Pumpkin spice basic

Seasonal purchases aren't as meaningless as they seem.


It’s full-send fall, y’all, so Heather’s here to ruminate on why you (or your partner) can’t stop shopping the seasons.

October. A leaf falls at your feet. A breeze kisses your hair. A season shows its first colors, eager to delight you with the false promise of a smooth transition to cooler days.

And you. Who are you? You are a person anew. A person who is #thankful for their #blessings, having magically erased the first three quarters of your year. You love soup. You are coddled in chunky knits and hues of burnt orange, your psyche protected by a calvary of pumpkins. In fact, as you harvest your 36th pumpkin from the seventh patch you’ve visited since that first leaf fell at your feet, you think to yourself, I have a Starbucks reward. For a moment, all is right in your world.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte (“PSL”) is more than a drink – it’s a state of being. And while Starbucks was not the first to mix pumpkin with pleasure, it did insert a product into the seasonal narrative of your life perhaps more than anything that came before it. This is no coincidence. The PSL rolled out nationwide in 2004, the same year as Facebook. In the years to follow, social media ascended to become a powerful force in both our social lives and in the media, intertwining “what is sold” with “what is real” in ways we could not see.

Today, we are being sold even when we don’t know we’re being sold. At your first double-tap of fall foliage, the data demons begin their usual work, whispering faintly into the algorithm, it’s pumpkin szn, witches. A week and two dozen embedded ads later, you’re trotting down the street, PSL in hand all like, “It’s pumpkin szn, witches!” while the sweat from a 75-degree day rolls down your neck.

Starbucks “won” Fall in a way that few brands have ever been able to replicate. But I wouldn’t position its victory as a testament to Big Coffee as much as a validation of our American desire to turn any season into a novel reason to spend money.

I often question the exact moment I bought into the madness. You already know I’m susceptible to scarcity marketing tactics online, but this is the antithesis of why I am obsessed with sourcing uniqueness–nothing could be more basic than giving into seasonal impulses. How can a person who shudders at a BLESS THIS MESS kitchen sign coexist in the same human body with the person who just dragged a FALL Y’ALL sign down from her attic? Make it make sense.

Blaming our kids wouldn’t be fair, though I’ve tried. They could care less whether we’ve adorned our home with little felt pumpkins from Target. Except when there’s treats involved (and lattes do not count), they are indifferent. Besides, they’re not the ones trying to prove on Instagram that they’re aware of what season it is.

Maybe these silly purchases are less about spending money and more about looking for ways to feel good about change, even when we don’t want it to occur. They are coping mechanisms that ease the blows of moving on. Personally, I could live in endless summer. I don’t need the leaves to fall. When they do, I go through a short period of mourning; and yes, a limited edition pumpkin spice yogurt makes me feel a bit better.

Maybe they also help us stamp time. When I scroll back through my phone, I look for moments: Thanksgiving last year with our paper turkey hats; July 4th weekend in the middle of the pandemic, when we wore our ridiculous fireworks sunglasses. I look at my daughters, outgrowing their Hanukkah pajamas. I can’t control those moments entering the past, but I can continue anchoring these moments now as they happen.

If that means I’m buying another stupid sign, matching outfits, or even a #PSL, so be it. I’ll be as basic as they come.


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