This is the real reason you go shopping before a snowstorm

Daniel Engber of Slate offers an explanation as to why people behave like idiots before a snowstorm, rushing off to a grocery store that will undoubtedly be open at some point the next day.

The word is hunkering, in the specifically American sense of digging in and taking shelter. It’s the anxious form of self-indulgence, where fear is fuel to make us cozy.

I agree that hunkering is part of it, but I also think there is something even larger at play:

People want to be involved in momentous events. They want to feel like they played a part in a historical moment. By role playing panic – which is essentially what a person does when he or she is willing to wait in an endless line for milk that will be readily available in 24 hours – people feel like an essential part of the oncoming snowstorm. They are like actors, committing to a part that their friends, colleagues and the local media have been undoubtedly hyping for three days.

It’s no fun to be liaise-faire. Being able to remain calm in an actual emergency is a skill that is valued by all, but remaining calm in a fake emergency is no fun for anyone involved. It just makes the people pretending that they are in the midst of an emergency feel stupid or angry or both. It’s like when little kids are running around the playground, pretending that a dragon is chasing them, but one kid just stands there and shouts, “There is no dragon! There is no dragon!”

But there is no dragon, people. New England just experienced one of the worst winters in terms of snowfall ever, yet in my part of Connecticut – which received near-record snowfalls – there was never a storm that kept the roads from being cleared and the stores opened within 24 hours, and most of the time, considerably less than that.

In most cases, the roads were impassible for a few hours at best and the stores never actually closed.

My wife and I never went shopping before a storm this winter – despite the fact that we have two small children who drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of bread – and we were never wont for either item. If you don’t have enough food in your house to survive 8-24 hours, the problem isn’t the storm. It’s with the way you shop for groceries.

If you’re looking for something to panic about, why not make it climate change. I realize that it won’t allow you to go shopping (which also plays a role in the pleasure of pre-storm pretend panic), and you won’t find yourself in the midst of the pretend panicked nearly as often, but at least you’ll be panicking over something that is real and worthy of your concern.

The single greatest death bed regret of Generation X (and maybe beyond) will be this:

On their death beds, the people of my generation will lament the time the spent driving – sometimes daily – from grocery store to grocery store, chasing the freshest produce, the finest meats, the best seafood, and the lowest prices, when they could’ve been spending that time reading, watching a film, climbing a mountain, writing a novel, playing with their kids, or having sex.

My mother shopped in one grocery store for all of her life. She went shopping for groceries once a week. She made a plan. Made a list. Shopped. Moved on with her life. 

Today she would be considered an aberration. An outlier. A dinosaur.

There are grocery stores that have managed to place almost every grocery item you’ll ever need under one roof, and yet people in my generation now prefer to shop in stores that deliberately avoid stocking every item, necessitating trips to multiple stores throughout the week.

It’s insane. 

It seems as if more time is spent traveling between grocery stores and pushing carriage up and down aisles than is spent actually eating the food.

It makes no sense.

There are more than 30 full size or midsize grocery stores within 15 minutes of my home.


Good food is important, but time is by far our most valuable commodity. My generation has chosen to spend a significant portion of its time looking for parking spots, pushing carriages, waiting in checkout lines, and plucking food items off a multitude of shelves in a multitude of stores.

The 90 year-old versions of themselves are going to be so annoyed.

Productivity tip #13: Own one belt.

A 99 year-old great grandfather offers 25 pieces of advice. My favorite is this one:

Everyone has too many clothes. Wear what you have and quit buying more.

I know many people who, if given the chance, would spend every weekend buying clothing. Many people.

I also know too many people who actually spend every weekend buying clothing.

A friend once told me that she couldn’t ever spend a day in New York City with me because if she was ever in possession of that much time away from her children, she would want to spend it at the outlets.

I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.

While speaking in Chicago recently, I was asked for some tips on productivity from an audience member. My response:

“Try owning one belt.”


I explained that when I opened up my suitcase in my hotel room, I thought that I’d forgotten to pack my belt, which would’ve forced me to purchase a new belt and thus doubling my current supply of belts.

I own one belt, I explained. It’s black on one side and brown on the other. It’s all that I have ever needed.

I know a person who owns 14 belts. I know another who owns 11. According to at least one fashion industry poll, the average American owns “more than five” belts.

Knowing nothing except the number of belts that a person owns, who would you expect to have more time in the day to be productive? The person owns one belt or the person who owns double digit belts?

Want a tip for productivity?

Simplicity. A reduction in unimportant decision making. A belief that everyone has too many clothes and everyone spends far too much time shopping for them. A conviction that clothing does not make the man. A realization that no one spends as much time looking at you as you think. A stand against the idea that shopping is a productive or relaxing or even a legitimate hobby. An understanding that our death beds, no of us will ever wish that we had more cashmere in our closets or spent more time at the  outlets.

I watch people spend hours every week on their physical appearance but never exercise even once. Clothing and makeup and hair and nails and jewelry but never an elevated heart rate. This is insane.

Another example:

I essentially own two pairs of shoes: A pair of black cross training sneakers that I wear almost every day and a pair of black shoes that I wear on more formal occasions and when I am on stage.

In truth, I also own a pair of basketball sneakers for when I am on the court, two pairs of outdoor boots for hiking and cold weather, a fair of flip-flops for the summer, a pair of tuxedo shoes for when I’m working as a DJ, and an old pair of sneakers for mowing the lawn. I also still own the shoes that I wore on my wedding day, which I haven’t worn since, and the shoes that I was originally going to wear on my wedding day, which I have never worn.

But on 29 out of 30 days at least, I am wearing either my black sneakers or my black shoes.

And you know what? No one cares. People care about what I say and do. They care about what I write. They care about how I treat them and others. But no one cares about the shoes on my feet.

Simplicity. That is one of the ways that I get things done. I try like hell to remember what is important and live my life the way the 99 year-old version of myself would want me to live.

That future self will not lament my lack of variety in belts and shoes. He will not wish that I had spent more time shopping for clothing.

Instead, he will lament wasting time on things that didn’t matter. Not filling my life with family and friends and meaningful, memorable experiences that do not include retail or discount shopping.

I keep that 99 year-old version of my at the forefront of my mind at all times. He guides my life. Helps me maintain the big picture. Reminds me about what is really important. How best to spend my time.

He tells me that one belt is enough.