Breaking Up With Wal-Mart

Big Mama touched on something this morning that I had been thinking about already, so why not write about it?

I haven’t been to Wal Mart in four years. Well, that’s not precisely correct. I have been there twice in four years. I walked away quickly and empty-handed the first time, and the second time with only a gift card for a family in need, knowing they likely happily shop at Wal Mart. The Forbidden Place is what it is affectionately known as around Quaint Cottage, a moniker bestowed by Ma Luffin’ Mayun when he realized I was making good on my threat to never return.

Four.Years. As of January 10th. I hadn’t realized till this morning it had been that long. At the end of this blog entry is the original explanation for my departure from being a Wal Mart shopper, the breakup note, but I thought I would talk about how I’ve made the decision actually stick these past years.

If I had to sum up my strategy for living without Wal Mart in a single sentence it would be this: I traded shopping for consuming. I often need literal word definitions to help me sculpt a concept, so take a look at this from the Encarta dictionary:
-- Shopper – somebody who is looking for things to buy in a shop or store
-- Consumer – somebody or something that consumes something, by eating it, drinking it, or using it up
See that? It’s a nuance, perhaps, but it’s a difference I can see screaming off the page.

In my copious years as a frequenter of The Forbidden Place, shopping was all I did, really. I’ve NEVER thought of myself as a shopper, but when I see the word defined there is no more exact a description for myself than that. In every visit to Wal Mart I would amble about just looking for something completely unnecessary (but easy to justify if you come equipped with a BS gifting like me) to toss in the buggy, adding to the few things we may have actually needed. That was me, “somebody who is looking for things to buy in a shop or store”.

By ceasing to shop at Wal Mart, the one-stop-shopping Mecca, I have to go more places to get all the things we may need for our household. That can be difficult with little ones; the packing up to go after having attempted to anticipate each possible need for every scenario from a dirty diaper to Armageddon, parking, unloading the kids, lugging them around a store, reloading them into the car along with bags of purchased items, and then starting it all over again at the next store. **And while we’re here . . . why the heck is there “Expectant Mother Parking” in increasingly more places, but no “Bedraggled Mama of Toddlers Parking” ANYWHERE?! Seriously? Obviously I’ve been the Expectant Mother, but I would go to the mat any day to argue that carrying a person contained in your body is easier than chasing one or dragging one who has gone completely limp in a refusal to walk while crossing the parking lot in the face of oncoming cars. But, I digress . . . **

Knowing the epic undertaking it is to do this kind of compartmentalized shopping (the grocery store for groceries, the clothing store for clothing, the home improvement store for house stuffs, etc.), it has really required me to HAVE A PLAN. I have to put much more thought and deliberateness into the what, where, why, and how of our purchases. I don’t want any trip to these places to be a wasted trip by forgetting the things we really need or bringing home a bunch of things we don’t. I try really hard to make sure that what I bring in can be depleted “by eating it, drinking it, or using it up”. If I buy too much or the wrong things, we can’t meet that goal. It’s a process. It has taken time to get to here, and it takes time even now. But the trade-off feels really good and right and intentional and purposeful.

Don’t get me wrong. You can still impulse-purchase at the grocery store or the thrift store, and I have. But there has been so much less “shopping” since I broke up with The Forbidden Place. The year before the breakup (2005), Wal-Mart’s total revenue was $312.4 billion. Last year (2009), their total revenue was $404.16 billion. Clearly, I have not put a hurtin’ on them.

So, I try to be a consumer instead of a shopper, and simply consume a lot less.

And by the way, I love Wal Mart. I do. It will always hold a special place in my heart. We’re just not right for each other. It would’ve never worked out. We’re better off with somebody else.

Here’s the breakup letter, originally written by me on January 10th, 2006. Enjoy!

[I am embarking on a journey. As with all epic adventures, it will require nothing less than the utmost tenacity and fortitude to walk each step of the way. Some days may feel like an amble in the park, as if I were basking in beams of light that radiate from the very challenge itself. As well there will be, without a doubt, obstacles that will cause my steadfast resolve to quake and me to doubt the worth of the expedition. Nevertheless, it is now that I determine with paramount resolve and doggedness to do what I have long threatened to do…to begin this trek…to officially attempt to live my life without Super Wal Mart.

Let me first say, that at this point in this process my decision to boycott Super Wal Mart is absolutely not based on any expose of the company, any of its policies, or its clear monopoly of “one-stop shopping”. The singular reason these factors do not affect my decision to cease shopping at Super Wal Mart is one basic fact: I know almost diddlysquat about the corporation, its dogma, or its cartel. By all accounts, the founder of Wal Mart seemed to be a God-fearing and thoughtful businessman. I am simply instituting a personal embargo because I am…well…fed up.

Wal Mart has been part of my life for a long time, as I am sure most Americans can say. There have been moments in my life that it has brought me joy, elation, relief, and escape, just to walk through its doors and see the commerce and industry at my fingertips. It has been a marvelous distraction from my hectic days or heavy thoughts. What thrill there was in being able to purchase windshield wipers, control top panty hose, fresh eggs, and Englebert Humperdink’s greatest hits CD all in one place. Who else can say that of their store? But those days of euphoria for me have come…and long gone.

Last night my husband, daughter, and I packed into our car and went to the Super Wal Mart less than fifteen miles south of our house. There is another one, our “regular” Super Wal Mart if you will, less than fifteen miles north of us. There is still another Super Wal Mart ten miles north of there, and so forth and so on for miles. In the last week I have visited all three of these branches within a twenty-five mile radius of my house for various reasons. Last night’s trip was for groceries and photo development. As I found myself standing in the house wares department trying to talk my husband into a new comforter set for our bed (bringing the number of comforters for our bed alone up to three), which qualifies as neither groceries nor photo development, I realized that this is how it always ends up. I am supremely distracted, to some degree at odds with my husband or myself over some item I have convinced myself we need in a record minute and a half, and am completely off task, worn out, and too tired to finish my original shopping list. In the checkout line last night I looked around with the comprehension that my joy has been replaced by gloom, elation replaced by depression, relief replaced by drudgery, and escape replaced by enslavement every time I darken the doors of Super Wal Mart. I am simply…fed up.

So what shall I do? Well, I have decided to not return to any Super Wal Mart for an entire year. My last visit was last night, January 9th, 2006. We completed our shopping experience at 7:23 P.M. (note: We arrived at 5:35 PM, had a shopping list with 21 items on it, and the intention to print 17 pictures from our digital camera. We purchased 43 items, in addition to our 17 developed pictures, and missed 4 items on our original shopping list.) The clock starts from there. I will not purchase anything, from the smallest pack of gum to the largest electronic device, from Super Wal Mart. Not only will I not purchase anything, I will also not enter the doors of a Super Wal Mart within this year. This will be a huge challenge for me because, again, Wal Mart has been a major part of my life. It will be an even bigger adjustment. But this is an alteration of my life that I want to make. I do not want to purchase twice the items that I should‘ve, and still not have everything I need. I do not want to go in for deodorant and come out with the lost episodes of Mutt and Jeff on DVD just because it was in the $5.50 bin. I do not want to feel “aisle rage” as the other Super Wal Mart shoppers abandon their ability to operate a several ton vehicle for the haphazard driving they indulge in with their shopping carts. I do not want to end every romantic and memorable evening out with my husband with a trip to Super Wal Mart because our car seems to have a magnet pulling it into the parking lot, riddled with abandoned buggies. I do not need to feel that needy, that desperate, that pathetic.

These are my issues, not Super Wal Mart’s. I take full responsibility for my weaknesses, my actions, my habits. I am not asking Super Wal Mart to change a thing. I just know my limitations, and I’m tired of ignoring them.

So, I bid you “Farewell, Super Wal-Mart“. I’m just a drop in your “one-stop shop” bucket, I’m sure, and you’ll never know I’m gone. But I gotta be moving on.]


  1. Englebert Humperdink, eh? I thought you were a little young for that, but, oh well... I used to love his voice!

  2. I applaud you! You are an inspiration to us all. I would like to break up with Wal Mart, but just like any other abusive relationship it's hard to do.
    When I was a baby, my granparents lived in Newport, Arkansas. Home of Sam Walton. I had my baby picture taken at the first 5 & 10 he owned. But seeing how the mega-stores have impacted the communities where small businesses once thrived, we try to do our part to support the little man. I also like internet shopping because basically I don't like crowds or being herded like cattle. Maybe I just don't like people?

  3. Debs, I said I "could" buy Humperdink's CD. I do like his voice, though.

    JenBen, I saw that the 5&10 you got your picture taken at is now the Wal-Mart visitor center or museum or something like that. Cool, huh?

    I don't know, but I kind of don't think Sam Walton meant to be an empirical ruler. He could be rolling over in his grave seeing his empire.

    And since you, indeed, are not always a fan of people, I'm so honored to be your friend!

  4. Anonymous1:48:00 PM

    Your parking thing cracked me up because I could just see you carrying Ava and dragging Jack in front of Target.



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