I recently read a very interesting book by Annie Leonard called The Story of Stuff . In it she describes our consumer society as "a system in crisis" and gives some frightening facts about how our materialistic values are now threatening our very being. In a nutshell, the system is flawed throughout various stages :
1. Extraction- we are running out of our precious resources like trees, water and food.
2. Production- we use too much energy, add toxic chemicals that are harming us and polluting our atmosphere.
3. Distribution- we promote shopping and consumption by measuring our value based on the amount of stuff we own.
4. Dumpsites- we are filling up our landfills and releasing toxins into the air through incineration.
Leonard says that "1% of the stuff we buy is still in use 6 months later." Wow, 99% of the stuff we think we need gets tossed? That's a wake-up call. Another disturbing fact: manufacturers are either intentionally making products that don't last, or they are creating perceptions that the products are outdated and useless, so that we must buy new all over again. Ever noticed that refrigerators don't last as long as they did when we were kids? And think about how many times we've upgraded our phones, computers and TV's in the last few years? Did we really need to?
It is definitely something to take pause over. I have been increasingly conscious of not buying things for my home just because they are so inexpensive. Yes, that cool retro clock may be a steal for $10 but I really don't need another clock. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against capitalism and I'm certainly not against decorating our homes to make them comfortable and stylish. I believe we are fortunate that our circumstances grant us the luxury to make our homes and our lives into a true reflection of who we are. But we should be able to do it in a responsible way that will be sustainable for our planet.
What's the answer to all of this? I think it could be simply reusing and repurposing.
Think about how our grandparents used to live and the fantastic furniture they had. Many of those pieces are hanging around today and are the best pieces in our homes. Hang onto and cherish them. Look for them at yard and estate sales, or in your parents' attic. Use your crafty skills to repaint an old ugly lamp or picture frame instead of buying new. Cover your existing throw pillows in new fabric when you want to change with the seasons, instead of purchasing awhole new pillow. Look for stuff outdoors. A couple of birch branches and some interesting rocks make for great conversation starters in your living room.
The average house size in North America has doubled since the 1970's, and we still have more stuff than we can fit inside them. Let's take the time to sort out what we have. Let's try not to buy new when we don't have to. When we do, let's invest in quality pieces, hopefully locally made, that will last so that we can hand them down to our kids.
This is obviously a huge global problem that we cannot remedy individually. But the piece of this scary system that we can control is our own consumption. I'm going to try to be more mindful. Are you?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on over-consumption and what we might be able to do to help curb it. Please leave a comment!