Friday, February 20, 2009

Furni-phobia: the fear of buying big-ticket consumer goods

I have just bought a new, LCD, digital, HD (not 'complete' HD -- there aren't enough pixels) flat-screen TV and had it installed by the combined efforts of the nice aerial man and a long-suffering friend of mine who is electronically advantaged. And I feel slightly traumatised.

I knew this feeling was coming and I was prepared. Every time I get a new, expensive-ish bit of furniture, brown- white- or blackgoods, or anything that significantly alters my domestic environment I go through a 'trial period' where I am convinced I have made a huge mistake and I should just go back to frittering away my money on clothes.

I know where and how this started. For many years I just didn't know how to shop. I rarely had enough money to buy new household items so acquired my parents' or friends' cast-off fridges, crappy vacuum cleaners and so on. When I ws forced to buy something new I just went for the bottom-of-the-range model and I rarely shopped around.

Then I started to earn a bit of money and somehow found myself with a luxurious wool underlay and top-of-the-range, down-filled doona that conspired to overheat and dry out my entire body so I'd wake at 3 in the morning feeling like a piece of dehydrated meat and screaming for water (that was 2002 and I still haven't got around to selling that almost unused underlay on eBay).

My next try was a heater and for this adventure I turned into Goldilocks, returning the first heater because it was too cold, the second because it was too powerful, then skulking to another shop to buy a heater that was 'just right'.

So I kind of taught myself to shop. I'd been in a twelve-step program and I used the 'letting go' techniques I'd learnt there along with a new-agey concept of intuition I tried to use in my life. And I did get better at shopping, I really did. But it took ages and much trial and error. To this day, buying anything significant involves months of research, browsing and soul-searching until the heart-wrenching decision is made and I reluctantly hand over my card.

And then guess what happens? I convince myself that in fact, despite my gut feeling reassuring me, I have yet again stuffed up, under-researched, not done enough internet searching, not been to the right shop -- what was possessing me that I didn't go there, what was I thinking?

I shouldn't be too hard on myself. The fact is I'm on a low income now so when shopping for a big-ticket item I'm caught between two competing needs -- I can't afford to buy anything approaching the luxury model, but the bloody thing has to last for years. I guess an easy way of expressing this is that I'm looking for value for money. I'm an expert bargainer, and have perfected the down to earth, look-em-in-the-eye 'what's your best price?' once I've made up my mind.

The familiar adaptation process occurred soon after the new mattress arrived. (Two to three weeks before delivery because of Christmas/New Year? No problem. I could wait. It was going to be a big adjustment.) It looked beautiful, so tall and imposing with its luxurious latex pillowtop ('you have to get a pillowtop', my sister had said, 'it feels like you're sleeping on a cloud').

I had been back to the same chain store again and again, going to different branches so I could pretend I was a new customer and spending ten-minute stretches lying back on the mattress I'd provisionally chosen -- sales assistants advise that you have to lie there for ages before you get any idea of what a mattress feels like, because at first it feels great just to be lying down.

(This was a horrible experience. The recession had just started and there was never anyone else in the stores, even on Saturday mornings. Just acres and acres of inviting beds. Sometimes I walked into stores and went straight to the beds and lay down on one of them and then the sales assistant would sidle up and say something like 'looking for a mattress are you?' and it would all feel way too intimate).

Anyway, after the mattress finally arrived I quickly convinced myself that it had been a huge mistake. For a start it was almost impossible to make my bed. My pillowtop, relatively inexpensive as it was, is so heavy you can't really hold it up to tuck the sheets underneath, except at the corners. And because it is so tall, it obscures the deco Danish bedhead I'd bought for a song on eBay only six or so months before. Then of course I couldn't sleep because the mattress was -- well it was too comfortable! It felt too indulgent, too foreign.

And one morning, after a day of sitting, both on public transport and at a theatre, I woke with my upper back aching, having spent too long on my back in the luxurious hollow that the latex had soon developed. I rushed to the internet to discover the truth, and sure enough, latex pillowtops were notorious for sinking in the middle and creating bad backs! That was it, I was going to return the bed before it ruined my spine beyond all repair. Why, oh why hadn't I gone to Beds for Backs? No wonder no one was in those conventional mattress stores -- they were all at Beds for Backs, looking after their spines!

But still my gut feeling said, don't worry, it's fine. You did make the right choice.

A similar feeling assailed me last night about the new tele after my friend had gone home. He'd adjusted the picture so that the golf no longer looked glittery and I could no longer reassure myself that I had made a terrible mistake and would have to return this piece of crap forthwith or sell it to my sister. So the telly was just too right. The screen was too big, the experience too overwhelming after watching a tiny little toy box with a 'bunny ears' aerial for almost 20 years. This monster would swallow me up and turn me into a televidiot.

And then after watching a rock show I never normally bother with I drifted exhausted to bed, and my mattress, my mattress, well it just felt so comfortable, so comforting -- so -- right.

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