Point of No Returns: How I Got Over My Fear of the Exchange Counter

I’m afraid to return things I buy.

I’d rather pay good money for a bad purchase than risk the public meltdown that goes along with a trip to the Returns & Exchanges counter.

I used to return things a long time ago—until a very ugly incident with some very ugly sweaters. I’d received three oversized, old-lady cardigans as a Christmas gift and got the bright idea that since the tags were still attached and they came from a nationwide retailer, I could trade them in for something better fitting and less apt to get me invited to Saturday night Bingo at the local assisted living facility.

I looked up the sweaters on the store’s website. They weren’t cheap. At the time, I was so poor it had literally been years since I’d purchased a new piece of clothing. I began fantasizing about how far I could stretch my store credit if I only shopped in the “Clearance” section. I was giddy with pre-shopping spree glee.

I took the bus to the mall (I was also too poor for a car) and I brought my sack of uglies up to the counter to cash them in. The sales clerk rifled through my crumpled shopping bag, glanced at the tags and then told me that the “return codes” had been cut off and that there was absolutely no way the store was taking them back. I tried to reason with her for a moment and then she turned her back, waved me off and went on to ring up another customer.

A wave of rage washed over me.  My one chance to indulge in the retail therapy ritual had been ripped away. I lost it. I cried. And yelled. I cursed at the sales clerk and told her I hated her. I screamed that the store was evil. I trembled with rage. A few bored shoppers gathered for the free show, fueling my anger even further.

“I HATE THESE SWEATERS!” I screamed and then threw the lumpy bag of polyester blends to the ground dramatically. It skidded across the floor like a clumsy Dancing with the Stars contestant executing an ill-advised knee slide. I fled the store as quickly as I could and then proceeded to stand right outside the main entrance for 35 minutes while I waited for the bus home.

When my fury about getting shop-blocked finally subsided (after an hour or so on the bus) the tide of shame rolled in. I’m a nutjob, I thought to myself. I’m the crazy lady in the store that people shake their heads and cluck their tongues at. I totally humiliated myself. I’m a rage-aholic.

I consider myself extremely lucky that my sweater meltdown happened in the era just before smartphones went mainstream. I have no doubt that a YouTube video called “Angry Sweater Lady” starring yours truly could have been a viral video megahit.

Even though there’s no photographic evidence, the incident still haunts me. I have a drawer full of ill-fitting pants to prove it.

Last week, I bought my first pair of new curtains in five years. I researched them. I measured. I prepared. I compared and contrasted. I found the perfect ones.  I opened the package, laid them out across the bed and surveyed them with horror. They were some DANG ugly curtains.

There was nothing I could do, I thought. I would just have to donate these new curtains to a home for the blind and stick with my haggard old drapes, hanging from a sagging curtain rod, hacked to pieces by kitty claws and muddy dog paws, making my cute little apartment look like a modern replica of Steinbeck’s Palace Flophouse. It made me want to cry.

“I’m taking them back,” I said out loud, my voice quavering with bravado. It had been years since the cardigan catastrophe. I told myself that I’d grown, that I could handle conflict better now and that I was too old to be afraid of returning a set of curtains.

I spent about an hour folding them back up and trying, unsuccessfully, to make the package look unopened. I spent another hour looking, unsuccessfully, for my receipt. Their returns policy stated that I could still get store credit without a receipt, but the whole thing just stunk of Eau de Conflict.

I forged on. I walked with purpose towards the store entrance with my poorly folded curtains and no receipt. I squeezed one of the plastic curtain rod boxes too tightly. The end of the package popped off and a curtain rod knob went flying through the air—soaring like an eagle, until it landed and rolled under a minivan.

I was done for.

Open packages? Missing pieces? Poorly folded textiles? No receipt? I was asking for fight. I told myself to just go with the flow and surrender to the process. “If they say no,” I told myself. “Just drop the stuff and run. Don’t get into an argument. It’s not worth it. Just drop and run. Drop and run,” I coached myself. The clerk barely looked at me or the stuff I returned. He just swiped my card, gave me my money back and it was over.

I felt elated and relieved and I also learned a valuable lesson: if I ever need to return an ugly sweater again, I’m shoving it in a curtain bag.

Featured image via TheUglySweaterShop

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