Right to Shop


There are many explanations for why we shop. That is, shopping for reasons beyond satisfying fundamental requirements like the need stay out of the rain or postpone death by eating.

In the better funded phases of my life I often took comfort from this one: I shop because it’s something I can get right.

Over one lifetime we take on all manner of tasks. We try to be more attractive to certain people, we go through agonies of self doubt, begin countless dead-end ventures, fret about our careers, become anxious about what we think we can and can’t achieve—and we often fail.

But shopping is easy. All it takes is desire and money. So long as we have the wish and the wherewithal we can achieve success—guaranteed—in minutes or seconds. No brick walls. No self doubt or agonising over consequences or worrying whether or not we have the talent or genetic raw material for it.

It is difficult to fail when shopping.



“It’s a hard place to run in to for a pair of stockings,” a friend complained to me recently of Ala Moana, and I knew that she was not yet ready to surrender her ego to the idea of the center. The last time I went to Ala Moana it was to buy The New York Times. Because The New York Times was not in, I sat on the mall for a while and ate caramel corn. In the end I bought not The New York Times at all but two straw hats at Liberty House, four bottles of nail enamel at Woolworth’s, and a toaster, on sale at Sears. In the literature of shopping centers these would be described as impulse purchases, but the impulse here was obscure. I do not wear hats, nor do I like caramel corn. I do not use nail enamel. Yet flying back across the Pacific I regretted only the toaster.

Joan Didion,
On the Mall, 1975. 

Picture: Westfield, Sydney.
Photo: GS

Right to Shop is taken from Undefinable Places In-between — a series of short essays I have written and continue to write under that title.