What I Learned Grocery Shopping in Buenos Aires


Here’s how a 20-year-old American student shops for groceries in Buenos Aires.

  1. She waits until she has absolutely no food left.
  2. She waits until she’s headed home from her last class of the day, usually after 9pm.
  3. She doesn’t eat dinner ahead of time.
  4. She races around the store, grabbing food frantically as her stomach twists in hunger.
  5. She checks out and pays, watching with increasing dismay as the clerk puts her groceries into bag after bag after bag.
  6. She remembers her previous vow to shop during the day, when the free delivery service is available.
  7. She sighs, shoulders her backpack, picks up every last plastic bag, the plastic handles digging into her palms.
  8. She walks the five blocks to her apartment, cans dinging her shins, remembering that dinner must wait until she unloads everything and cooks something.
  9. During this entire process, she tells herself how careless, thoughtless, lazy and dumb she is to have made the same mistake yet again.
  10. Once she eats dinner, she forgets about the horrid shopping trip … until the next one.

I lived in Buenos Aires for nearly a year. Never once did I manage to shop ahead of time.

I was a procrastinator for the first two thirds of my life. I procrastinated about homework, about chores, about important phone calls, and about pretty much everything else. I waited until the last minute to write essays, apply for scholarships, and one notable semester in college, I put off washing my sheets for so long that when I packed to go home, I still hadn’t washed them.

I procrastinated in my emotional life, too. I put off getting therapy, having important conversations, or asking for any kind of help. When I faced adversity, I usually turned inwards, avoiding my fears, my grief, or my anger.

And every time I procrastinated, I shamed myself for it mercilessly.

At the time, procrastination felt inevitable. Life was so overwhelming, so hard to manage, that it felt inevitable that I’d be shopping on an empty stomach at 10pm, and just as inevitable that I’d make myself feel like crap about my slip-up.

But looking back, I see that I was making choices all the time. I was making choices to avoid, to deflect, to pretend, to only half-inhabit my life. I had very good reasons for escaping—don’t get me wrong. I have so much compassion for the me that felt overwhelmed. Adulting is terribly overwhelming; it takes a long time to learn to care for yourself. It’s also hard to learn to speak to yourself kindly instead of shaming yourself when you fall short.

But despite my very reasonable reasons for procrastinating and feeling self-loathing, I had to carry the consequences of both every single time. Putting things off bruised me—physically with cans of tomatoes, and emotionally by my terrible self-talk. I had reasons—but I also paid a very big price.

In other words, we carry heavier burdens every time we neglect to take care of ourselves.

We pay a price for missed opportunities.

We pay a price for the anxiety of fretting about whatever it is we put off.

We get sick when we neglect our physical needs.

We suffer from insomnia, panic attacks or anxiety when we ignore our emotional limits.

And we live in the toxic sludge of all of our browbeating and shame.

We can have the very best reasons in the world for running away from our problems or feeling sick with dismay over our carelessness. Still, both come back to bite us.

Six years after my time in Argentina, I entered grad school. Midway through my first semester, professors started assigning final essays. I looked at one assignment after class, my stomach knotting. When this is due, I’ll be so stressed, I thought, remembering my last-minute scrambles from my undergrad degree.

And then, a light bulb clicked on in my head. You could start now, I thought, finish early, and not have to stress at all.

I did just that. From then on, I began assignments the moment I got them, rather than waiting until closer to the deadline. Doing so saved me weeks of anguish. It turned out that doing the work was a lot easier than worrying about it. I still struggled with poor self-talk, but it was worlds better when I didn’t miss deadlines or scramble.

When I stopped procrastinating, I didn’t have to carry such a heavy load.

Look, I’m not saying if we all just try harder, or plan better, we will magically manage our procrastination problems. Organization is a learned skill, but some of us have more aptitude for it than others. Mental health issues like PTSD or ADHD make planning ridiculously hard for many of us—just the simple task of not losing your phone or wallet every day may require serious medication. If you struggle, you’re not lazy, or dumb. You’re simply struggling.

But I do think that when we find ourselves slogging the five blocks home, carrying heavy groceries on an empty stomach, it’s worth pausing after our very belated dinner and taking a moment to very kindly ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do to change things.

Is there medication or a book that could help us organize our days?

Is there a morning to devote to groceries, no matter what?

Is there space to shop for groceries more often?

Is there a chance to budget for dinner before grocery shopping—or perhaps to invest in a cart to truck things home in?

This kind of thoughtful kindness is key. If we browbeat ourselves for these tricky organizational woes, we’ll only make ourselves put things off rather than face them.

Back in Buenos Aires, I wasn’t just procrastinating about grocery shopping. I was procrastinating about noticing how bedraggled, frantic, and awful those shopping trips made me feel. I kept punishing myself every week with my poor planning and shame, never asking if there was any way to treat myself better.

I used to feel so much shame about my disorganization, and assume a better, cooler, savvier person would have everything figured out already. But the older I get, the more I recognize that pretty much everything is a learned skill. More importantly, acknowledging a problem is halfway towards improving it. If I never really decide that I can stop bruising my ankles with cans of soup, I will keep dragging too many groceries home in aching hands while trembling with hunger.