By Guest Blogger Hillary Zaken

Who doesn’t love the well-lit enticing displays at Target? Who doesn’t love to stroll through T.J. Maxx, run your hands over fabrics and look through the displays of bargain priced designer makeup? Who doesn’t enjoy a fresh clean supermarket where you can feast your eyes on the rainbow of vegetables and fruit? Who doesn’t love sifting through the enticing clutter of a thrift store or antique market searching for a unique find?

Me, for one.

But it hasn’t always been this way. You see, for better or for worse, I like material things (aka stuff) and I like shopping. After a particularly stressful day at work, or a challenging afternoon with my kids, I would get in my car and go out to a store.  Window shopping, or, as it were, in-store browsing, has always been my way to wind down.

The delightfully predictive Target, with its appealing displays, is a place where many a shopper can get lost in a world of tidiness, especially when your own home is a wreck (thanks, kids!). Sure, maybe I went into Target for a new toothbrush, batteries, and kids’ sports socks, but it’s easy to slide right into browsing coffee mugs and delightfully coordinated office décor.

Reconsidered Goods has always been a different kind of refuge, a never-ending source of inspiration for craft projects, where the artistic displays of antique and vintage items and household odds and ends are ever changing and always beguiling.  I’d go in there just to get my imagination going, my creative juices flowing.

I’ve always been a three times-a-week grocery shopper (that’s minimum, folks). I love going to different stores for different foods, to get the best bargains on fresh meat, to purchase exotic vegetables and spices, to source ingredients for the meal I am craving. I love the variety found in different supermarkets and small food shops, knowing the layout of each and the best place to get specific items.

For me, the Coronavirus changed these simple pleasures. When I walked into a store – any store – I was tense. I repeatedly sanitized my hands. I made sure to social distance. And, thanks to all the medical journal articles about aerosol spread of Covid-19, I no longer lingered in any one place, or near any one display, no matter how enticing the sale or the aesthetics. Therefore, I can thank it for ultimately curing my shopping addiction.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of our lives, especially that precious little sliver of downtime (alone time!) I once enjoyed.  I mean, I worked from home as soon as Covid struck and my kids schooled at home. My commute, and the errands that accompanied it, were a thing of the past.

But after a few months I began to rejoice, once again, in the simplicity of a walk in my neighborhood. I relished the changing of the seasons, spotting a colorful bird, and chatting with neighbors.

We adopted a pandemic puppy from the SPCA (a spunky and energetic terrier mix), and it was the just right time to welcome a new pet into our family. We were all home. The family walks in the evening were amazing bonding experiences, and the early morning windows of alone time – just me and the pup – were a wonderful way to get a little exercise and be alone with my thoughts.

I’ve begun to pick up books again, a simple pleasure which too, can take you away into another world.  Maybe it’s not the red and white glow of Target, but it’s a wonderful way to wind down without spending a cent. And I’ve been indulging my photography hobby, learning new ways to capture the beauty of the world and my family through a lens.

I am not saying that I don’t miss window shopping – I do. I miss the joy in discovering an impeccably tailored 1940s dress in the local vintage clothing shop. I miss mentally re-decorating my living room with an eclectic mix of items from Home Goods and World Market. But in reality, I don’t miss the things, because I never really bought that much on those trips (with the exception of the grocery stores).

What I miss is the possibilities that those outings opened up for me, a chance to escape my work stress, the chaos of my messy, noisy home.

But if there is anything this year had taught me, it’s to be nimble, be flexible, and to look for new ways of doing things. The pandemic presented an unprecedented opportunity for all of us to create a new normal, to build new family traditions, and to find creative solutions to the challenges of our everyday lives.

I learned that we can create other opportunities for ourselves, most of them from our own homes. We can be in touch with friends via Zoom, or by writing an old fashioned letter. We can indulge our hobbies and invest in our families.

And I can window shop online – and even support small local businesses that are woman and minority-owned at the same time, since many offer safe pickup and shipping options.

So here’s to reinventing what normal looks like, and never failing to take the opportunity to change and adapt.

Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to Triad Moms on Main’s free weekly newsletters here.