My name is Rebecca Jennings. I am 26 years old, and I live in Brooklyn, New York. Every morning, I wake up on a Casper mattress covered with Brooklinen bedding. I brush my teeth with a Quip toothbrush, then floss with Cocofloss. I do exactly 45 minutes on the elliptical at the gym downstairs in a matching set from Outdoor Voices.
In the shower, I use a shampoo and conditioner perfectly customized to my hair type by Function of Beauty; my morning vitamin by Care/of, too, is designed specifically for me. I dry off in a robe from Parachute, then dress in minimalist basics from Everlane. I apply Glossier Cloud Paint followed by Boy Brow, and before I leave the apartment, I slip on a pair of Allbirds.
This is not a terrible attempt at an American Psycho parody. Well, it is not just a terrible attempt at an American Psycho parody: It is also an entirely accurate description of my life, or at least it was, for one week in November.
The premise was this: I would surround myself with the products whose entire raison d’être was being the best. The stuff that claimed it was “the only one you’ll ever need,” or “the last one you’ll ever have to buy.” These are companies that set out with the intention of disrupting entire retail categories through direct-to-consumer business models or millions of dollars in venture capital funding or flashy ads on public transportation (or all three), and who together have created an entirely new retail environment in which everything ends up looking exactly the same.
I would try them all at once, in the service of a single question: Would they actually improve my life?
The short answer is yes. Of course they did! As a shock to probably nobody, the direct-to-consumer mattress was indeed far superior to my regular mattress, which is actually my old roommate’s mattress, which before that was probably somebody else’s too. My mouth felt cleaner. I actually took vitamins. I got to use fancy tampons! Have you ever tried on one of those really nice hotel bathrobes? I lived in one of those things for, like, a whole week, basically!
But the long answer is more complicated. Part of that comes from the fact that I didn’t actually have to fork over money for any of this stuff. The fun thing about stunt journalism is that when you ask a brand to try their product for a story in which you have already implied that they are “the best,” they are extremely willing to send you things. (I should also note here that much of it was not to keep, and that whatever was feasible went back to the company it came from.)
The other reason is because I am somewhat of a consumer dirtbag. The nice word for this is “frugal,” but I know what I am. I am the sort of person who can make a single makeup wipe last for about four days. I never, ever pay for lunch, and instead graze on whatever food happens to be in the Vox Media kitchen. My winter coats come from thrift stores and are all missing buttons or linings, and one of my favorite pairs of boots is currently supported by gaffer tape.
I am not proud of this; in fact, this combination of laziness and anxiety is one of the traits I like least about myself, and it’s why conducting this experiment brought up a lot more complicated feelings than the simple joy of having nice things.
And yet I am still these companies’ target customer: a city-dwelling millennial job-haver who cares deeply about stuff.
There is an entire generation of us here — those who are constantly given the message that we can and should have the cleverest couch on the market or have the best item from the fanciest restaurant in town delivered to our door in 20 minutes. It isn’t just a display of wealth; it’s your morality: that you are indeed the Informed Consumer, able to not only afford the best but to know what “the best” even is. It’s a marketing strategy that is not new, of course, but that seems to work particularly well at the present moment.
Jessica Pryor is a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University who studies perfectionism in young people. “Right now in the US we have a powerful recurring social message that not only is perfectionism — the perfect item, the perfect life — possible, but that it’s a thing that you should be able to go out and achieve,” she explained over a recent phone call. “It’s an absolute myth that leaves a lot of people really, really unhappy.”
And because we are Americans, we have a preternatural tendency to dig our way out of that unhappiness with stuff. “It ends up overgeneralizing to self-worth,” Pryor continued. “So unless I have that best product or achieve that promotion, I’m useless. It can also result in this really cultivated, groomed presentation style with other people, so usually what happens is people end up feeling one way inside and acting a different way on the outside.”
Of course, this was precisely what happened to me over the course of my eight days of living as a perfect consumer. The widening incongruity between the products I used and the person I was meant that the nicer my life looked in a photograph, the worse it looked to me.
But man, it did look pretty good in a photograph. For one week, I lived the kind of life that’s scientifically concocted by marketing professionals, the kind of life that Bill O’Reilly probably thinks of when he gets riled up about annoying young people. I tried to be a different version of me; I tried to be less gross.
I will not lie and say that I had fewer than two existential crises.
Day one: Friday
I wake up on my Casper Wave mattress in my Brooklinen sheets. The first thing I see when I look to my left is two small, tasteful plants from the Sill, which, despite being out of their boxes for a full 12 hours and me knowing exactly nothing about plant care, have not yet managed to die.
I put on my huge, fluffy bathrobe from Parachute and walk to the bathroom, where I brush my teeth with Lebon Le White toothpaste, which is the kind of toothpaste you can buy at Neiman Marcus, and my Quip toothbrush instead of the disgusting frayed one I stole from my parents’ house a year ago.
My gums aren’t used to the electrical buzzing, so they bleed, which my dentist told me is a good thing, apparently. I finish with Cocofloss, having not flossed for at least a month, and after popping a Ritual vitamin in place of a gummy one, I begin, of course, to bullet-journal.
By bullet-journaling, I mean I make a list of the five things I have to do that day, and despite the $30 I spent on the notebook (a Leuchtterm 1917), the page does not look cute.
I’ve just come from a few days in DC having used an Away suitcase, which is millennial pink and is extremely fun to zag around on the cobblestones of Brooklyn and between the insufferable crowds at Penn Station. Carrying it feels like a flex — “Yes, bitch,” it rumbles to passersby, “I’m that suitcase.”
And yet after my first night in my fancy new bed, the assignment is already getting to me. I’m more easily annoyed about tiny imperfections — the way my feet are still clammy when I wake up, that tumbleweed of blonde hair on the floor, an annoying text that I’ll feel bad about ignoring all day. The products, despite being worth thousands of dollars, have not managed to neutralize my bodily functions or my laziness about cleaning or the lingering guilt of ghosting.
Regardless, I suit up in my Informed Consumer attire: MeUndies; any one of the litany of startup-designed bras I now possess from ThirdLove, True & Co, Lively, and Harper Wilde, all of which are nicer and fit better than any bra I’ve ever bought; and Everlane. It’s literally the first time I’ve ever worn Everlane, and I immediately feel superior to everyone I pass on the way to the train.
By the time I get off the subway, however, Everlane has already betrayed me. The pointy black boots are a half-size too small and have ground my heels into raw, red open wounds, so I hobble into a Duane Reade and pay $12 for two boxes of enormous Band-Aids. (I needed two in case one of them sucked.)
Unfortunately, this means I will have to wear the only other shoes I have at work: jelly sandals. I’m due at a birthday dinner straight after work, so this also means I will be dining at one of Brooklyn’s fanciest restaurants in rubber shoes meant for toddlers.
Day two: Saturday
I wake up on my Casper mattress in my Brooklinen sheets feeling absolutely miserable. I’ve had the sort of Friday night that I had expected would have stayed with the old me, the non-Everlane-wearing me. In the interest of protecting you, reader, from the goings-on at Brooklyn’s best-worst bar, all I will say here is that I have A Night and don’t get home until 6 in the morning. I blame the jelly shoes.
Will a Ritual vitamin, the ones with the cute little balls in every pill, help? Almost certainly not, but I take one anyway. I have another birthday party in a few hours that will also, of course, take place at a bar, so I wobble over to the kitchen to bake a boxed cake. (I am not one to normally bake from the box, and Informed Consumer me certainly wouldn’t have wanted to either, but I am deeply hungover and as of yet, Hello Fresh does not deliver baking supplies.)
I make less-bad choices today, despite having to start drinking before I am done being hungover. Later, a group of friends comes over to my roof, where we drink some of the best beer in the world (Focal Banger by the Alchemist), and the best pizza in Brooklyn (Domino’s, fight me), plus a lovely red wine handily delivered to me by the brand Saucey.
It’s a cute night — the kind of night that would be in a millennial-targeting commercial for, like, Venmo or something. I end it by making a good decision about a boy (sending him home) and go to bed ecstatic to be on my Casper mattress, alone.
Day three: Sunday
The first thing to go is the bullet journaling. I knew it wouldn’t last — journaling, for me, is reserved for when I feel extremely sad, plus the idea of cutesifying “productivity” does not appeal to me one bit. But I feel guilty about stopping anyway.
I eat the shitty boxed cake leftovers for breakfast, which I allow only because I’m about to go skating with a fellow figure skater friend in Prospect Park. I wear my Outdoor Voices sports bra, Lululemon In Movement tights, and Allbirds. I feel extremely bendy and bouncy even though I haven’t been on the ice in months.
We watch the marathoners, go to brunch, and later I meet up with another friend at one of those bars in Manhattan where white people get hammered at 2 pm and dance to Travis Scott. It is somewhat horrifying to witness; I do not get hammered.
We get lasagna at a place that’s literally called Lasagna Ristorante, which feels appropriate for the experiment (the lasagna is medium-good). That night I do my whole skin care routine. And as I brush my teeth rigorously, I imagine my dentist telling me I’m not doing a good enough job cleaning and how I will reply, insistent, “But I have a Quip!”
Day four: Monday
It’s time to switch to the other fancy vitamin company: Care/of, from which I’ve taken a customized quiz to determine which supplements they’ll give me. What I did not know about Care/of is that based on your answers, you can easily end up having to take nine vitamins a day. Nine! Nine is far too many vitamins for a relatively healthy 26-year-old to take, but evidently it’s part of the brand’s strategy of making fish oil and garlic adorable. They are, certainly, but the thing about vitamins is that even the most Instagrammable among them still taste gross, and having to swallow nine of them is deeply unpleasant.
“Health isn’t fun,” says my editor. I agree!
Speaking of health, instead of making Sun Basket’s chickpea and kale stew at home like I planned, I meet a friend who has recently been dumped at a bar. I end up tipsy, filled with a burger and fries, in an Uber home at 11, and on the way I calculate the calories in the burger and wine and begin to realize that four days into this experiment, I am still exactly the same.
Day five: Tuesday
I fuck up my chicken taquitos from Sun Basket only once (it is physically impossible to get them to stay rolled up) and do not contract food poisoning even though I have little to no experience cooking raw meat.
I celebrate by going to the crappy little gym downstairs where I need to impress nobody but wear my Outdoor Voices matching set anyway. There’s a small sliver of midriff showing, and if I were about 7 pounds skinnier and had just eaten 100 percent fewer taquitos, I would quite honestly feel hot as hell.
I rinse and dry off in my Parachute robe and feel very luxurious until I realize it’s the first day in a week that I haven’t had anything to drink. These sorts of realizations normally send me into a brief spiral of panic, and this time, the existential salve is a retinoid and Cocofloss, which has now come to have the effect of making me feel slightly better about absolutely everything.
Day six: Wednesday
On the subway on the way to work, I catch a glimpse in the reflection of the door: the headless body of a woman wearing an Everlane trench coat and a tasteful $200 bag. I marvel at her because I cannot see her head — my head — and think about how grown-up she looks.
She looks like a woman who takes her clothes to the dry cleaner and her shoes to the cobbler. She does not need to borrow phone chargers from her roommates because she’s too lazy to go to the store and spend $10 on a new one. (Also she probably does not have roommates.) She does not panic over calories and Uber fares because she knows how to live with moderation. The woman in the Everlane trench coat did not black out this weekend.
Thinking about her makes me feel like shit, so I order Caviar for lunch. Surprisingly, it helps. The whole deal is that you can order any item from any fancy restaurant and a courier, in my case Lyndsey, will text you when she’s arrived with your food. “I’m the one with pink hair,” she’ll say. Lyndsey is lovely, and she also has vodka sauce pizza from Emily for me, which makes me like her even more.
I continue my day of food-related extravagance: I attempt a veggie couscous from Hello Fresh that at first feels simple but that I will quickly discover requires me to have three separate timers running at the same time. I have just the one on my iPhone, which results, humiliatingly, in me setting off the fire alarm.
The dish itself ends up being wonderful, however, and as I chop the vegetables with a knife from the incredibly fancy kitchen brand Material, I am convinced that there is no such thing as a bad cook, just people who lack professional-ass knives.
Day seven: Thursday
I wash my hair with my custom Function of Beauty shampoo and conditioner, which leaves it sleeker and straighter than usual. I swathe my face in Glossier: the bright pink Cloud Paint, the pastel pink Lidstar, the magenta cherry balm, and blonde Boy Brow. My face looks like the kind of chubby blonde girls with rotund pink cheeks that you see in Baroque paintings, which is a vibe I don’t hate.
The glow, literally and figuratively, does not last. I receive bad news, which I immediately predict will have the effect of triggering some terrible decision-making. It does, and the upshot is that I get to try the fancy condoms that tampon brand Lola sent in its “sexual wellness kit.” One breaks. It’s fine, I think.
The last day: Friday again
I wake up in my Casper mattress in my Brooklinen sheets far too early for having gone to bed at 2 am. This morning, I feel different; whether it’s because I’m running on very little sleep or because I’ve just started my period, it’s hard to say. But at least I now get to use my fancy tampons: I switch between Lola and Cora throughout the day. They are both very nice and both exactly the same.
The experiment feels largely over for me. I can’t shake the suspicion that I have somehow failed at it, even though there was never a concrete goal at all and technically my plants are still alive. By now, it’s clear that I am neither a happier nor a more self-possessed person after eight days of living in a way that precious few people can afford.
Is this the part of the essay where I am supposed to say that it doesn’t matter how cute your leggings are or how many questions you answered to create your perfectly customized vitamin medley? That no matter how much money you have to spend on bedsheets, your life will be more or less the same? Is this supposed to be uplifting in a “be happy with what you have” sort of way?
A different person might rationally find this conclusion to be a positive one, but for a reason I don’t fully understand, I am disappointed.
In the afternoon I take my laptop and work from the Burrow House, the store that sells “the most clever, comfortable sofa.” It’s a place where customers can customize their couch, sure, but it’s also one of those stores that serve you beer or prosecco and literally has a movie theater in the basement where people are supposed to hang out.
And so I hang out. I sit on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, and write about the past week while the store manager serves me raspberry tea and the rain plops down on the skylight above me. It’s beautiful here, and they play the kind of music from late-aughts coffee shops: the Fray, Coldplay, Alicia Keys. It’s relaxing in a way that only exists in stores that hope you are about to spend thousands of dollars there.
A young, attractive couple comes in with their son, a toddler. His name is Zephyr, a name so perfectly suited for millennial baby name bingo that when the mother calls it out, I almost laugh. They’re shopping for a new couch, naturally, and as the bearded, bespectacled dad accepts a beer from the manager, I think about what it must be like to be able to walk into a store like Burrow and just … pick out a couch.
I’ve been pretending for the past seven days, but the reality is that I am very, very far from this lifestyle. In fact, the older I am, the less sure I feel that I’ll ever get it. Any of it: not the privilege to buy the best couch and the toothbrush that comes with a subscription, nor the kid with the insufferable name and the adorably doofy husband who drinks beer in stores.
None of us deserves that much. But we are supposed to want it. I want it, and having a facsimile of it this week has made me sadder that I don’t.
And yet I still have two products I haven’t used. Both are alcohol delivery services, Drizly and Minibar. After Zephyr and his parents leave the Burrow store, I make a few taps on my phone, and when I return home 30 minutes later and soaked from the rain, I have no fewer than five bottles of wine waiting for me.
I’m about to go meet some of my favorite high school friends for dinner at my favorite crappy Mexican restaurant in the East Village. But before I leave, I pop one open. I drink a glass that turns into two on the Casper mattress that is no longer mine, relieved that I can finally stop faking it.