When I was teenager, indoor malls were just starting to pop up all over middle class suburbia. I remember how shopping went from being a necessary task to entertainment seemingly overnight. Inside you could find food courts and gift shops, specialty clothing boutiques and art stores. There was something for everyone and every age. And just like that, the mall became something to do instead of somewhere to go when you needed the essentials.
Young people that made the mall their weekend hangout became known as “mall rats.” And while the term was less than endearing, we accepted it. The mall became our home away from home. We used it to meet up with friends, eat fast food, even go to the movies as most malls at that time had adjacent cinemas.
But as we were enjoying this novel experience, something insidious was happening just below the surface. We were learning to embrace a new and unhealthy consumerist mentality. Slowly being conditioned to seek out these large retail structures as a way to pass the time. The glassy storefronts showing us all latest “things” we had to have, the tantalizing smells of tasty fast food, the promise of fun and entertainment. Combined, a triple threat that would keep us voluntarily hostage in massive concrete buildings for hours while systematically separating us from our time and money.
(teen one) “What do you want to do today?”
(teen two) “Oh, lets just go to the mall. I’ve got a few bucks.”
Flash forward decades later and I realized I was feeding an addiction I didn’t even know I had. Whenever I was bored or lonely or restless, I’d find myself mindlessly meandering across the tiled floors of the local mall looking for my next retail fix. Something in a box or bag or jar to bring me happiness or make my life better in some way. And maybe for a moment it did, but it wasn’t real and it never lasted.
It took me many months and a lot of restraint, but I was able to ween myself off the mall. After almost 30 years of giving in to my habit, I quit the compulsory browsing and shopping that is at the heart of the contemporary mall mindset. I’m not going to pretend it was easy, but it was necessary in order for me to get back control of my space, my time, my health and my finances. You see, the mall was eating into all of those aspects of my life. What started out as a harmless pastime in my younger years became a drain on everything else around me. It sounds silly, but go ahead and ask yourself this question,
“How much time and money and energy am I wasting by using (insert the mall, Target, Walmart, or your favorite department store here) as entertainment, and what would happen if I stopped?”
You could find yourself with more time for the people you care about, that book on your nightstand, those projects around the house. Perhaps, you’d start paying down your credit cards or build up that emergency fund with the money you’d save. You might use the extra time to walk with your significant other or take up a new hobby. Maybe, just maybe…you could even begin to appreciate and enjoy the things you already have.