Life without Amazon. The quiescence of a shopper, and early adopter.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a shopper. I like to shop, to find things that are curious and interesting, and that will improve the quality of my every day life.

However, over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that I have more than I could ever possibly need. I have two bicycles, an entire home office full of all kinds of machinery, every iPhone ever made and nearly every iPad, an extra kitchen full of dishes, pots, and pans and a closet that could clothe a small army. As I do more reading about Döstädning (Swedish Death Cleaning), I recognize that recreational shopping whittles away a nest egg and re-feathers the nest with stuff. The funny thing: anyone walking into my house would say that I’m both a minimalist and well organized, both of which are true. I can’t imagine how other people must feel if I feel like I’m drowning in stuff and most people that I know have way more stuff than I do!

Regardless, the issue is multifaceted: foremost, whittling down the amount of possessions that I have and secondly, shopping responsibly.

For decades, my mantra was that if it didn’t fit in one carload, then I didn’t need it. Those were the days when I moved frequently (college, Boston, grad school, multiple apartments, new jobs, etc.) and the thought of packing, schlepping, and unpacking became less and less tenable and remaining lean and facile was far more desirable. Somewhere along the way, I lost that sensibility, and it seemed to slide into my life around the same time Amazon Prime became a thing.

You can read all about the reasons Amazon Prime is a dreadful idea all across the internet.

For some odd reason, despite my being a militant, David Horowitz-trained and Sy Syms-proud educated consumer, and decades-long Wal*Mart basher, it never occurred to me to think about Amazon. Amazon was convenient, cheap, and magically, things showed up at my door. I bought in hook, line, and sinker for years—to the point where I actually had the Amazon magic buttons all over my house—just push to replenish, and magically a few days later a new supply of whatever I needed magically showed up at my door. UPS deliveries were, for nearly a decade, a daily (and sometimes twice daily) occurrence at my house.

And then abruptly, I stopped.

I was walking down the commercial high-street in my neighborhood that has for the last fifty years been a vibrant strip of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, and realized that it had escaped my notice that about 60% of the shops were closed. About half of those that remained catered to things I would never have occasion to use: tattoos, vaping shops, cheap cell phones, eyebrow waxing. Where were all the amazing bookshops that I remember so fondly, and the t-shirt shop, and the poster shop, and the kitchen shop, and the little gift shop, and the stationery store, and the little plant shop/florist, and so many others? 

Vibrant neighborhoods like this one where my Dad grew up were once the norm all across this country.

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks (and mortar stores). While I had been lazily shopping online and having things delivered—daily—to my door, my neighborhood and my neighbors who owned businesses in it, had unraveled. And I hadn’t left the house long enough to notice. How could this be? For the past 20 years, I have never set foot in a Wal*Mart, and I go out of my way to educate friends and family about the damage Wal*Mart has done to our economy, our urban fabric, our suburban fabric. How could I have so blindly missed the damage that Amazon is doing… and how much worse the damage is.

I was ashamed, and sorry, because I realize that the economic damage will take years to remedy. While my own city angled for Amazon HQ2, it seemingly escaped us all that Amazon is not only resetting the entire economy, but also eviscerating the neighborhoods in which we live. We likely won’t take full notice (like so many things) until it is too late. All of these observations were reinforced by the evidence presented in the amazing book, Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss. The moral of his book: wake up and pay attention, because once it’s gone, it’s too late to lament its passing.

So, I made a solemn and immediate pledge: No more Amazon, I will make a concerted effort to shop at locally-owned shops. My first move was to ditch my Kindle and replace it with a Kobo Reader which allows me to borrow books from a number of local libraries. So far, the results of my life without Amazon are promising, I haven’t purchased a single item on Amazon in over six months, and I’ve met some amazingly interesting people in my neighborhood. The fellow that works at the hardware store knows a lot about replacing screens, and offered me some outstanding advice on how (and when) to replace screens to keep bugs from getting in. My friend John who owns Elmwood Pet Supplies makes deliveries, which makes buying food from him even more convenient than using Amazon. The lady who works at the gift shop, Neo, on the corner made some wonderful suggestions for a wedding gift that I needed to buy, and she wrapped it beautifully. Sunshine + Bluebirds has these amazing wraps that I’ve bought for everyone I know, and they also giftwrap beautifully. I learned that I can buy an organic, locally-raised chicken for my mom for only $4 at Stearns, which means that the only reason I need to stop by Whole Foods (also owned by Amazon) is to steal the packets of Sir Kensigntons Mustard to use in my lunch. (No, I’m not joking.)

So, all in all, I find myself buying less, making more informed buying choices, and doing more for my local economy. So far, a win-win, (except for Amazon). And when Amazon loses, we all gain. Be aware, your choices have consequences, shop wisely.

Taking Aim at Target.

Yesterday, I spent the day in Canada, and driving over the border, something hit me. Not literally, but figuratively. The Canadian side of the border was bustling and vibrant, full of shops, pedestrians, successful businesses. We crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and entered the U.S. It was like we were entering a third world country. Desolate, bombed out buildings stood with weeds growing out of the windows next to shuttered factories. Poor people sold food and junk on the street corners from folding tables in front of the abandoned shopping mall. The only sign of life was the Native American-owned casino, and the vagrants propped up on street corners. It is, as Arianna Huffington has termed it, third-world America, and it’s literally at our national doorstep.

All this got me thinking… why? What has happened to our country? Why—solely on the basis of looks—does our northern neighbor seem to be so prosperous, and why do we seem to look so poor? I think the reason is what writer Bill Bishop has termed “the big sort.”

The big sort holds that conservative or liberal, we tend to gravitate toward people that think like we do.

Unfortunately, that’s creating two philosophically parallel countries that happen to physically overlap.

In one country, it’s OK to hate your neighbor because they are black, or jewish, or gay, or catholic, or educated. This is the America of Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. It’s the America that believes purple wooden stakes at the end of your driveway will prevent U.S. marshals from treading on your property. It’s the America that looks to yesteryear for inspiration and longs for the way things were. It’s the America that is afraid and suspicious and believes in the boogie man. It is the America that looks out for number one.

In the other country, tolerance is the aspirant. This is the America of far less inhabitants. Maybe Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore, and Phil Donahue. It’s the America that believes we can rule by example, and that we can make life better for others. It’s the America that is hopeful and believes in the future. It is the America that believes it is our moral responsibility to look out for those who cannot look after themselves.

Which America is the correct America?

The first country, believes they are right and everyone else is wrong.

The second believes they may be right and that everyone else is buried in the sand.

I’m going to digress for a moment: I’ve had this blog for about 5 years, and consistently, the story that gets the most traffic is over 4 years old, and ironically is about a bad experience I had purchasing a giant piece of furniture at Target. [You can read the whole post here.]

Unfortunately, despite my anger, I went back to shopping at Target. Until about 2 weeks ago.

Around my birthday this year, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel was outed for making a large donation to an organization called Forward MN. It’s a political action group that supports extreme right wing candidates for election in Minnesota.

That upset me.

What upset me more is the official Target response to the donation. Essentially, they said “we’re sorry, BUT we can do what we want” read: “we don’t care.”

Why is that upsetting. Because Forward MN has been associated with political leaders and groups that advocate violence toward gays and lesbians. So while Target has argued that they gave to Forward MN to support their “pro-business” stance, I wonder, would Target have made the donation if Forward MN publicly advocated violence toward blacks, or asians, or women, or muslims, or born-again christians, or people with brown eyes… see where I’m going with this? It’s inexcusable—in this day and age—for any group to advocate for violence against any other group. It’s unconscionable for any corporation to openly support it.

It’s unconscionable especially when companies like Target have relied on gay and lesbian designers to make their company what it is and to catapult its cool quotient… which, shamelessly, Target has. I call upon the many gay and lesbian and GLBT-friendly designers (Todd Oldham, Isaac Mizrahi, Mossimo) to cease their support for a company that is doing such damage to the community and to our society.

Why is this acceptable? Why does the first country, in sneaky, cowardly ways support murder and violence? Is it not hypocritical that the same people that lead this country do not live by its rules? The recent revelation of former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman—who was the brainchild behind anti-gay, anti-gay marriage, and defense of marriage legislation—has admitted that he himself is gay. Why is it OK for Sarah Palin to speak about abstinence when her own daughter has a child out of wedlock?

The place that bickering about who puts what where in the bedroom has gotten the US to a place that is quite ugly. It is a place sprouted in fear and intolerance, and it is a place that is eminently un-American. It is led by religious extremism that has bastardized the meaning of christianity, and it is gobbled up by an increasingly edutained, undereducated, desperate, bored, and financially less prosperous American society. The solution to this problem is not government. In the words of Ronald Reagan. Government is the problem. It is the enabler that allows this divisiveness to prosper, because without it, we would have no political system, and with no political system, our economy would fall to the wolves.

I write this today with the hope that this will become the most read, most “hit” story on my blog. Not because I want to bitch about the state of our country, but because I hope that it gives pause to those who read it, and maybe that will help to make a difference.