It’s easier than ever to buy things online. It’s so easy that Ryan Cassata sometimes does it in his sleep. Cassata, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter and actor from Los Angeles, recently got a notification from Amazon that a package had been shipped to his apartment, but he didn’t remember buying anything. When he logged onto his account and saw that a fanny pack and some socks were on the way, he remembered: A few nights back, he had woken up in the middle of the night to browse—and apparently shop on—Amazon.
He shops when he’s awake, too, buying little gadgets like an onion chopper, discounted staples like a 240-pack of gum, and decorations like a Himalayan salt lamp. The other day, he almost bought a pizza pool float, until he remembered that he doesn’t have a pool. “I don’t really need most of the stuff,” he tells me.
Thanks to a perfect storm of factors, Americans are amassing a lot of stuff. Before the advent of the internet, we had to set aside time to go browse the aisles of a physical store, which was only open a certain number of hours a day. Now, we can shop from anywhere, anytime—while we’re at work, or exercising, or even sleeping. We can tell Alexa we need new underwear, and in a few days, it will arrive on our doorstep. And because of the globalization of manufacturing, that underwear is cheaper than ever before—so cheap that we add it to our online shopping carts without a second thought. “There’s no reason not to shop—because clothing is so cheap, you feel like, ‘Why not?’ There’s nothing lost in terms of the hit on your bank account,” Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, told me.