People Fantasize About Shopping Purchases to Cope With Pandemic, Experts Say (And the Stuff They Covet Is Surprising)

With quarantine approaching one year for most of us, it’s understandable that you would indulge in some retail therapy. We’ve certainly purchased our share of comfort foods, cozy pajamas, and devices on which to stream anything and everything. (We won’t talk about that exercise equipment we bought that’s collecting dust in the corner.) But some of your fellow quarantiners (just coined that phrase, thankyouverymuch) are fantasizing about future purchases – that they’ll use when life returns to normal.

Call them silly optimists, but they are determined to beat this pandemic the American way: by shopping through it. NPR profiled a few of these people in a recent story, and the stuff they covet is both heartwarming and heartbreaking (because every time we think the end of this pandemic is in sight, the finish line moves farther and farther away).

Chase Hensel of Alaska says he purchased a foldable bike, which he plans to use at some future date when it’s safe to travel to London to visit his granddaughters again. “I think buying the bike was sort of putting a marker towards the future and saying this will happen, even if it’s still not really clear when,” Hensel told NPR. “But at least it’s throwing a marker out there, even if it’s in wobbly sand.”

Kelly Jenkins of Brooklyn splurged on hair extensions – which currently hang not on her head but on the wall of her apartment. She’s constructed an entire imaginary scenario in which she debuts the locks at a club. “I want it to be crowded, with fun lighting and fun music, probably funk or disco. And somehow, there’s someone taking great photographs,” Jenkins told NPR, unable to contain her laughter. “I don’t know, it sounds ridiculous describing it out loud.”

Mitch Schaller, a college graduate, bought a few office-ready outfits, including pants, suit jackets, dress shoes, and ties. “This is going to sound ridiculous, but I definitely want to wear like the best possible outfit on the first day back,” he confessed to NPR. “Maybe this is vain to say, but I hope I turn a few heads when I walk in.”

Why are we doing this? (Other than it being the obvious reaction to being stuck inside, alone, for 12 freakin’ months.) There’s actual psychology behind it. As Amit Kumar, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, explained to NPR, when we purchase something or plan an outing for the future, we feel the pleasure of anticipation. In a way, we get to enjoy our new toy or novel experience twice.

Normally, this kind of shopper’s high is reserved for big-ticket items, like planning a vacation or nabbing those sold-out concert tickets. Buying something small like an item of clothing or sporting equipment may not feel like it merits this much emotion, but after a year of “social starvation,” Tom Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, says it’s no wonder we’re psyching ourselves up for the little things. “We’ve been in lockdown for so long that this unexceptional thing can nonetheless have that effect,” he told NPR.

So what is it you want? (Other than a vaccine, for which we would drop unthinkable amounts of money.) Maybe now’s the perfect time to treat yourself. We don’t know how long quarantine will last, but when it’s finally over, you want to be ready to hit the town and grab life by the balls. You can pay off that credit card debt some other day.

Cover Photo: RyanJLane (Getty Images)

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