‘The campervan broke my heart.’ Lockdown purchases we wish we’d never made

A hidden pandemic of buyer’s remorse is sweeping undetected through Irish homes

Roadtrips in Ireland are done at a very sedentary pace.

Roadtrips in Ireland are done at a very sedentary pace.

 

A hidden pandemic of buyer’s remorse has been sweeping undetected through homes in Ireland and Britain. Victims include those who gave in to the temptation to impulse buy a robot hoover, a treadmill or an expensive ice cream maker during lockdown.

A recent survey of 4,000 adults in Britain found that nine in ten indulged themselves in “non-essential” lockdown “treats”, and many of them are now suffering regret.

One in 20 people bought a hot tub, more than a third of whom now wish they hadn’t. Personally, I would query the characterisation of a giant inflatable hot tub as “non-essential” during a global pandemic, but some market research companies clearly have no sense of adventure.

The survey’s findings suggested that some of the buys people are having second thoughts about include gaming equipment, tools, clothes and home gym items.

What were the most successful pandemic-inspired impulse buys here, and the ones already regulated to the gadget graveyard under the spare room bed?

I asked the question on Twitter, and the results of my admittedly unscientific survey of more than 250 replies are in. Purchasers of airfryers, heated clothes horses, decent coffee machines, hammocks, pizza ovens and pets (including dogs, cats and hens) reported themselves among the most satisfied. So too – thankfully – were the handful who replied to say they had bought an actual house or acquired another child.

Animal charities warned people against impulse buying – during the great puppy boom of Lockdown 1.0, but for those who thought it through carefully and, better still, adopted instead, it seems to have been a universally positive decision. They include broadcaster Rick O’Shea, who says adopting two dogs was the “greatest thing that has ever happened to us. Of course this has led to purchases of walking boots, rain jackets, dog jackets and jumpers, treats, a billion poo bags.”

Rick O’Shea’s dogs, adopted from the DSPCA
Rick O’Shea’s dogs, adopted from the DSPCA

I didn’t get a puppy, but I have similar feelings of unalloyed joy about my lockdown airfryer. I stop short of keeping a picture of it on my phone but I do enthusiastically extoll its benefits to anyone unfortunate enough to ask.

No, you haven’t asked, but briefly, the “fryer” part is a misnomer – it’s more of a small, fast, efficient mini-oven, with the convenience of a microwave, and none of the loss of taste or texture. We use it several times a week, for roasting meat and vegetables, doing the weekend fry-up and making chips, chicken wings and French bread pizza.

The verdict on ice-cream makers acquired during lockdown was, sadly, more mixed. “It takes up a tonne of space but it’s great and it should pay itself off in just under 20 years,” says Phil Pierce of his high end model.

Those who stocked up on kit for a new or existing hobby seem mostly free of remorse, however. A large and esoteric variety of musical instruments – including mandolins, banjos, guitars, old-school church harmonicas, ukuleles, even cowbells – were acquired during lockdown, and the majority still seem to be bringing their owners much joy. It’s not known whether the same can be said of those who live with them.

People who resisted the lure of a new kitchen gadget and bought a piece of art instead are having few regrets. Jane Russell, maker of award-winning sausages, got into bidding at online auctions, coming away with “a beautiful painting and a pair of candlesticks that need to go in the bin except I think I’m even too embarrassed to do that.”

Those who got busy with their hands gardening or doing crafts or even tackling some home décor seem to be largely happy with their choice. What Oonagh Charleton just absolutely had to have during the miserable days of Lockdown 1.0 wasn’t a slanket or a monthly craft beer delivery, but a more wholesome potter’s wheel.

It has proven an “amazing” buy. She has used it five or six times, and her ten-year-old has used it more often.. “Clean up takes longer than the making, but it’s fantastic fun. Tricky to learn the skills solo in lockdown” but YouTube was helpful, she writes. “You need an entirely separate building to deal with the zillions of clay particles shooting out in every conceivable direction. Still scrubbing terracotta spots off dining room walls … If I had a spare garden shed, we would definitely use it more.”

Some people do now have a spare garden shed, or will have. Some day. Joseph McSweeney shared a picture of what was supposed to be his lockdown shed. “A ton of building material and in the process of building a garden shed. It’s taking forever, and I have regrets.”

Joseph McSweeney’s ‘shed’
Joseph McSweeney’s ‘shed’
Martin Savage’s outdoor kitchen
Martin Savage’s outdoor kitchen

Martin Savage’s “impulse buy”, on the other hand, is a hi-spec, fully-equipped outdoor barbecue area, featuring five different types of oven for slow cooking, smoking and barbecuing, allowing him to do everything from smoking salmon or bacon, to burning flavoured wood pellets, to spit roasting a chicken, all without ever going back inside again. “Next on the purchase list is a pizza oven,” he says.

For others, it’s all about the little things. Broadcaster Fionnuala Moran invested in “a wax stamp seal with my initials on it. Wholly unnecessary but adore it. Feel like I’m sending Hogwarts letters or something equally magic every time I send a bit of post.”

Writer Sinead Corr’s best buys were a “life-changing” pair of binoculars and some wellingtons for “walking in the mud for miles and spotting wildlife” around Essex, where she lives. “I feel like I’ve been blind for half a century and have finally started to enjoy the world that’s always been around me.”

There was a rush on campervans at the start of the summer and though several people insist they are still enjoying theirs, for others, the reality hasn’t lived up to the dream of long sunny days spent wild camping by secluded beaches.

Waterford Green Party TD Marc O Cathasaigh sold his campervan – “broke my heart, but then, it had my heart broken,” he says – and bought a Brompton foldable bicycle instead, which he loves. “It makes the Dublin train journey so much handier.”

Karl Carpenter also ended up selling his lockdown campervan, which he bought before going to France for 14 months. “Got locked down for 200 days with all borders closed. Managed 12 nights away. Came home and sold it back to the dealer who was very generous. Thank God.”

Paul Flynn, owner of the Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan, and Irish Times food writer, “bought a campervan just before lockdown,” says his wife, Máire. “She should be called Camilla, because now she’s the third person in our marriage, and it’s a little bit crowded. And very tense.”

I had a brief, intense flirtation myself with the idea of owning a campervan but – in hindsight, perhaps thankfully – settled for a pair of €150 shearling Birkenstocks, whose cost per wear is so low that I reckon Birkenstock is essentially paying me at this point. I’m not alone: furry Birks are a surprise and universally popular frontrunner in the Twitter survey.

My other no-regrets impulse purchase was a €500 Dyson fan and air purifier combo, a pricy but essential acquisition for someone with mild germophobic tendencies living though a pandemic in a house with windows that can’t always be relied upon to open.

If there’s ever another lockdown, my research reveals some impulses items that you might want to resist. In no particular order, they are: rollerskates and trampolines (unless the intended recipient is a child); expensive cameras (your phone will do most of the same things); airline tickets (except where you’re very clear on the refund policy); any garments involving sequins, extensive beading or elaborate shoulders (where exactly do you think you’re going?); telescopes (is this a purchase for the life you have, or the life you’d like to have?); floor steamers (I’ve been tempted, but most bought during lockdown have been consigned to the gadget graveyard); hot tubs (repeat after me: this is not California); robot hoovers (great in theory, reportedly less reliable in practice); 3D printers (ditto); home draught beer machines (and ditto).

According to Revolut, Irish spending habits may now be returning to more normal patterns. The digital payments group found there was a “significant rise” in people buying clothes last month, while spending in bars and fast food outlets was up 10 per cent, and spending in cinemas up 62 per cent. There were no specific figures for the national spend on airfryers and pottery wheels, but it’s probably safe to assume those are now on a downward trajectory.

Still, parts of that awful time were fun, and I’ll never regret my lockdown airfryer.