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.

A New Mattress

The bed in Florence is a peculiar size. It’s just smaller than a full and is in fact a “three quarters” size. The peculiar size was once a common bed size in America until the old bedding size system was standardized after WWII. The mattress is also rounded at two corners to accommodate the rounded sides of the Airstream frame. This makes finding bedding difficult and more complicated. 

When I purchased Florence, I made a mental note to buy a new mattress. Three years have passed and I never found the time to do it. After purchasing a Casper mattress for my home, I wrote to Casper asking if they could make a custom size one for the Airstream. They never wrote back. 

So for a few years I slept on a sturdy cot-like mattress. It wasn’t uncomfortable but it wasn’t luxurious either. I began shopping around for a mattress and was surprised to find that the cost was not insignificant. Ballpark was about $800-1200 for a custom mattress. 

Which, as always, is when my very favorite store in the world came through for me. This past week, ALDI featured memory foam mattresses for $219. That was the lowest price I could find anywhere and just like the Casper mattress, the ALDI version came with a 10 year warranty. 

So, I bought one. I used my mom and dad’s electric turkey carving knife to slice the foam and replaced the cot-like mattress. Amazingly, it was easy and is tremendously comfortable. Honestly, it’s as comfy as the Casper, of which, I am a huge fan. 

I also made a friend with a slug while I was cutting the mattress. I interrupted his happy home with my cutting activity. Mr. Slug is nownhappily living in a paper towel tube outside my Airstream. 

Also, for those interested, I have found that European-size bedding including square pillows and “single” comforters fit the Airstream perfectly. You can find great bedding at Hema in The Netherlands and Central Europe or Hemtex in Estonia and across Northern Europe. 

Alex’s Predictions for the Next Decade

I’ve always hated the week between Christmas and the start of the New Year, it’s filled with insipid retrospectives “looking back” at the past year. It’s an easy way to fill print space and the airwaves, I say. Why re-live all that again? And this year, it’s WORSE, because it’s the end of a decade! Who cares who Ben Affleck dated or that Madonna left her husband this past decade? Don’t folks deserve a little privacy? I say: why bother them in the first place, but then why dig it up, dust it off, and do it all over again… but I digress.

Instead of re-living the past, I’m going to turn my sights to the future. What things will be be reminiscing about 10 years from now in 2019? So here are my predictions for things that will happen between 2010 and 2019:

1. USPS daily mail delivery will become a quaint memory, like the milkman. UPS and FedEx will merge and will provide a more ingenious array of services.

2. The “grid” will become more contiguous: it won’t matter if it’s Bluetooth, 802.11 or 802.16, it will all work as part of a seamless system. Cellular will begin to look (and act) more like what we now know as in-home wireless. In home-computing will occur on a variety of networked devices and most data will all live in the “cloud”. Google will continue to become the adhesive in a massive database of human achievement and human life.

3. One major broadcast network will bite the dust. (My bet, as much as I hate to write it: NBC.) It might reincarnate as some other kind of service… but I’m not sure (exactly) on what that may be.

4. Cable companies will move away from providing traditional grid-broadcast TV service (because viewership will plummet as “viewers” flock to time-shift device-driven watching, and view on demand), and will instead provide the infrastructure for mini access points that are connected to the larger wireless grid.

5. RFID will (finally) change the way we shop for commodity goods (like groceries). In-store: item-by-item check outs will evaporate, replaced by self-serve kiosks (don’t laugh… who would have thought we’d be checking ourselves in to the airport 10 years ago?) In-home: grocery delivery will catch on among more affluent and urban users, and item inventory will “self replenish”. Shopping will continue to move toward the experiential and theatric end of the spectrum for shoppers of all strata: luxury through laggards.

6. Plastic will become… well different. Plastics as we know them (today) will become obsolete, and politically incorrect. As more comes to light about the dangers of plastic, fewer people will want to use plastic, or even be near plastic. Instead, bio-plastics (made from friendlier source materials) will become edible, and biodegradable. And our plastic money will change too: credit cards will become more integrated, and will be differentiated by “classes” of service akin to a private concierge at the high end, and a financial manager at the low end.

7. Media providers will merge (much like we saw media producers merge in the 2000s). Verizon might “buy out” Time Warner Cable, Boingo might take over Sprint. Who knows, but I’d bet dollars to donuts on this one.

8. Your health data and medical records will be kept online and will update continuously from devices in or near your home (like your scale, your android-powered communication device that tracks how far you’ve walked during the day, the RFID-enabled prescription bottle that notes the last time it was opened.)

9. Air travel will continue to suck. People will get fed up, prices will continue to climb, service will continue to erode and because it will become less politically correct to drive the demand for high-speed train travel will explode. This will happen at the end of the decade, especially after the unbelievable success of the New York-Montreal/Boston-Buffalo network of high-speed rail is launched to public acclaim, and helps to transform the regional Northeast/Southeast economies.

10. Cars will become networked. They will network and communicate with “the grid” and with each other. They’ll keep drivers and passengers safer and more entertained.

What do you think? Post your predictions in the comment section below… and check back in 10 years to see if these were correct.