Layaway: The Unsexiest Thing In The Entire WorldS

It made news when KMart reinstated what the Washington Post terms "that financial relic of the past," layaway. Because, as Real Housewife Kim would say (and she would!), "that's not cute."

It's easy to see why layaway died: quality gave way to quantity, people wanted instant gratification and, perhaps most significantly, the notion that you shouldn't buy something when you couldn't afford it camed to seem as antiquated as a 78, only less fun. Indeed, it would be hard to find a neater corollary for the Collective Responsibility and ensuing collective chastening than the reintroduction of the unglamorous, plodding system.

Says the Post's DeNeen L. Brown, the system "taught us delayed gratification" along with important and basic lessons about fiscal responsibility. It had nothing to do with impulse-purchases and the luxury of buyer's remorse. The want you felt for such things was stable, wholesome, responsible, well-considered. And naturally these duller virtues don't have the glamor of the momentary high that's proven to arise from "shopping" - layaway is really the anti-shopping. There's also no sense of trespass. It's not cute. Carrie Bradshaw, that embodiment of excess, didn't mete out money monthly. And, funnily, putting something on layaway - admitting you want something beyond your means, that this object is very important to you, can feel more consciously materialistic - bourgeois, even! - than a frivolous round of purchases that can be consigned to the back of the drawer and forgotten. Because then, it doesn't really matter to you. Layaway was our parents' parents. Shopping was the modern way.

And as in so many things, we're being pushed on fast forward, through the perpetual adolescence and genuine liberations and simultaneous heedlessness of our parents' generation back to the necessities of the Greatest. But as is also true in so many things, we're not suited to it, and if layaway is a handy metaphor, well, how will we handle it? It's funny: for a lot of people my age, this sort of patience is a quality we associate with childhood, when things are placed beyond your reach and budget. And you saved and you considered and if you really liked something, maybe you could wait the long months to Christmas or your birthday. And this felt right, but it was also understood that these were a child's restrictions. And so now, in that way and other ways, we're children and we're old folks and we're broke, and layaway means acknowledging all that. On the other hand - sometimes a couch is just a couch. Or so my grandparents would have said.

In Back Of The Store, A Return to Patience
[Washington Post]