Friday, July 24, 2009

Resale therapy (by Suzie)

As a volunteer in the cancer world, I’ve noticed that a lot of newly diagnosed patients feel the urge to give away stuff while others buy everything they ever wanted.

I work primarily with women, and I don’t know if men do this to the same degree as women. My guess is that this behavior is more common in women because women been attached to giving and shopping historically. In the West, for example, it often has been the job of women to remember gifts at holidays as well as to do the household shopping.

Women who give away stuff may see less value in material things as they value other aspects of their life more. Or, they may think the cancer will kill them, and they’d prefer to distribute their stuff to particular people while they still can. This may have to do with the desire to be remembered.

Those who indulge in “retail therapy” may feel like they have sacrificed enough. Or, they may want to enjoy what little time they have left. Shopping can be like hoarding for a rainy day.

I did the former when I was diagnosed. One motivation was: I had settled the estates of my grandparents and parents, and I wanted to lessen the burden on my executor. One friend was so creeped out that I told her she could return my carnelian necklace if I survived five years. (I’ve survived seven, and I got the necklace back. I forgot how pretty it was.)

In addition to giving away things, I didn’t buy new things. Why get new shoes if I’m going to be in a wheelchair? My mattress was almost 20 years old, but why get a new one if I’m just going to ruin it?

A couple of years ago, I got tired of living like a refugee, on the border between life and death. The shopping spree began. Because I can’t afford retail, I love (which I wrote about here) and a weekly flea market at a retirement center near my home. The flea market is open only to residents and their guests, and it's staffed by residents, mostly women in their 70s, 80s and 90s, like the witty Hungarian woman who loves cats and the woman who served as a WAVE in World War II. I enjoy them as much as I enjoy getting a Coach purse for $3.

Sometimes I “rescue” things – like the Finn Comfort sandals for $5 that were too small for me -- in hopes of finding them a home. For a friend’s wedding, I got some ridiculously overpriced bowl on her gift registry. As a personal gift, however, I gave her a Wedgwood bowl I bought for 50 cents because we had talked about how Wedgwood helped fund abolition activities.

Although I watched Absolutely Fabulous, I still didn’t know much about labels until I became a resale queen. I’m intrigued by the markup – how something can cost more than $100 at the mall, but I can get it NWT (that would be “new with tags” for you amateurs) for a few dollars.

Environmentally, I could never justify buying all this stuff new. But I’m happy to recycle it into my closet. A vegetarian, I stopped buying leather a while ago, but now, I’ve bought leather shoes and purses because I figure I’m not adding to the demand. (Phila, come out of hiding and chastise me, if you’d like.) Ditto for the black-pearl necklace.

As medical science takes me, organ by organ, new clothes help my body image. The ideal would be to love my body the way it is. In the meantime, some fantastic outfits have helped.

I know this sounds overblown, but this buying feels like a celebration of life. I’m enjoying the bounty of beautiful things and thinking I might live a while. Even if I don’t, I’ll go out in style.
Please talk among yourselves. Today, I should be driving back from Atlanta, where I went to see still more oncologists and urologists. While I was gone, I hope I won the Farscape action figures on the Shopgoodwill auction.