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My Life as a Shopper

I love to shop. There, I said it. I especially enjoy it when I have something to look for. Even with a family of four, at times no one needs anything, thank goodness. So if I want to shop, I need to cast my net wider, and this adds another level to the fun.

For me, “holiday” shopping is a year-round process, not a one-season binge: I’m always on the lookout for the perfect Christmas, birthday or joke gift for a friend or family member. Scanning the marketplace for a score of people (OK, 15?) also lets me take advantage of true sales and coupons, which adds another layer of joy to shopping. 

But as I think back to what often fuels my joy of shopping, it’s people. Not just the ones I’m shopping for, but the ones I’m shopping with. My upbringing included bonding with my sister, my mother or friends on shopping trips. When I shop with my daughter, I am perpetuating this tradition. When I was an adolescent, my mother on her way to work would drop off my teenage sister, Diana, and me at the mall in Hicksville, Long Island. We’d shop for hours, get pizza for lunch and take the bus home. Later, when I was the last child at home, my mother and I would drive to the “new mall” some Sundays and check out the stores and stop for a snack.

Erin Scherfling, of Baldwinsville, enjoys shopping, too. “I love it when I actually feel like I’ve gotten a deal. I don’t like paying full price for anything.”

Organization is key to her strategy. She pulls out of her purse a small piece of paper that has a list of everything family members need, would like or that she plans to get for them. She carries this list throughout the year to help her keep track.

Scherfling uses a bigger sheet of paper for her Christmas gift list. With three kids—Abigail, 11, Lydia, 8, and Molly, 4—she wants to “keep it even” under the tree with gifts and their dollar values. But she’s not just looking for her daughters. During a recent trip to the Corning Museum of Glass, she found a lovely bracelet that she picked up for her aunt for Christmas. And from a summer trip, she says, “I have a T-shirt for each of (my daughters) right now up in my attic.”

The key to this shopping strategy is a space to store the purchases. Scherfling uses her attic; I use “the gift closet.” The gift closet used to be a magical, mysterious place for my children, who begged for access. Now I think they recognize it for what it is: a double closet crammed with stuff that no one can figure out—except Mom.

Recently my husband went to visit some old friends. The day before he left, I asked: “What are you taking their daughter?” The realization dawned that he should bring a gift for the 7-year-old girl. I like to let these moments sink in for when he complains that I’m wasting space or money on the gift closet.

Finally I said, “I’ll go look,” and walked slowly to the gift closet. I opened the doors and spotted the perfect gift: a tin of Haba wooden beads with two long strings to make a necklace. I bought this tin, along with two or three others, about seven years ago when Haba used to have a sale at its warehouse in Skaneateles each fall. Haba toys are expensive and the warehouse deals were good—and lasting. I put the tin in a recycled gift bag with some purple tissue paper. My daughter, Annie, 11, ran out of her room at the same time with a small, stuffed hippo for her friend.

Shopping gets easier as friends and family develop hobbies or collections. My son, MacIntyre, has collected rhinos, mostly stuffed toys, for all of his 12 years. (It started with a shower gift.) Rhinos are not easy to find. So the whole extended family and several friends watch for rhinos wherever they go.

This summer I finally got a chance to roam the shops in Ithaca while waiting for Mac at a rock climbing day camp there. I don’t want to go into specifics before Christmas, but a rhino sighting was involved. An elephant was involved, too, which is the heart of my daughter’s collection.

I also found cool yarn for a friend who knits and a hat that actually fits me. Mostly, I looked and touched. I enjoy the tactile experience of shopping. I like to touch the clothes and feel whether it’s wool, cotton, silk or synthetic. Then I may look at the price tag, often just for information. I find this soothing and meditative in a way. Walking, wandering, touching beautiful fabrics and pondering life, people, interests and when to stop for coffee and dessert.

In recent years, friends have asked me to take them shopping, especially at the outlet mall in Waterloo. We book a date and look forward to the chance to go without kids, mill about, chat the whole time and find good sales. One friend isn’t as interested in the chatting while shopping. She’s fine in the car and at lunch but focuses too much on the goods in the stores. She may have to find another shopping buddy because it’s not really all about the stuff.               

Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.


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