I Gave Up Shopping at Target

It was the perfect storm: Christmas, a Target Visa card, and a coupon worth 10 percent off my entire purchase.

I set off one crisp November morning with the best intentions — to get an early jump on my Christmas shopping and save a few bucks in the process. What began as an ordinary outing steadily grew into frenzy. I was going only to pick up a few things for the kids. Suddenly, I found myself shopping for family, friends, kids of our friends, friends of our kids, teachers, neighbors, our dog, party hosts, and, well, even a bit for myself.

Soon my oversize red shopping cart was overflowing with Polly Pockets, Thomas (and Friends), Candy Land and Pictionary, Play-Doh, a kids' tool bench complete with circular saw and drill, Color Wonder markers, The Jungle Book and 300, multi-packs of lip gloss, snowflake wine stoppers, and silver glass trees. My overstuffed cart was packed so full and so high that I could not see over the top. I had to navigate my way toward the checkout holding the cart from the side — careful not to turn a corner too quickly as to upset the precarious balance of its contents. Several hours and several hundred dollars later, I loaded up the car.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that day marked the beginning of the end.

Let's make one thing clear: I love Target. I love it for its products and its prices. I love it for its style. For birthdays, holidays, and last-minute gifts. For household essentials like cleaning supplies, diapers, baggies, and bleach. But my dependence on Target had grown into a bad habit, and what better time to break a bad habit than the beginning of a new year? After I came down from my Christmas shopping high (and hit the post-holiday sales, of course), an unthinkable thought occurred to me: What would happen if I just stopped going there?

I decided to attempt the impossible: to go a year without Target.

At first, I was worried. Where would I get the essentials? And what about clothes, gifts, and Rubbermaid products? Without my sole source for all things good, shopping became specialized. Costco kept us in diapers, coffee, and toilet paper. Clothes came from Old Navy. For gifts, I went independent or handmade with sources like Changing Hands and www.etsy.com. I made soap. When I was desperate for an all-purpose mega-store, I resorted to Wal-Mart, a place I usually avoid. This posed a minor moral dilemma, but necessity trumped ideals. Overall, the strategy was successful — it forced me to scale down, plan ahead, and get creative.

Admittedly, IKEA was my weak spot. In particular, the "as is" section summoned me weekly to browse the selection of display items and returns, hoping to score the armchair, dining table, barstool, or bed of my dreams for 30 to 75 percent off. I comforted myself with rugs, picture frames, candles, and textiles. It was a small price to pay to help fill the void.

I've never been good at keeping resolutions. In fact, this is the first one I've ever managed to stick with for a whole year. I've found it's much easier to not do something than to do something, like losing weight or flossing every day. But I could not avoid Target entirely. By the time I finally gave up Target, my credit card balance had grown to about $3,600. Month after month, the bill became a cruel reminder. For reasons I can't explain, I never mailed my payments. Instead, I paid in person. Maybe it was some psychological need to breathe the Target air. Who knows, but I remained true to my goal. I never once ventured beyond customer service. I couldn't even bring myself to look in the direction of the merchandise.

This past November, I walked through the doors of the same Target that had been the scene of my shopping frenzy just one year before. Only on this day, I entered with a very different intention. I had scraped together enough to pay off my Target Visa balance. I closed my account.

That was months ago. What now? Since I've gotten Target out of my system, fear of a colossal relapse is keeping me away. What will happen when I finally break my Target fast? Can I trust myself to get just diapers and bleach? Even with my small IKEA problem, I've saved huge amounts of time and money. My house looks great but certain things, like my wardrobe, have visibly suffered. What if, on my way to the cleaning supplies, I stop at the first cute sweater I see and, God forbid, it's on sale?

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Allyce Hargrove