Arriving at Costco when the doors open is a recurring life goal that I have. I find the bustling concrete entryway like my personal Indy 500. One flash of my card and my double-wide red cart is off. But on this day, my cart stalled and joined a complete stand-still between the frozen all-beef patties and cleaning supplies. This was the day I learned I could leave the room.
I really had never seen the store so busy. I moved my body around the talking heads in front of me, thinking it’s a simple traffic jam due to toilet paper. I did make the risky decision to shop four days before Christmas and less than twenty-four hours before the arctic blast and snowmageddon arrived. I went on down the aisles collecting my go-to’s and must-have’s and a few but-I-just-want-it’s.
I eventually make my way to the leggings because even if they are not on my list, it simply means that they really are. Also, it’s a straight shot over from baking goods to the fresh produce section. So I pick up some stretchy pants, and a fleece, and then head to the fruit. I notice that the backup near the frozen pizza continues. I forgot my box of breakfast cookies so I circle back through the stretchy pants and pajama sets only to come to an extremely busy main aisle. Picture three lanes of traffic where one is inching slowly while the other is just not moving. The third is all the red double-wide carts that are trying to merge and not get trapped on one side.
“I’m sorry, but I just need to jump through….” I say in my best midwest lingo to the older shopper as I point in a general direction.
He parts the sea, and I pass. I find my breakfast cookies and throw in that bin of twenty-five delicious pre-made cinnamon rolls and head back to clothing. I spotted a few boys’ puffer coats that are marked at $6.00. The asterisk in the corner also tells me that this item will be discontinued and it’s the lowest price it will be. My bargain-hunter heart is bursting. I dig for gold to find my son’s size. I proudly place it on top of my bag of Gala snack apples like I just made my first kill. It was a bit ridiculous, but there is joy in finding the most and paying the least. It’s a bit like Supermarket Sweep but instead of bonus points I get 2% cash back.
I had my items – all of the needs and a few wants. I mentally prepared to join the checkout line. Hopefully I could join the lane that was moving but first I needed to merge. But I couldn’t find the end. It wasn’t by the frozen all-beef patties. It wasn’t by the mini-pizzas. The end of the check out line was now by the sugar – the commercial-size bags of sugar.
I tried to merge once. I tried again. And then again. It was now two lanes of checkout traffic, with those wanting to merge and those on both sides wanting to cross.
“Excuse me. Can I get in there?” I heard someone say.
“Absolutely,” replied the obviously tired mom, “I’m just trying to survive here.”
Aren’t we all, sister?
She was in a hoodie with glasses. Two children walked beside her. In the cart was a baby carrier packed around. She smiled at me, but she was over it. I could tell.
I found my place at the end of the winding lanes of people. Until that day, I had never witnessed a line that long. Some were on their phones, while others attempted conversations about the weather with their cart neighbors. There were mothers with young children. There were older couples holding their items. One man was holding his coveted Kirkland vodka and nothing more.
Then there was me. I surveyed my loot. I took one more glance up and around. I now realize that I am overwhelmed by it all – the energy of the impending storm, the holidays, all the people and the people and more people. I tell myself to hold it together. I must hold the line. I must stay. I can feel my chest pounding.
And then I heard the voice of Glennon Doyle in my head say, “You can leave the room. The door’s not locked. You are free to go.”
Guilt immediately filled my anxious body. I could not just leave, right? What would people think? What would they do with all my stretchy pants and applesauce pouches? Who would put away my Gala snack apples and my family-sized lasagna? And the coat?! Would I walk away from a $6.00 coat?
I am here to tell you yes. You can walk away from a full cart of items from Costco or anything else for that matter. You can pat that little red double-wide and bid it farewell. You can stroll past the loads of people and crying children. You can smile at them as you walk right back to the concrete entryway empty-handed.
Listen, I gave myself the hour that it more than likely would have taken to checkout, pack it in my car, and exit the parking lot (which was so full that cars were forming rows in the grass). I gave myself peace that was not dependent on what I scored or how stocked my pantry would be. I allowed evaluation of what was a true need and what was just a want. The rhythm of my breath returned, and my pulse lowered.
It’s that simple. And if you need to hear it, then take it from me: You can leave the room. Pat whatever or whomever you need to pat, bid farewell, and gracefully make your exit.
The doors aren’t locked.