Last weekend I decided it was finally time to go shopping for a pair of walking shoes. I’d been alternating between rain boots and regular boots for the past five months, but now the weather is getting a bit warmer, and there are days when wearing boots feels weird and constrictive. And my go-to walking shoes—a pair of Converse that I’d been wearing for six years straight—were literally falling apart. While I don’t have to dress up for work, I do need to look presentable, and that probably means no falling-apart shoes.
My original plan was to simply get a new pair of the exact same Converse to replace the falling-apart ones. But when I got to the shoe store, I found that they didn’t have my size in stock. I was about to go ask the cashier to order a pair in my size and have them sent to me when I noticed a pair of purple-and-gray walking shoes nearby. They were a brand I’d never heard of, but they looked a little like a pair of Skechers I’d owned a while back that I’d really liked. There was a pair in my size. I tried them on. They were comfortable, and about the same price as the Converse, and I wouldn’t have to wait for them to be shipped. So I figured, hey, I’ll get these instead. Might as well try something different. It may also be relevant to mention that I was reeeeeeeally hungry and wanted to get out of the store as quickly as possible so I could go get something to eat.
So I bought the purple-and-gray shoes and took them home, and on Monday morning I cut the tags off and wore them to work. I think I was about halfway to my first appointment when I realized that I HATED these shoes.
I hated the shape. (The wide, boxy toe made me feel like I was wearing hiking boots.) I hated the color. (The purple that had seemed kind of cool in the store seemed loud and garish outside.) I hated the material (a sort of mesh that the wind whipped right through). And I hated them even more when I noticed a tiny tag on the side that said “water-ready”. These weren’t even walking shoes, for gosh sakes…They were boat shoes.
So I sat on the bus and spent a few minutes googling “Can I return worn shoes to DSW?” even though I already knew the answer. And then I put away my phone and looked down at my shoes and scowled. And that brings us right about up to the present moment.
Let me be clear: these purple-and-gray shoes were a planned purchase. I’m not upset that I spent the money—it was exactly as much as I had planned to spend. Here’s what I am annoyed about.
Remember that scene near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where they’re in the room with all the cups and goblets, one of which is the Holy Grail, and that guy who’s not Indiana Jones picks up a big fancy cup with a lot of jewels on it and scoops up the water and drinks it and turns into a crazy scary zombie skeleton that disintegrates before everyone else’s eyes, and the knight says, “He chose…poorly,” and then Indiana Jones picks up a plain, wooden-looking cup and says, “The cup of a carpenter!” and drinks the water and the knight says, “You have chosen…wisely” – remember that?
Okay, I know it’s a bit of an overdramatic comparison, but I do think that in this particular instance, I chose rather poorly. It baffles me that, given the fact that I had budgeted $40-$50 to buy new walking shoes that I planned to wear for the next five years or so, I somehow managed to end up with a pair that I don’t like. I should have just ordered the Converse, since I already knew I liked them. Or tried on some Skechers, since I already knew I liked those. But instead, I grabbed the first thing off the shelf that caught my eye and now I am stuck with them until they wear out. Which will probably be never, since they appear to be made out of some kind of planet-destroying synthetic something-or-other.
I’m also a little annoyed because I have kind of a track record in poor shoe purchasing decisions, though usually the problem has to do with sizing. I wear either an 8.5 or a 9, depending on the brand, and for some reason it’s very hard for me to figure out in the store if the 8.5s are just right and the 9s are too big, or if the 9s are just right and the 8.5s are too small. I have had the experience multiple times of spending upwards of thirty minutes trying on one size, then the other, walking around in them, hitting my toes against the ground, consulting with shoe salespeople, and then somehow still managing to choose what later turned out to be the wrong size, and not being able to return them because they had a bit of sidewalk dust on the soles.
* * *
Okay, enough complaining. If I can figure out what’s actually going on here, maybe there’s something I can learn from it instead of just sitting around and glaring at my feet.
First off, there’s obviously a practical lesson here about making thoughtful choices with one’s hard-earned and hard-budgeted money. I’m pretty sure I’ve learned this lesson before, but I obviously forgot it and so am willing to learn it again. The lesson is: when purchasing something useful that you expect to use for years, be smart. Do the research. Take your time. Make sure you’re choosing wisely.
Second, my irritation with myself is founded on the assumption that I definitely could have made a purchase I was totally happy with. And, sure, it would have been awesome if I had managed to spend my $40-$50 on shoes I ended up loving. But I’m not confident that that would have been a likely outcome. Here’s why:
The sheer magnitude of choices we have in our everyday lives is truly astounding, particularly when it comes to our potential purchases. No matter how specific of an item we think we are looking for (and “walking shoes” is not very specific), there are always going to be a wide variety of options available to choose from. Even if we think we’ve looked around in a lot of stores or websites to find the perfect [insert product], we know in the back of our minds that there are even more stores and more websites that we didn’t take the time to browse. And just the knowledge that those other choices are out there somewhere—and knowing that we might not have made the Absolute Best Possible Choice—can be oddly distressing. I suspect that I probably wouldn’t have been able to escape this experience no matter what: even if I had bought the Converse, it’s likely I would be wondering whether I could have looked around some more and found something even better. (I didn’t think of this concept myself; I’m paraphrasing from a book I read a few years back called The Paradox of Choice, which discusses how having thousands of possible options is paralyzing rather than liberating. I definitely recommend the book if you’re interested in the psychology of consumer culture.)
And finally, I think it would be a good idea for me to step back back and get a little perspective. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal. “I hate my shoes” is the quintessential example of a first-world problem; I mean, seriously, the fact that I have the option of electing to buy new shoes in the first place means that I have very little to complain about. I may not love these shoes, but they’re still shoes. I can still walk around in them. They’re good enough. (And speaking of the first world, I also regret not doing any research into the ethics of purchasing random-brand shoes that were likely made in a factory overseas.)
With all that in mind, I think my best option, at least right now, is to keep the shoes and wear them. The other option (donating them and buying new ones) seems wasteful, and furthermore, I’m not really in a position to be making any non-essential purchases at the moment—more on that next week!
But if you can think of a third option, please tell me about it, because I am still not a fan of these shoes.
Have you ever made a significant (or, ok, semi-significant) purchase that you later decided you hated but couldn’t take back? What did you do? Tell me about it!
PS: In the summer I’ll switch to wearing TOMS with no socks, which are actually my preferred walking shoe. But at the moment it’s still too cold for me to consider going without socks!