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How to Practice Patience at the Mall

Stale air, florescent lights, lots of people, and the faint smell of plastic.

Can you guess where I was?

The Mall.

It was my first trip to a mall in at least 6 months and I went into shock. The bright lights and the incredible amount of people out shopping surprised me. And made me wonder what people were shopping for. Maybe love and acceptance? Or even a new identity?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but spending a few hours in the mall made me think about consumer culture and the lust for stuff.

So why was I at the mall?

Over the holiday I spent a lot of time with my Mom and she loves to shop. Shopping was something we did together when I was in college. During my time at CSU, Chico we would meet up for coffee and then we would walk around the mall to find the best deals on clothing. It was one way we spent time together. We would talk about everything from school to relationships, while we hunted down the best deals.

But shopping isn’t the primary was we connect; at least not anymore. My mom has been really supportive of our lifestyle shift and when she comes to visit we go hiking, biking, and spend time eating amazing food.

Even though shopping isn’t my idea of fun, my mom enjoys it. And I don’t want to dictate everything that we do when she comes to Portland. So that’s how we ended up at the mall in downtown Portland.

Rather than following my Mom around from shop to shop, I hung out in one of the courtyards by a large fountain. This particular spot was nice because there was natural light streaming through the huge skylights. A few years ago, I would have gotten really upset about this situation because I hate waiting for people. But I’ve learned to tame my temper over the years.

And surprisingly, spending time in the courtyard was fantastic opportunity to practice patience. What exactly does that mean? The dictionary defines patience as:

“. . . the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”

If you find yourself in a situation that isn’t fun, think of ways to make the best of it. For example, I always carry a notebook and book with me. That way I can use my time well, if I have to wait for someone else. Or you can use the time to people watch and observe your surroundings. Take note of the sites, sounds, smells, and the types of folks you see.

Practicing patience is one way to learn new things about yourself. While I was at the mall, waiting, I observed two things about myself:

1. I’m learning to reign in my temper.

2. Once I get into the flow, I can write anywhere.

Remember . . .

Stories unfold everywhere, even at the mall. You just have to slow down enough to notice.


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  • Tanja from Minimalist Packrat January 10, 2011, 7:35 am

    Tammy I love this post! My mom and my sister are big mall shoppers just like your mom. It makes them happy to spend a day browsing and buying. There used to be a time when I was right there alongside them loving every minute of it and pulling out the credit card.

    Now I avoid the mall like the plague. Over the holidays I visited with my mom too and she wanted to go shopping with me. I just kept offering up alternatives. We walked on the beach many times, we visited the downtown area of Saint Petersburg and wandered around, we went out for Indian, hit up botanical gardens and even got to take in the new Chihuly art museum that opened up.

    Avoidance worked for me, but I like your idea of coming prepared with a notebook and a book. That’s a great alternative to complete mall abstinence!

    Patience, that will be my word for the day.

  • Vanessa January 10, 2011, 7:52 am

    Oh…the mall. I don’t like that place. Last time I went with my mom I actually stayed out in the car with my brother :/ I have a hard time staying focused and present in malls. There’s so much to look at…so many sounds! I’m easily stressed in such highly stimulating places. Though I will say, malls are awesome for people watching. Seriously. And I love what you said about patience. Entering a mall is a great place to hone that particular skill (which I lack.) I think I’ll tack ‘learning patience’ on to my 2011 goal list. Thanks for this πŸ™‚

  • Maria Almaguer January 10, 2011, 8:03 am

    I HATE the mall and have not set foot in one in many years. I hate the lack of light, noise, the surreal environment of it, and of course, the tons of STUFF in it that I have no desire to own.

    I also always take a book wherever I go (my iPod, too) just in case I have to wait (like with my mother in a doctor’s waiting room).

  • Erika January 10, 2011, 8:41 am

    Ah, the mall! I’ve never been able to spend more than a few minutes in a mall without feeling… edgy. Apparently, this has been the case since I was a child. My mom always said it caused me to go into “Sensory Overload” πŸ™‚

  • Darci January 10, 2011, 9:41 am

    I really like Pioneer Place for the courtyard, fountain and skylight, especially on craptastic weather days. It’s a great place to read a good book!

  • ListfulWistful January 10, 2011, 9:51 am

    Great photo of you two! Also, it was nice to have a reminder of the real definition of patience. I think might be a fair weather patience demonstrator (as in, I don’t mind being ‘patient’ when I don’t mind being patient). I will work toward being patient in all circumstances of “delay, trouble, or suffering.” Thanks!

  • Tiffany January 10, 2011, 9:57 am

    This is a great post. It can be difficult to balance different lifestyles. I come from a family of hard-core shoppers. For as long as I can remember, I recall being picked up at school (surprise!) to go out to lunch and on an afternoon shopping spree. Yes, I’m talking Kindergarten on up. No surprise that I became a hard-core shopper myself.

    I still love the mall. My fiancee tells me I go into a time warp when I enter the mall. I have no idea how long I’ve been in there. I can just wander and wander.

    As I become more minimalist, however, I do find myself losing patience with others who want to shop all the time. Over Christmas I went to the mall with my mom and two brothers and went “mall walking” to get some exercise while they bopped around. Worked out great πŸ™‚ And I didn’t buy ONE thing!!

    Next time I’m going to try bringing a notebook, and maybe wandering the mall and writing down WHY I am lusting after a certain object…time for some constructive introspection!

  • Cat January 10, 2011, 10:01 am

    Oh, my. I just went to the mall before Christmas, and felt vaugely unnerved. I used to love doing the “mall rat” imitation, but now, I find no particular charm in it. But at least you can appriciate the people watching!


  • Caroline January 10, 2011, 10:45 am

    I think part of what people are looking for, in places like the mall, is novelty. Looking at new things, maybe even the rush of buying something new. Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project got me thinking about the ways we seek adventure and novelty – I think for many people, shopping is a big outlet. So maybe one of the ways to provide an alternative to consumer culture is to help generate ideas of other forms of adventure and novelty – as with your vagabonding and “explore your backyard” posts.

  • James St. James January 10, 2011, 10:50 am

    Haha, my wife thinks the best setting for a horror movie is the McDonald;s inside Wal-mart! I have a feeling you would agree. I liked your interview on Castles in the Air – and agree that GNHappiness is a better measurement tool – Bhutan would agree. -JSJ

  • Lindsay January 10, 2011, 11:32 am

    Good one!

    I absolutely hate the mall. Find it very overwhelming and just generally intolerable. I’ll try to practice patience the next time someone drags me there!

  • BrownThumbMama January 10, 2011, 11:37 am

    I’m glad you got to visit with your Mom–even if the mall isn’t one of your favorite pastimes. I like to carry a book everywhere with me too. One of the requirements for my tiny purse is that it must be big enough to hold a paperback.

  • Luinae January 10, 2011, 12:00 pm

    Uh, I’m terrified of the mall! It literally makes me feel ill. But I love the idea of trying to find beauty, no matter what.

  • Karen January 10, 2011, 12:03 pm

    I still enjoy doing some shopping occasionally with my daughters, but I’m finding the less time I’m spending in public places (I’m a home-based home-educating mom) the more the scents are giving me a headache. And the word for my 2011 is Being Mindful, but when we were disembarking off the ferry to visit some family I could smell people’s breath mints as I walked past, and all the other smells. And on the return ferry trip I had to change seats because the woman behind me had too much perfume on. I’m not sure Being Mindful, being more present and aware is going to necessarily be fun!

  • Val January 10, 2011, 12:14 pm

    Weirdly, one of my favorite things to do with my mom is still shopping. The difference is our “fun time” has always been food shopping. If buying things like beans and lentils and potatoes and leeks is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

    Clothes shopping, by contrast, was almost always a hassle. It led to a lot of fights throughout my adolescence. I hated going shopping for clothes for myself. I’m getting a little better about that now that I’m not growing anymore and it can be very infrequent. When I realized I really wanted a sweater without holes worn in it anywhere, we had a lovely time at the local goodwill.

  • Shell January 10, 2011, 1:47 pm

    I carry a book and notebook with me at all times also. It does help make me more patient, sometimes to the point of being so involved with what I’m doing that I don’t want to stop for what I was waiting for.

  • Jo January 10, 2011, 1:58 pm

    I’m not a big fan of shopping centres either. I always try to go early in the morning or mid afternoon, when there are less people there. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed in overcrowded shops where its so noisy and everyone is rushing and pushing each other out of the way. It can be easy to get caught up in the frenzy and feel rushed and impatient.

  • Jennifer January 10, 2011, 3:10 pm

    That’s a good way to deal with being at the mall. I’ve begun feeling so uncomfortable in them that stepping foot inside one, even to run a very brief and very specific errand, makes me instantly cranky. The last time my sister wanted to go shopping, I drove her to the mall and read in the car, but I realize now that perhaps I did lose something by not accompanying her. We’re rarely in the same state these days. Next time, I’ll keep your more chilled attitude in mind.

  • Laura January 10, 2011, 3:49 pm

    My relationship with my Mom used to be the same way, we spent quality time together by shopping. I love how you still supported your Mom by being with her, even though you didn’t participate in the act or enjoy it that much. I’m going to try that, and bring a book along too!

    Laura’s Last Post: Round 3: 100 things

  • Kristy Powell January 10, 2011, 5:24 pm

    My family doesn’t exist outside of a mall. There is no question that we will spend some significant amount of time each time we are with my parents (and in their town/home) at the mall. My Dad is just dragged along and is permitted to sit in the food court with a book. Myself on the other hand, has had a long history of participating and in just the last few years begun accompanying rather than participating. I too, loathe the mall. It is so overwhelming to me. I can’t handle all the people. I can’t handle all the bags, I can’t handle so many things about shopping centers. But in my family, it would be so offensive to my mom and sister for me to consider “joining the guys” and waiting patiently. I feel since I see them only twice a year, that I MUST join at least in the stroll through each store. This truly tries my patience. I feel it is an act of love for me to walk with them as I know it is so much of what defines our relationship. I am working each time they visit our home and town to redefine that relationship while they are on our turf in the way we would like for it to develop in future years. Patience is love. Loving is also patiently working toward a redefinition of our relationship and our patterns. A work in SLOW progress it is!

  • Tammy January 10, 2011, 5:33 pm

    Thanks everyone for the comments! It’s good to know I’m not the only person who dislikes the mall so much. πŸ™‚

    @Kristy – fantastic comment! I loved your last line: “Patience is love. Loving is also patiently working toward a redefinition of our relationship and our patterns. A work in SLOW progress it is!”

    That line is spot on (at least for me). Cultivating patience is something I’m constantly working on.

  • Sylvia Brown January 10, 2011, 11:52 pm

    Yes, isn’t that fountain beautiful, and the sound wonderful, if you can find a seat…I love it but haven’t been downtown for quite awhile. I still think it’s the most restful place of all of them….

  • Tabo January 11, 2011, 12:04 am

    Went to the mall(Ala Moana Shopping Center) last week for the first time in over a year, what am I doing here? Instead of grumbling to my friend who I kept company decided to look into the shoppers movement and habits. What where they buying? What am I missing? Was there something I need or want? A lot of junks-to-be-in-closets are found at the “mall”. I do enjoy food shopping for fresh ingredients to cook at home for my friends and families. Aloha!

  • Marnie January 11, 2011, 6:32 am

    I too am allergic to the mall. Shopping has never been my thing. But I can imagine sitting somewhere bright and cheery in the mall, people watching, and getting loads of writing inspiration. Next time I go to the mall, I’m bringing my notebook and pen!

  • Cristina January 11, 2011, 11:51 am

    Hi Tammy, I’ve been reading your blog for a while but it’s my first comment here…
    I do sympathise with you – I hate shopping malls too, although sometimes I cannot help visiting one…but I always wonder why people enjoy spending hours there, and even bring their kids over as a “treat”…
    I always carry a notebook with me, and I too use it as a way to rein in my temper…it’s better to jot down notes and ides, or sketch, rather than looking at the watch impatiently wishing my time away!

  • Tammy January 11, 2011, 1:52 pm

    Hey Cristina – Thanks for leaving your first comment! πŸ™‚ I appreciate it. Have a great week and thanks for reading!

  • Helen January 11, 2011, 7:52 pm

    How timely! I was doing precisely the same thing last Saturday at the Pioneer Square Mall–sitting and waiting patiently while others shopped. I was accompanying my teenage daughters who insisted on going to H&M and Forever 21. I agreed for once because generally they shop at consignment stores on Hawthorne or at Goodwill. I spent 2 hours sitting on a bench staring at the Moonstruck Chocolate stand while deliberating whether or not I “needed” to indulge in some while they browsed the clothing stores. I didn’t buy a thing. Yay for me! The mall is like a washing machine; you churn around endlessly with bright colors and noise then feel wrung out like a damp dishrag by the time you leave. Ick.

  • David January 12, 2011, 3:07 am

    Patience is an interesting quality indeed. At times it is seemingly easy to tolerate people and situations. But if you throw in a bit of extra tension, such as being late for something, or being overtired, or at the end of a hard and stressful day’s work, then patience seems to vanish into thin air.

    I think the best way to achieve patience is to make a conscious effort to be aware of how you feel in each situation and as soon as tension builds, to stop and breathe and ponder or reflect on what is happening. Why am feeling this way? Is what is happening right at this moment really that important that I should feel this way?

    Take a breath, drop your shoulders, relax for a moment and smile.

  • Gena S January 12, 2011, 3:43 pm


    I enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the genuine relationship between you and your Mom. I have a similar loathing for malls in general, in a previous career life I had to do an inordinate amount of shopping for design clients, commercial and residential. Enter our turn toward a simpler life and it was a sincere sayonara to malls in general. I did notice toward the end of my forced shopping days that more and more malls were putting in really comfortable seating; to round up patient spouses I’m sure; now if I visit an area with a mall and spend any bonding/shopping time with siblings, etc. I’ll visit over lunch, help find a few things they really “need” and then wait for things to wrap up in the waiting area; I’ll be one of the ones with a notebook! πŸ™‚