“Retail therapy” is a term that is tossed around with great abandon. First coined by some editor in the 1950s at Ladies’ Home Journal (our fact checkers could not confirm this fact), it’s a term that does a great injustice to psychologists everywhere. For one, there is no true therapeutic value here. If your aim is to deal with psychological pain points, buying stuff will not do a thing. If you want to just feel a little better right now, instead we might suggest you have a beer — or go to sleep.
But this is America and this is 2020. Buying stuff to feel less bad is the name of the only game we’re still allowed to play indoors. We at Fatherly, an enlightened bunch who puts a collective millions hours a year in actual therapy, have fallen victim to the trap. We bought shit we didn’t need. It didn’t matter that the purchases were undertaken in the name of self-care, mental health support, or hope for a better now. The things did little more than put a hole in our wallets and take up space in our homes. They did not fulfill us, but they do provide a cautionary tale. So in that, our purchases have done something.
So don’t do what we did. Or do, and commiserate with us. Hey, it’s that kind of time.
Several Hundred Feet of Paracord
“Before our first camping trip of 2020, I decided that I was going to get very into knot-tying and building shelters from tarp and paracord. I’d assumed that I’d be whipping together shelters and weaving incredible survival bracelets and paracord fobs that I’d be giving away to friends for special occasions. But learning knots takes way more patience and time than I originally thought I had, and building paracord and tarp shelters was a lesson in complete frustration. Now, I have a tangled mass of paracord of various colors and lengths sitting in my garage, mocking me every time I take out the trash. I believe it’s too useful to just throw away, but I’m not motivated to make use of it. So it’s a détente.” —Patrick Coleman, Parenting Editor
A Spit-Covered Plastic Ball That I Wore Like a Necklace
“During the long summer of COVID I found myself seeing a lot of ads for the Jawsersize, a product that promises to enhance your jaw strength. Ha, what tool would buy this product, I thought. But because of all the YouTube watching I did to find something fun to distract myself from the onslaught of COVID news, eventually the ad — featuring UFC fighters with gumball jaw muscles — wormed its way into my brain and broke me. Huh. Maybe it would be great to have a muscle-y jawline, I started to think. Then: Of course I need a chiseled jaw, and this is the product that will change my profile and thus enhance my life.
Forty dollars and a few weeks later, the product arrived — basically a rubber ball of a specific density (I got the starter pack) that you custom fit to your bite like a mouthguard and use to perform a chewing regimen. Did it come with its own necklace strap in case I wanted to wear it around my neck? Oh, it sure did. I tried it for about a week. I felt dumb. My wife, for many understandable reasons, hated that this spit-covered plastic ball was sitting in a dish on the side of our couch. Whatever fugue state I had entered dissipated and my senses came back. I got rid of it. And, no, my jaw is no more chiseled than it once was.” —Matt Berical, Deputy Editor
A $300 Lego Set That’s Still Sitting in My Car Trunk
“Midway through the lockdown, sometime around April or thereabouts, my son started experiencing severe eye strain from being on his iPad 12-plus hours per day. I was determined to get him off the device, even for an hour a day. He used to love Legos. I researched soccer Legos (for the record, they do not exist) because he loves the game, and found the Manchester United stadium Lego set. It cost $300, not including tax, and Alex promised me 73 different ways that he’d totally, really, truly, honestly build it. We did curbside pickup, and when I got it back to the house and unveiled it, he opened it, dumped out one bag, halfheartedly built something unrecognizable, and promptly lost interest. The set is intricate enough to be interesting, but its sheer size and scope also make it intimidating as hell. We even shipped it when we relocated because he, again, promised to put it together. To this day, it remains taped shut, a few pieces missing, languishing in the trunk of my car.” —Donna Freydkin, Commerce Editor
A TV Show So Bad, It Was Good… Until It Was Just Bad
“Not only do I already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, I also now have a subscription to Starz. That’s right: STARZ. I don’t even consider myself a TV person, and yet here I am, a STARZ subscriber. And the reason I subscribe to STARZ is even worse: It’s to watch Outlander. When I started on the Waste of My Life that is five seasons of this glorified soap opera, I thought, This is good. I’m a former travel writer, and this is like travel. I feel out of place in 2020, and so does Claire Randall in 1743. I’m a jaded single mom looking to restore my faith in romance, and Jamie Fraser is… someone I could see myself with. This cheesy show will nourish me. Eventually, though, Jamie calls his daughter a slut, Claire becomes an insufferable symbol of privilege, the family builds a McMansion on British occupied land, and the show ends with a violent gang-rape scene that I’m still traumatized by. The year 2020 was bad, but it was even worse after Outlander gave me hope — and then snatched it back.” —Amy Karafin, Editorial Director, SEO & Affiliate
A Fussy Espresso Maker That Takes Fucking Ages
“The first thing the pandemic took away from my family was sleep. The pressures and stresses seemed to hop from kid to spouse to kid to me and back — all leading to restless nights and less sleep for both parents. The only answer I could come up with is to fill that void with pot after pot of coffee. It sort of worked: I’m functional enough after my third cup. But drip coffee got boring, so I hinted that I wanted an espresso maker for my birthday — specifically one of those fussy hand-pressing ones that are more cool than practical, prettier than they are functional. And my wife delivered.
It turns out The Flair Signature espresso maker really doesn’t make much sense in a household that is packed with a homeschooler, toddler, and two working parents. The process to make a single shot of espresso (damn good espresso, to be fair) is a full nine-step job that takes a solid 10 minutes on a good day. You need to heat up the main unit, hand-grind — hand-grind — the coffee, pack it in, fill it with steaming hot water, and then measure your slow steady pull that measures between five and ten bars. My 25-year-old hipster self would freaking love this thing. The 39-year-old dad-in-a-pandemic me just doesn’t have the time.” —Tyghe Trimble, Editor-in-Chief
A Croquet Set That Made Everyone Cry
“At some point over the summer I bought a bocce ball and croquet set, thinking it would provide an alternative to my family’s nightly routine of dinner, TV, and then bed. After painstakingly setting up croquet only to grow bored after a couple of swings, plus a few games of bocce ball with my nieces that lasted three-to-five minutes and ended in tears, the set has taken up its permanent residence in the closet where board games and childhood art sets go to die.” —Emily Kelleher, Contributing Editor
Boots Made for Walking… Nowhere
“The Dear Frances ‘Spirit’ boot usually costs more than $600 dollars. So when, one glaringly hot day of a Texas summer in COVID isolation, I saw that they were on sale for $324 bucks, I checked my bank account to see if I could swing a pair of boots so extravagant that I had only drooled over them on Instagram, watching people like Kendall Jenner strut around Midtown in them. Did I let myself think about the fact that I was about to blow $324 bucks on a pair of white luxury leather boots that I surely had no use for in months where I wouldn’t go out to a single restaurant, bar, grocery store, or even a 7/11 in anything more than Birkenstocks and bike shorts? I did not. I bought them, and my bank, thinking the charge was fraudulent, froze my card. I had to explain what I was buying, feeling a little bit of shame — but not enough to not get them.
I have since worn them once — on Thanksgiving, a day I also wore a $98 dollar dress that I bought in the same period of quarantine when I thought buying things would give me a sense of control over worldly chaos. I looked great. The boots went back in their separate fabric bags at the end of the day and I have not looked at them since. Did they bring me joy? Not really. Does anything? No… not really.” —Lizzy Francis, Associate Editor
A Dancing Game for Desperate People
“Back at the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I realized our normal 2+ mile walking commute (hello, Queens life) wasn’t going to be a given anymore. Like so many other apartment-bound people we needed some way to get our butts in motion. We recently had purchased a Nintendo Switch, and remembered how much fun Just Dance was years back on the Wii. So we decided Just Dance 2020 would be our get-fit and have-fun activity while in lockdown. We danced against each other, we danced on our own, and only accidentally knocked over minor furniture in the process. But by the time that first glorious week of dancing was done, so too was our interest in Just Dance. We’ve booted up the Switch almost every day since then — but only to play Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, or Rocket League, not to boogie away our pandemic blues.” —Anne Meadows, Visuals Editor
24 Mystery Novels Now Stacked in a 4-Foot-Tall Tower by My Bed
“When it became clear that we’d be staying at home for a long time, I panic-purchased 24 murder mysteries — not one, or even seven, but 24 of them, all at once. I’ve never been a big reader of mysteries, but I’d been watching with envy and awe as my mom burned through them one a day, escaping her own isolation in the company of kind, disheveled British and French-Canadian detectives whom she’d started talking about like long-lost friends.
Before the pandemic, I’d often fantasized about being trapped at home for months on end just so I could finally read every book on my shelf — how could I ever hope to wrestle that 700-page treatise on ants into my brain, except under house arrest? But then I couldn’t seem to focus on anything longer than a headline, and so I panic-purchased 24 mysteries, hoping they’d pull me out of our apartment with the sheer power of suspense. Anyway, there they remain, largely untouched, stacked on the floor next to the bed, measuring nearly four feet, a tower of mystery that I no longer recognize as a tower of books — though I never read them, they still bring me a strange comfort, like having an inflatable raft balled up in a closet. The fantasy of escape, if not the possibility.” —Julia Holmes, Archive Editor