Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.
Agatha Christie, Mystery Author

I think we’re generally creatures of habit, don’t you? Even though we may delude ourselves into thinking we are free spirits. Of course there are good habits like exercising, bad habits like smoking and those that just evolve into daily routines. But I also think that habits can lead to grooves that eventually become ruts. And, even good habits can morph into bad habits such as obsessive exercising.

An artist friend of mine once told me that when she came home from high school each day, she painted for at least an hour because she wanted her art to become a disciplined habit and that only by working diligently could she improve. As someone whose approach to creating art has been erratic over the years, I’ve recently been enjoying my new habit of spending 2-5 hours each day painting. It’s become more a part of my core thinking and I can see my work evolving. And I now feel the “need” as well as the “desire.” But to avoid getting into a rut, I think I also should plan interludes where I do other things that feed my creativity such as visit a gallery or even write poetry.

Yesterday, I needed some more encaustic wax so I decided to change my routine and walk to Pearl, an art supply store, only about a mile away. I used to love the store— it had tons of fascinating things for sale and people who knew precisely what you needed and could provide advice. But about two years ago, they started carrying less and less stock and some of the key employees no longer seemed to be around. It became frustrating to shop there. So I eventually switched to Dick Blick. Their stores lack the grit and personality, but they have what I need for the most part. But back to yesterday. I walked to Pearl and their small display of encaustics was less than half full. They did not even have a basic white. Someone came up and said he could order it for me if I had a few days, but I said I really needed it today and that this was my final attempt to continue being a customer since every time I came in they no longer had what I needed in-stock.

Stay with me here. I’m getting back to talking about habits. Later in the day because of recent shopping experiences my attention was caught by an interview on the PBS Lehrer Report with retail consultant, Paco Underhill. Trained as an environmental psychologist, he authored a marketing bestseller Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. The discussion was about a shift in shopping habits in a slumping economy. “We have an entire generation of Americans with little or no fiscal discipline or financial knowledge. Our houses are too big. Our cars are too big. Our debts are too big. Our bellies are too big. Now it’s time to go on a diet. Nobody’s going to go back to the old ways,” he proclaimed. “And what we’re seeing here is a time in which our retail world is probably going to contract… because we are over-stored, meaning that most retail entities would be eminently healthier if they were smaller.”

Underhill also noted that 60% of discretionary income in North America is held in the hands of people who are 55 and over and don’t need “stuff.” He talked about shopping sickness in our culture and that one of the fundamental issues that consumers are discovering is that acquisitions don’t transform who we were before we made the purchase so our relationship to consumption needs to be more real. This hit home. Many days I’ve thought to myself, I’d like to get out for a while, where can I go and what can I buy? But in the last year, I’ve made a conscious effort to look around me and see that honestly I need nothing more than food and basics. Including, of course, my art supplies.

Arguably for good or bad, my new mindset now is to order many things I need online, since it’s a crap shoot whether a store will have it in stock or not. I believe that Underhill and various research indicators are correct, our shopping habits are not likely to return to pre-recession levels. This is especially true for boomers like myself caught in the insecurity of disappearing investments and job cutbacks.

This is a bit of a loosely woven post thematically, but maybe a few things worth examining.

What are your habits — even good ones — that have morphed into ruts?

Have your shopping habits changed because of your age and/or the recession?

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