In Writing

I’ve been an Amazon customer since 1999. Recently, I checked out my purchase history, and it was like a diary of my life. Natural birth guides. Books about surviving the toddler years. That year I bought all the post-apocalyptic books I could find.

As long as I’ve had an Amazon account, I’ve had “saved for later” items in my cart. Things I wanted but I couldn’t quite justify getting. I’ve always loved Amazon’s “saved for later” feature, because as long as you’re logged in, it remembers what you want forever. And ever. That $250 pet hair vacuum, despite the fact that I had a perfectly functional vacuum. A 12 inch rosewood butcher knife, although I have a butcher knife collection that would make even serious home cooks envious. Books, always books, more than I’ll ever read, but which symbolize so much more than paper and ink.

Once, a few years ago, I moved everything from my “saved for later” into my cart, just so that I could know the price of making my every wish come true. It was a little over $2,000. A crazy amount, but not unreachable. It gave me comfort that if I really, really wanted to, I could have everything I’d ever wanted enough to put in my Amazon cart.

Still, it caused a little sting of yearning every time I saw it. I bought things, visited my “saved for later,” sometimes even moved something into my cart and went for it. But the big, looming list of things I “couldn’t afford” made me feel like I was waiting for a better life, like I was somehow lacking in this moment.

(I am not lacking, FYI).

The idea was born somewhere around that time that I’d one day get my cart and my “saved for later” to zero. It would be more about peace of mind than about having all the “stuff.” It would be an acknowledgement that life is today, not in some imaginary, more prosperous future. I figured it would come out of The Next Big Book Advance (a fanciful sum I’ve spent at least 100 times over).

To that end, I began to go to my “saved for later” regularly. Instead of looking at the items as things out of reach, I looked at them as something I was making a decision about right this moment. That $30 Little Prince mug… did I really want that as much as I told myself I did? If I had $30 cash in my hand, would I fork it over to a cashier for it? Nope. Delete. Periodically, I went through the exercise. Last week, I moved everything from my “saved for later” to my cart just to see what kind of progress I’d made, and it was just over $600.

This week, I got my tax refund unexpectedly soon. I knew I needed a washing machine and a dish washer, and a few other unglamorous but necessary things. I got those, then headed over to my Amazon cart. I moved everything back in. Just over $600. But did I really need that steam cleaner? Nope. $89 lighter. So went the hidden wall safe (after reading reviews that it was shallower than people hoped), the books I thought I should read but wouldn’t, the t-shirt that said “writer” on it. When I was done, I still had a healthy cart, bigger than any I’d bought on Amazon. Total? $287. I hit the “Place Order” button. For less than a tenth of my refund, I had bought something incredibly valuable: the feeling that I’d finally arrived.

I am in the midst of trying to redefine success for myself. When you grow up poor, middle-class consumerism looks like freedom. When you’re a middle class consumer, you begin to notice its velvet shackles. The “saved for later,” which I thought was aspirational, was insidiously constraining. It didn’t point the way to a better future in which I’d have all the fleur de lis pitchers my heart desired, it took my focus off the fact that I already had two. And that while I was subconsciously aching for the bigger life I could have, I was not working on the things that mattered: more time with loved ones, more time to write, more time to roam.
So, will I go off to a woodland shack, eschew all possessions and live off the land? Unlikely. But will I let my “saved for later” bloat with false desires and things I don’t really need? Nope. And that feels amazing.

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