Let’s Fake a Deal

Why filling and abandoning online sale carts is my favorite procrastination ritual.

A full-to-the-brim online shopping cart.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Rabbit Holes is a recurring series in which writers pay homage to the diversity and ingenuity of the ways we procrastinate now. To pitch your personal rabbit hole, email

Junk email is a blessing. First of all, I can summarily delete most of it, swinging through with my electronic scythe, and feel a great deal of accomplishment for very little effort. It’s an economical trade—and what is procrastination other than a trade you make with yourself exchanging the fear of the future for the ease of the present? But for me, the real joy of wasting time with junk mail comes when you find that little bit of wheat among the chaff, a corporate communiqué telling you that you can get a deal if you would only click within. I respond to these with the kind of world-worn, cunning smirk I imagine trained British actors make at the end of every scene in Game of Thrones, a show I will never watch. If only you knew what I will do to you, my poor sale coupon, my poor seasonal clearance. Oh, what a time we’ll have together.

You see, I’m a bit of a sadomasochist when it comes to these unsuspecting online shopping sales—from the $1,000-off semiannual Mr. Porter ones to the barren wasteland of a Barneys clearance to the constant drip of 30 percent final sale coupons you get from J. Crew. Amid the uncertain terrain of the sale, I traverse through unfiltered pages rather than tailoring my search so that I’ll be surprised when I hover over an item and see that it is in my size. In my slow dredge of the sale, I find gems: those beautiful Antwerp monstrosities or underappreciated American heritage brands or marled Shetland sweaters that haven’t been picked over just yet. I put them all together, assembling the exact kind of person I want to be that week. Thom Browne whale sweater man? Head-to-toe Japanese indigo man? I-can-pull-off-a-hat man? I could achieve any of my wildest sartorial fantasies with these treasures.

My excitement peaking, I deposit all of those deals, those hundreds of dollars of deals, all those incredible savings, into my cart. I linger over my digital horde, imagining how it would all look on my weird frame (I’m a Dave Franco constantly afraid of widening into a Glenn Danzig). I smile madly at that ridiculously reasonable total. And then?

I close that tab HARD, as hard as you can close a tab. I exhale, knowing the life that could have been with all those clothes and none of those dollars would never measure up to my fantasy. I luxuriate in the 100 percent markdown on the void.

It’s a freeing feeling to drop the whole cart. I imagine it would be a more visceral experience in a store with an actual cart, pushing it off into oblivion and watching it careen into a display. But that would disrupt many people’s days and I, above all else, don’t want to get in trouble with strangers who don’t yet understand what an interesting person I am. But the entirely private experience of the online process has its pleasures as well. I jones for those emails and targeted ads telling me that I forgot to buy something in my cart. Oh no, my dear. I forgot nothing. I meant to leave you, online clothing purveyor, in an exquisite state of suspended anticipation.

In a way, these moments are ritual lettings of blood, the sale’s and mine. I trade material self-munificence for a moment of gloating. I beat the sale. More precisely, I teased the sale, I let it think it would win. None of its psychological tricks gleaned from academic papers and industry PowerPoints could defeat me. I am a monk from another time who cannot be tempted by your profane world.

Sometimes, of course, I do buy something. Sometimes, say, a Japanese workwear blanket coat makes its way into my cart and, though I can’t imagine wearing it for any purpose other than herding sheep on a Jovian moon, my hand slips. My hand then slips another approximately 70 times to fill in my credit card and shipping information. Oops.

That is the inherent danger and pleasure of standing on the tantalizing precipice of doing something financially stupid. But, when I am stupid, at least I bought it on sale. My purchase will hang in a closet, always happy to see me and the occasional forced wearing. It lives as a lesson, and I learn to love it even though it was a mistake, like buying an iguana, which, by the way, live for more than 20 unnerving years.

That is all part of the game, part of the impossible gamble that comes with being a young person in the goofy hell that is modernity. You are told that you need to measure up to the picture-perfect, conspicuous-consumption past in a present that is warming and shrinking and desiccating, and you have such little control over anything. Why not try mocking the predatory models of consumption that will nevertheless eat you in the end? Craft a glorious future that can never be and then pull the rug out from under those who would trick you into believing in that future. Dump that cart and take hold of your terrible mite of freedom.