Recovery Milestone: Six Months Target-Free!!
It’s been six months since I first posted about not going to Target for a year, and you may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet lately. This isn’t because I’ve fallen off the wagon, it’s because I’ve been riding it for long enough now that I’ve been able to move My Year Without Target from the driver’s seat to the backseat of my brain.
I used to be like that guy you know who just quit drinking (or smoking or crystal meth or whatever) who can’t stop talking about how he just quit drinking (or smoking or crystal meth or whatever). He’s not really looking for your sympathy as much as he needs to reinforce his decision to quit by making it public, reducing his internal struggle between going cold turkey and merely being chicken. He may be boring his support network to tears but at least it’s keeping him honest with himself. When his habit is less freshly broken, he’ll begin to talk about other stuff again… the weather, the ballgame, or, you know, the joy he experiences upon the occasion of his first visit to the farmer’s market each springtime.
I had known for years that shopping at Target had become a bad habit for me. I sometimes would try to quit, or promise to quit the next day, or I would go on and on about it at parties and then not quit. It wasn’t until I formalized my commitment to quit to myself by writing about it on the Internet that it became possible to actualize My Year Without Target. In my blog, I have frequently used the language of addiction to describe my shopping behavior.
My goal has been to make more conscious choices and become a more self-aware consumer. At times this “recovery process” has helped me understand events in my personal history or find hidden opportunities for creativity in situations that previously would have resulted in a mindless trip to the store.
Recently, my family decided to do some serious spring cleaning. Although generally we aspire to tidiness it’s always been easy to say that our working life keeps us too busy and too often out of the house for this to really be achievable, or that a home that has been occupied by one family for five generations is bound to have its clutter. I think since we’re buying less random stuff now it is finally possible for us to sort and evaluate the things we have now.
As we began to sift through the mess I noticed how many of the things in the “throw-away” pile were of Target origin. Not all of them were true junk, many had just outlived their own utility. In addition I realized that for some time instead of truly addressing the root of the clutter issues I had been attempting to organize the clutter itself by purchasing plastic storage bins and laminate shelving from – you guessed it – Target, and these items had eventually become just another component of the clutter.
Our home still has a long way to go before it’s really organized, but we’re doing much better without all the organizing “solutions” I acquired as impulse buys. Oh and all those aromatherapeutic “green” cleaning products I was always stocking up on? The packaging takes up so much more room than the recently reinstated jugs of white vinegar and peppermint castile soap that I used to clean everything before my Target shopping habit took hold.
A few months ago when I began writing about not going to Target, I was alerted by a reader to a New York Times Magazine article by Charles Duhigg called “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”. You can read the article in its entirety here. The article discusses habitual consumer behaviors, and how companies such as Target collect and analyze information about their customers with the goal of creating new shopping habits. Research indicates that consumer habits become flexible when individual consumers’ lives change, and if marketing is directed at individuals during these moments they are more susceptible to forming a new shopping habit that will keep them spending money there for years to come.
Think of events in your life that caused your daily habits to change – such as changing jobs, graduating from school, moving to a different home or apartment, or a shift in your household demographic. It turns out that consumer analysts at Target can tell what is going on in our lives by what we buy. This information is used to predict what they can sell us next, and to market these items to us at times when our habits are changing anyway.
A few posts ago I succeeded in analyzing my own shopping history well enough to understand that my Target habit began when I became a parent. I chalked this up to the fatigue of caring for a newborn causing me to go for one-stop shopping, which I had previously avoided. From Duhigg’s article I learned that Target’s consumer statistics can identify pregnancy almost as early as a First Response test kit by what women buy in terms of personal care products like vitamins and lotion. They know when you stop buying tampons, and start sending you coupons for diapers instead.
Expectant mothers are Target’s most desirable mark. This life milestone is the one that creates the most dramatic capacity for change in shopping habits, as well as a tiny consumer who will consequently grow up to trust the bullseye brand, eventually reaching adulthood with the Target habit already intact.
Now that I’ve been Target-free for awhile I really don’t miss it. I’m actually quite relieved not to shop there anymore. But I’m aware that as with any habit, this one will always be lurking around somewhere ready to re-emerge. Like that recovering alcoholic (or ex-smoker or reformed meth head or whatever) one sip could still do me in.