, even if more active?
Acquisition drives much of our work ethic and economic views. Must it also dominate our leisure pursuits as well? Or are we so unable to turn off our vocational selves that this predilection for acquisition necessarily spills into our off-the-clock hours as well? Indeed, perhaps hobby-shopping is the simple result of our employed selves: we work to shop. We acquire for our employers that we might acquire for ourselves.
My wife and I occasionally have dates that end up being little more than shopping trips. Sometimes, this is okay–we’re fulfilling the necessities of life, and doing so together. But at other times, it turns out to be a rather unfulfilling venture, bereft of any benefit to our relationship, rest, or refreshment. Thankfully, such dates are rather rare.
But I’m concerned that hobby-shopping all too frequently becomes the default activity for many people. Without the drive or the energy to engage in a more life-giving pursuit, the car automatically arrives at the mall parking lot and the credit card leaps forth from the wallet, slipping silently through the machine while the bags of purchases accumulate on our arms and serve only to exhaust us further.