The Take-it-Back Attack
by Rana Nelson, Tofino
I want to return this cheese,"
I said, "because it's, well,
"That's a good reason," the clerk said affably, glancing at the six-dollar price sticker, "especially when it costs this much money."
Shortly before this, I had bought my toddler two fleece outfits and tossed them in the hamper to be washed without trying them on her. Then, when lack of clean laundry forced me to dig through the hamper for one of them, I realized it was almost too small. With no other clean clothes, I kept that pink outfit. Later, at risk of limb, I snatched the red outfit out of the gaping maw of the washing machine, shook off a few water droplets, dug the tag out of the recycling bin, plucked the hanger from her closet and plunked everything in the "To Return" pile on our stairway ledge - beside the cheese and a dog ball that was too small for the gaping maw of our German Shepherd.
I don't accept things anymore that aren't up to standard. When I open a newly bought container and find moldy yogurt, I no longer sigh with resignation and feed it to the dog. I take it back. If given clothes that don't fit, or books that I already have, I return or exchange them - with or without a receipt. Our "This Might Be Useful Someday" pile is shrinking as fast as the "To Return" and "Sally Ann" piles are growing.
Part of the reason for my mindshift is realizing how much unnecessary stuff we accumulate, and the other part is that I am now keeping track of the budget. Previously, when my husband created the budget, I could always convince myself that this filing cabinet or that pair of shoes was absolutely necessary, whether or not there was money for them. However, since I drew up our last budget, I take much more interest in how we spend our money.
Returning things takes time and energy - hot commodities with a small child around - but I refuse to eat rancid corn chips and stale bread, and to use smelly foam craft supplies. I also refuse to pay for them. There is a fine line between principle and perfectionism, but standards do exist: fresh yogurt, well-ripened cheese, properly cooked restaurant food. And if we as consumers accept low quality, we will get low quality.
My consumer activism seems to be hereditary. My father once took a burger back to the counter at Dairy Queen three times because it was pink in the middle. And eighteen months ago, my brother bought a sandwich at the Tim Horton's drive-thru in Chilliwack on his way to Kamloops. Back on the highway, he took a bite and pronounced it inedible. He saved it for two days, until he returned to Chilliwack. They took it back.
Rana Nelson operates Onwords Editing and Communication. She recently exchanged a package of light bulbs at the Tofino Co-op hardware store.