I believe that everyone has one useless skill.
I know someone who always finds a good parking place in a full lot. I know someone who always wins small games of Bingo or door prizes. My kids, apparently, can do British accents. And though these skills actually can be quite useful at times, they are useless in terms of marketability. There are no parking-place finder jobs. There are no door prize winner jobs. There are no British accents jobs (unless you count the success of Gwyneth Paltrow and Renée Zellweger).
My useless skill is bargain shopping. It’s a skill born of equal parts willpower, luck, and good shopping instincts.
I demonstrated willpower when I went into Staples at 6:00 in the morning the day after Thanksgiving to buy a laminator, 100 recordable DVDs, and photo paper which will cost me a total of ten bucks after rebates. (Don’t worry I never forget the rebates). I walked out of Staples with nothing else.
I demonstrated luck when I went into JC Penney’s this spring and found the lowest priced clearance stuff ever everything was $2.77 right inside the door. I found a perfect pair of black pants, a black shift, and a jacket to wear over the outfit. When I got home, I realized that the pieces I had put together for about nine bucks was the three-piece outfit that sold in the store for ninety dollars. If there were some sort of shopping Olympics, I would have won it.
I demonstrated good shopping instincts (and a little bit of luck) when I took my daughter to Ross last week and bought three jeans, cargo pants, one sweater, and six shirts for less than a hundred dollars. Plus, the sweater and one pair of jeans were from Limited Two, where such things usually run about forty dollars each.
Probably because I am so good at it, I love shopping. I can’t imagine a year without it. But that is what Judith Levine chronicles in her book, Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping.
After a $1001 Christmas shopping season in which she didn’t think she was being particularly generous Judith and her husband decide to undertake a project to not shop for a year. They also skip other consumer entertainment, like movies and plays and dinners out. They are asked by many friends what is “allowed” in their yearlong lifestyle. They allow themselves all groceries, but argue about whether wine is essential. They won’t pay for a movie or dinner, but they occasionally allow their friends to treat.
The journey takes them through the simplicity movements in NYC and a self-sufficient man in Vermont. Along the way the author talks about our consumer nation in regards to 9/11 (Show you’re not afraid. Go to restaurants. Go shopping.) and as our given American right. It’s an interesting book that varies from essay-type passages, to information laden sections, to her own personal experiences. The book didn’t change my life, by any means, but it was interesting to read about one person’s perspective on the experience of consuming.