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The Anxiety of Returning Things


For Father’s Day, my dad asked me if I could help him clean his house.

“Would you mind picking up some gloves and cleaning supplies at the store?” he asked. I said sure, dropped by a discount retailer to buy a bunch of things, and then swung by my dad’s place ready to scrub.

My father opened up a box of gloves, and showed them to me.

“Son, this pair has two left-handed gloves in it, can you go back to the store and exchange them?”

I paused for a second before saying yes. I got into my car and headed back to the store.

“You can do this,” I whispered under my breath. “You can return these gloves.”

Ever since I’ve had money in the bank and the purchasing power of a consumer, I’ve been bad at returning things to the store.

I’ve bought things online that weren’t what I expected them to be, and left them in a corner of my closet, waiting for them to be put in a donation box one day along with some brand new clothes I’ve never worn because they didn’t fit me quite right.

The same for gifts: “If you don’t like it, you can return it because I included a gift receipt!” friends and family members have said. I’ve never returned anything using a gift receipt.

It’s weird, but I have “returning-things” anxiety. The thought of it overwhelms me—the lines, the dealing with customer service reps, I suppose the entire process in general—and I know I shouldn’t feel that way.

And yet, I take comfort in the fact that I know that I’m not the only one. On socialanxietysupport.com, there are entire threads related to this experience:

I’m not 100% sure why this is the case for me, but I’ve always found it difficult to return items, even if I made a mistake or have every right to due to a defect. It feels like I’m admitting failure or something walking back into the store, telling the cashier why I don’t want it. I just can’t do it.

Yesterday I was changing the air filters in the house and noticed a vent that never had one. I measured it a 14in x 24in and went to the store to buy one. I get there and they only seem to have 14 x 25 so I get one of those, assuming that I must have measured it wrong. I get home and of course it doesn’t fit. I didn’t even take off the plastic yet so returning it would be no issue, but the idea just stressed me out so what did I do? I threw it in the garbage…What a waste of money.

Writes another poster:

Yeah, a lot of times I have refused to take back damaged or broken items to the stores for a refund or replacement because I feel far too embarrassed. I feel like they’ll refuse to believe me or something.

The “I Hate Returning Things” is also a common post written by busy parents. They usually go like this: I bought something, but it didn’t work out. Instead of returning it, I just ordered another thing because I’m a busy parent and my time is more important to me than getting a refund for this thing I bought.

Similar confessions can be found all over Twitter:

Few people know that I have this kind of anxiety. But my dad definitely knows about it. When I was in high school, he bought me a baseball glove that didn’t fit quite right, and then sent me back to the store to return it while he waited in the car for me with the engine running.

I must have taken a long time conjuring up the courage to make it to the counter, because the next thing I know, my dad is in the store pushing me in front of a cashier and saying, “For god’s sake, son. Hi there, my son needs to exchange this because it doesn’t fit, can he get a new glove?”

We walked out with a new baseball glove within minutes.

“Now was that so hard?” he asked when we were back in the car.

So, I was back at the store, with a pair of gloves to return. The baseball glove memory was fresh in my mind.

The next thing I know I’m in front of a cashier.

“I was just here,” I said.


“And you see, I bought these gloves but when I opened the box there were two left-handed gloves in it and—” I was talking a mile-a-minute.

“Oh wow, I’m sorry you had to come back because of that!” the cashier said. “Did you want to return them or exchange them?”

“Exchange, yes, oh god, thank you.”

“Okay, I’ll keep these, and just go grab a new pair.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it!”

I was out of there in less than a minute.

Later, back at my dad’s place, I found my dad in the kitchen, scrubbing the floor with his glove-less hands.

“I thought I might as well get started,” he said. “Did you exchange the gloves?”

“I did,” I said.

“You did,” he repeated back at me, his eyes sparkling, perhaps remembering.


B. Benson is an office drone.

Photo: Cushing Memorial Library


15 Comments / Post A Comment

hollanding (#6,076)

“that’s it?” are my words exactly, every time a similar exchange occurs. even with online purchases (prepaid shipping labels help so much).

I have phobias about a whole range of social activities, but if I pretend I’m doing it on behalf of someone (sibling, parent, close friend) it becomes so much easier. Going to an interview “for my sister” involves a certain amount of mental gymnastics, but it’s worth it! I hope. Or I am going to be one heckuva crazy person down the line (or possibly now!).

garli (#4,150)

Does it help at all to know that the people doing the returns don’t care at all about why you’re returning it?

crenb (#6,486)

I am like this at restaurants. Brought me the wrong thing? Food undercooked? Overcooked? Just not ideal? No, it’s okay don’t worry about it. I’m not that hungry anyway/don’t want to cause problems/it’s not a big deal/etc. etc. ughh social anxieties

j a y (#3,935)

@crenb I feel like it’s logical at restaurants (cue rationalization of social anxiety). What if you get spitfood back?? (ok, also germ anxiety)

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@crenb I worked at a restaurant, and we really didn’t care most of the time when people sent food back; especially if it’s something we honestly messed up on.

The only time it was annoying was if someone did it when we were getting slammed for something that wasn’t our fault (e.g. you didn’t read the description of the stroganoff, and are now surprised it contains mushrooms and want a new one). We would still order you a new dish, but we would do so while hating you inwardly.

I worked there for 4 years, and I never saw anyone spit in a customer’s food. I’m sure it does happen, but I think you’d have to be a real asshole.

shannowhamo (#845)

@crenb I basically LOVE returning things, but food I deal feel weird about. I ordered enchiladas the other day and the sauce I got was not the “green chili sauce” I pictured but rather dirty sink water vomit sauce. I just scraped it off and ate the enchilada like a crazy person!

kellyography (#250)

@MissMushkila Same here. I worked in food service throughout high school and college, and to my knowledge, nobody ever spit in anyone’s food, no matter how shitty the customer was.

Beaks (#3,488)

All of my returning things anxiety pretty much disappeared when I worked retail. Now I return things with impunity, even arguing with managers about their store’s return policy (which they conveniently print places where you can read it and then read it back to them…). Unless you’re actively defrauding them, stores don’t care if you return things.

The same is true of asking for discounts for small defects. It’s just a button. Most stores don’t even require a manager’s approval. If there’s a stain or it’s missing a belt or something, just ask.

@Beaks ditto. A few weeks ago I helped a friend replace some tires on her bike and totally botched the size. She was a little anxious about returning them but I was like, look, I fucked this up, and we haven’t used them, and if they’re assholes, they suck!

After working ops, if something doesn’t fit, then don’t use it! The quicker it gets returned is so much easier for us (hell, we didn’t even use SKEWs), because we just pop it back in. Obviously big ticket items anywhere I assume are worse, but at least at bike shops there are a reason we take deposits on things. Don’t be an asshole and most people don’t care.

tossit (#4,570)

The only time when this used to be any problem to me was at restaurants, but after I worked in one for a couple of years in college, I stopped caring. As long as you’re not a jerk most staff will just bring you a new plate of whatever you ordered. Most of the times they are the ones that will stress about messing up or the person cooking will. Even if you are a jerk, all that means is they’ll walk into the kitchen cursing and pissed haha, but never actually spit or mess with your food.

gyip (#4,192)

Really glad to hear about the behind-the-scenes end of stores and restaurants. Anxiety … fading!

I have the opposite problem – I don’t have anxiety around returning but I do have anxiety when I don’t return or buy something non-returnable and am stuck with it. It’s a non stop loop of “you’re a dumb money waster” for like months.

Can you tell I bought a dress on sale at a boutique that was too expensive that I didn’t really need/want but my friend (in a nice, you deserve it, friend kind of way) kinda pushed me to buy this weekend?


I also can send food back at a restaurant but feel an intense amount of guilt afterwards and feel like I need to make BFFs with the waiter/waitress to prove that I’m not a dick and there really was something wrong and please like me I’m not like those other mean people, and then I leave a giant guilt laden tip to try to balance things out.

Susan Tidebeck (#5,691)

I love this article. So many people who hate returning things, just like me!

Here’s a good one: I bought a WiFi router when I visited my Mother one year, planning to return it before I went home 2 weeks later. She doesn’t need WiFi because she uses ethernet, but it was useful for me with my laptop.

Anywayz, I try to talk my way out of returning it, saying she might have other people visit that can use it, maybe she will some day get an iPad, etc, but eventually she convinces me to go with her to return it. We are waiting in line at the store and everything suddenly goes dark. Hooray, a power failure!

But I still couldn’t get out of it. She forced me to wait out the five minute power failure and get my $39.99 refund. Unfortunately, this experience only taught me how difficult it can be to return things… the lines, the wait, the power failures. Oh well.

potatopotato (#5,255)

OMG, I feel so GUILTY about returning things, so I generally just don’t, ever.

Once semi-recently I bought a whole bunch of bras at Nordstroms (I need a weird size, and usually order them online and end up paying $80 apiece). I’d gone for a fitting, and it was super busy, and the sales lady would pop in, hand me something to try, and then go help people on the floor. It took a long time, and she was working hard to juggle everything. So I found about 4 that I liked, and ordered a couple more to be delivered to my home. A week later I came to the conclusion that 1 fit well, 1 fit but I would never wear it (neon orange and purple lace, anyone?) and the rest were wretchedly uncomforatble when I wore them in real life. So I went back to the store, 90 min away, to return all but the one I was wearing. Who waits on me? The same girl who sold them all to me. “So none of these worked out?” She sounded disappointed. She probably lost a chunk of commission or something. I still feel like a jerk when I think about it.

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