I hate shopping because of how often I’m let down. Things are never as good as soon as you take the tags off. I don’t even buy nail polish anymore because I get mad at how quickly it goes bad. When it does, I spiral and craft a narrative and tell myself that because I don’t take care of things, both the money and the item itself has been wasted. Yes, I do this for OPI nail polish that costs $11 at CVS (preferred color: Malaga Wine). Imagine how any item more than $11 goes in my psyche.
Hyping myself up to enter the evil domain of voluntary transactional economic letdown (otherwise known as a store), I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and let the positive affirmations flow.
“Remember, you are confident and athletic. You run, you snowboard, you play soccer … as an adult. You are the target audience of this establishment.” And with that, I exhaled, and walked into the West Hartford REI.
I don’t care what anyone says, REI is a terrifying place. You walk in and are immediately surrounded by books about hiking the Appalachian Trail, bear-protective camping gear, and expensive backpacks you can live out of for three months. I had a packing list in my hand that spelled out everything I needed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I was still nervous. Are hard shell pants different from snow pants? What made hiking socks different from regular socks? Are the coats you wear to climb mountains the same as ski jackets? I felt added pressure because I was buying gear not just for me, but for Morgan too. Apparently Texas REIs only have hunting gear.
I was greeted by an enthusiastic young salesman. We’ll call him Spencer. Spencer was dressed in the signature REI green adventure vest over a plaid button-down and had a beard that made him look both older and more outdoorsy. I told him of my upcoming endeavor to climb Kilimanjaro and that I was in need of a jacket. Like a beginner trying out a new language in a foreign land, I was having trouble keeping up with his speed and enthusiasm. He was throwing around the words like “Goretex” and “microseam.” Then he determined that I actually need two coats, a soft winter layer to keep me warm, and a weather-resistant outer shell that acts as a raincoat. Cool.
“I mean, the technology behind these pieces are incredible,” he said. For a second I thought Spencer was selling me an iPhone. These “pieces” are by a brand called Arc’teryx. I was so focused on the sizes that I neglected to look at the price tag. I gasped. Apparently Arc’teryx is the Chanel of outdoor brands.
I get anxious when I spend too much time on anything. Whether I am shopping, hanging out with friends who are not best friends or doing a favor for someone at work, as soon as I determine something is taking longer than it should, I go into panic mode. But what to do when two things I loathe, spending money and wasting time, are at odds?
Sitting in my underwear in the dressing room, I called Morgan. After my dad, Morgan is the most reliable Anderson when it comes to answering the phone.
“Morgan I’m at REI I have no idea what the F im doing.”
“Okayyyy …. ?”
“Well, I think you’ll have no problem with a size small rain pants. The mediums fit me fine and have room for leggings underneath them. But the jackets … I don’t know, but this guy says this one brand is the best and it’ll make all the difference on the mountain. And it fits really well, but it’s like super expensive. The rain jacket alone is almost $200 and the base coat is close to $300.”
“Has he ever climbed Kilimanjaro?”
“No, I mean, but he knows more than me.”
“Well, Dad did say he’d pay you back for certain things you bought me for the trip.”
“True, and while he would never agree with this purchase, he technically didn’t specify a limit. Besides, you can wear it on the mountain, and I could use this for snowboarding season next winter.”
“Ok, I’ll do another loop and look at the other options, but we should be fine. I’ll text you everything later tonight.”
“Cool, don’t forget the shot blocks and Clif bars.
“Yeah good call good call.”
I searched my mind for every possible justification I could so I could get out of there: You can’t put a price on quality, consider it an investment, you won’t buy another coat for 15 years, you’ll get the credit card points, at least it’s a practical purchase.
I figured in the scheme of things, $500 was cheaper than an emergency helicopter down the mountain. And that’s how most expensive clothing items I’ve ever owned became $500 worth of jackets from a brand I’d never heard of. I felt deprived of the social status that I’d get from a designer purse or shoes for that amount.
A year later, I was back at REI picking up my new snowboard. On my way in, I stopped to check out the “used gear” sidewalk sale when I saw it: my red Arcteryx rain jacket hanging on a rack. REI has a generous return policy, and when I noticed the famous $200 raincoat had a hole in it after only wearing it a few times, I brought it back, even though it was a few months past the one year policy and got a full refund. I knew the one on the rack was mine because of the patch over the right pocket. I took a picture of it on the rack and texted my dad when I got home.
Me: spotted my famous jacket at the used gear sale for $100 after I returned it over the summer.
Dad: Why didn’t you buy it back?
I was annoyed. Here i thought my dad would have been proud of me for not only getting a refund, but also for my stellar negotiating skills to get said refund despite it being outside the policy window. I was able to part with something after I’d already had it. And yet, he was right, I had failed him. I loved that jacket. The hole was obviously not a big deal; I wear yoga pants with way more egregious holes. As someone who looks like a puffin in winter gear, it was beyond flattering, a bold bright red that looked dope on the ski hills, and protected me whenever I forgot an umbrella. But I was too proud to drive back. If I’d made it nearly three decades living without knowing how an expensive rain jacket could make me feel, I could go back.