Life as a Subscription Service
It begins with a toothbrush.
As an experiment, I’ve signed up for virtually every subscription box service I can find, attempting to simplify basic tasks like feeding and clothing myself—tasks that, even as (and maybe especially as) a 36-year-old father of two, often prove more challenging for me than they probably should. My closet is full of worn-out T-shirts and dated items like boot cut jeans, and my fridge is stocked with pre-made supermarket salads and frozen meals. Surely it won’t be difficult to improve on this.
My first delivery is a slim package containing a plain white toothbrush. The product’s gimmick is that it’s weighted to always keep the bristles upright, even if I drop it, but I don’t care about that. I care about the fact that I always forget to buy new toothbrushes, and the one in my bathroom is matted and gnarly. I drop it in the trash and replace it with the shiny new one, smiling with the knowledge that another will arrive in 90 days without my having to do anything.
It’s a small victory. But if I can somehow outsource all of these little details of my life— replacing my toothbrush, buying groceries, shopping for clothes—then maybe I’ll feel like I have enough time to get the big stuff right.
Later on the same day, delivery people arrive on my porch with packages containing a colorful pair of socks, a box of chips and cookies from South Korea, vegan nutritional supplements, and paleo-friendly snacks. Before long, my house is filled with artisanal whole-bean coffee, impressive travel photography books, trial-size vials of designer cologne, and craft kits for my kids. My wife even gets in on the action, receiving handmade olive oil soap and a subscription box for teachers containing cord organizers, tea, a pair of pretty silver earrings, and wildflower seeds.
(Truly, there appears to be a subscription box for everything. Among others, I skip out on services that would deliver baseball cards to me every month or turn my Instagram pictures into a steady supply of wall art.)
It doesn’t take long for me to answer my initial question about whether these services will simplify my life. And the answer is “Yes, but ….” Yes, getting my groceries and my clothes delivered to my front porch is quicker and easier than thumbing through seasonal catalogs and trying on clothes, or looking up recipes and shopping for ingredients. But it’s still a whole lot more complicated than doing things the way I was doing them before, when I was simply wearing the same tattered jeans and eating microwaved meals five nights a week.
When a box of ingredients arrives from Dinnerly, I excitedly stuff the packages of vegetables and herbs and ricotta cheese into my fridge. But then it occurs to me that I actually have to, you know, make the meals. Later that night, I’m caramelizing onions and rolling out premade dough on my floured counter, making way too big of a mess. But the end result, a spanakopita pizza, is probably the best thing I’ve ever made myself (I credit the fresh dill). When a box arrives from Marley Spoon the next week, it’s my wife’s turn to make spicy sausage and pepper pasta. We typically fend for ourselves at dinnertime, and as we wolf down the one-pot dish, it occurs to me that these are the first meals we’ve made for each other in months.
Boxes of clothes arrive, and I open them immediately and like them a lot, but it takes me days to finally try them on. When I do, the effect is exactly what I’d hoped for. The brown leather sneakers and light wash jeans from Stitch Fix, as well as the chinos and short-sleeved Henley from Trendy Butler, are items that I probably wouldn’t have picked out on my own, but they instantly spruce up my wardrobe.
At some point, the experiment shifts. It’s no longer “Will this make my life easier?” Rather, it’s “Is this who I am now?” Are a few subscription services enough to turn me into the type of guy who always has fresh flowers on his kitchen table? The type of guy who owns clothes for every occasion (and a nice weekender bag to put them in)? The type of guy who wears socks with pink pineapples on them?
All of this stuff makes me feel like a person who has his life put together, which is nice. But it also makes me feel a bit like I’m playing the part of a person who has his life put together—like a striving wanna-be who reads magazine articles like this one and imitates them step-by-step, rather than developing my own lifestyle.
It doesn’t take long for the cracks to show. Although it turns out that I really like the smell of the Dolce & Gabbana cologne The One Gentleman, I almost always forget to put it on before leaving the house. I let the ingredients for one of the boxed meals rot in the fridge, too busy to make a real dinner. I even find myself using leftover instant coffee from a vacation instead of taking thirty seconds to grind the gourmet beans sitting in my pantry.
I haven’t yet decided whether to stick with the services or let them lapse. But if I do keep them up, laziness can’t be my main motivation. If it is, more food will go bad, packages will sit unopened, and I’ll end up keeping clothes I don’t want simply because that’s easier than returning them.
If I keep the subscriptions going, it has to be because I want to become a slightly different version of myself: one who cooks three times a week, who knows what to wear to his niece’s graduation reception, who reads more, and who has a constant supply of veggie-based protein powders to mix into post-workout recovery drinks.
Are a few packages on my doorstep every month enough to turn me into that guy? Oddly, I think they might be.
If I let them.
Paleo by Maileo
Atlas Coffee Club
Sugar Smart Box
Mama Bath + Body
Brush Up Club
We Craft Box