Chapter 9 – Come Back Empty-Handed


My shopping addiction soared to new heights when JFK introduced me to MUJI.


Well, before I get to the catalyst for this Day #16 post, I’ll explain.


If IKEA were Japanese and designed home/office accessories and clothing, that would be MUJI. I found the MUJI To Go store in Terminal 5 when my flight out of JFK was inexplicably delayed four hours. Instead of typing pissy #JetBlueSucks tweets, I spent a delightful 180 minutes falling in love with MUJI’s modern minimalist aesthetic.

Unfortunately carry-on limitations prevented me from buying out the entire store, though I did contemplate purchasing a cleanly designed $220 suitcase, stuffing it until it reached 49.9 pounds, and paying the $25 additional bag fee at the gate.

Shopping is a sedative for anxious, angry travelers.


I’m sure Brighton never forks over rent for their airport storefronts; in fact, I bet they’re paid by major airlines to locate shops in their hubs. Nothing distracts you from the horror of “There are no available flights until Tuesday” like something bright and shiny.

So, MUJI changed the way I fly.

For example: if my travel plans required a connecting flight through NYC, I’d sacrifice time, convenience, and bucks to bypass LaGuardia and Newark in favor of JFK. And I’d pack less so I could come home with more.

This is how I travel. This is how I roll(aboard).


On Day #16 this “habit” of mine is brought up by a friend while we discuss our summer plans.

Judy points out in a mild tone that last year, while visiting her rental cottage on Cape Cod, I made her drive me to oh, four, five different Cuffy’s stores.

Huh?  I’ll explain.

Cuffy’s is a local institution that carries clothing, towels, mugs, anything that’ll hold still long enough to have “Cape Cod” embroidered, printed, or burned on it.

Judy, I might add, was a willing accomplice last year, and together we scored every colorway of the summer’s big bargain: bright mugs in lemon, melon, tangerine and sky blue with sunshine- and sea-themed quotes. Just $1.99 apiece!

“But this year I’m not shopping,” I insist.

She snorts.

For me, travel and shopping are inextricably entwined.


When I visited Japan with my Japanese-born mother, she always brought American-made gifts for her Japanese family; Levi jeans and Hershey’s Chocolate were both big hits.

When we returned to the States, we carried omiyage (the Japanese word for souvenir gifts) back with us. To go and come back empty-handed was just not done.

That habit has carried into my adult life.


Before I traveled, I googled places to shop in the new towns and cities I visited. Long before smartphones came on the market, I did my retail research on my desktop computer, finding street addresses of interesting stores and plotting a treasure map of shopping. Recently I uncovered one of these printed searches with old Mapquest directions. (Remember Mapquest? The pre-GPS way of getting directions?)

I looked at the printout — its tiny thumbnail photos and the fat blue line that led from one destination to another — a listing of 12 addresses throughout Rochester, NY.  I remembered arriving at 10 am when the stores opened and leaving at 6 pm when most of these small shops closed — a total of 8 hours of shopping.


I thought about this map yesterday on Day #15 when I drove to a different city, this one 45 minutes south of where I live.

This trip had another purpose: I’d agreed to teach a writing workshop in Cortland, NY. Like Rochester, this city is dominated by a university campus, and if you know college towns, where there’s students, there’s shopping. Though I’d been on the outskirts of Cortland, I’d never strolled (i.e. shopped) its historic downtown district during regular business hours.

My workshop started at 1 pm.


If the me that drove there yesterday had been the old shop-til-you-drop me, I would have gotten to town at 10 am — just in time for the stores to open — armed with a list of must-see places.

On the way out of town I would have stopped at two stores in nearby Homer, NY, one well-stocked with Vera Bradley and famous for its sales, the other a multi-room home furnishings store displaying upcycled / vintage furniture with a cottage-meets-industrial aesthetic.


But this was the improved, repurposed me. The me with my no-shopping mantra reverberating in my brain, pulsing through every single vein.

So I drove into Cortland, taught the class, and left.

See, Judy? I didn’t shop. So there. Nyah, nyah, nyah.


I did come home with something — without breaking my no-shopping vow. Mary, the woman who hosted the writing workshop, had set out books she’d read and no longer wanted. Although these books were free, their entry into my home have yet to meet the minimum requirements as set out by The Rules, so they joined the other three I bought on Day #9 which are still in my car.

All six are waiting for my tag-team approach to swapping my new-to-me books for ones I already own.

By my own Rules count, I have to get rid of 18 books before I can let these in (it’s my 3-for-1 rule to help me declutter as well as reduce my spending).

I’m still working on that. Outgoing titles TBA.

If you’re throwing up your hands in disbelief, stop right there. It’s a cultural thing.

I traveled, I had to come home with omiyage, if only for myself. And since they’re books I’ve already read but didn’t have copies of, they’re not tsundoku.

As I said, still working on that.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s