Monday, July 21, 2008

The Story of Stuff

I know. It's odd. I've been offline for the better part of four days. There's a reason. I needed some time to regroup, to look, again, at the world around me--at the things I've accepted and believed about my world, to see what needs to be changed, and to see what role I might play in that change. This has been a LONG time coming, but something had to be the proverbial "last straw." And, of all things, it was an email forward from someone I respected. So today I'm going to bump a few other drafted, stock-piled posts I've been slowly working on for this one.

Most of you know that I don't usually do "forwards." I try to use email more to communicate personally, to write letters or notes to friends/family, to make personal announcements, etc. With all the information passed on email (by the way, I currently have over 2,000 unread NON-spam emails in my account to be read), I hardly have time to read email forwards, to check validity of some stories with snopes, and to decide where to file it, if anywhere. I have even less time to decide who, of my email friends, would enjoy it and whether THEY have the time or need to read it. So...on Thursday my friend Teddi, who also doesn't usually do forwards, forwarded me the following link to "The Story of Stuff," I was surprised...yet intrigued. This must be important. She warned that it was 20 minutes long, but well worth 20 measly minutes of my life. And I believed her because, well, she's Teddi. I could easily give 20 minutes of undivided attention to this video.

I've been humbled and literally silenced since watching this video. It's taken me a few days to find my public voice again. As a matter of fact, I've visited this story more than 4 times. The first time I watched, I was looking for political and other biases. Because, let's face it, there's always bias in every. single. message. But once I made it beyond the blame game and some not-so-subtle sarcasm, I found the meat of the message. It wasn't pretty.

Granted, a good portion of it is something I've known for a long while, but there were some underlying things in the second half of the video that I wasn't precisely aware of. It haunted me as I walked through my house looking at my "stuff."

Just a few examples (disclaimer: these quotes may not be exact, I was writing as quickly as I could while watching):

Only 1% of the total materials produced and purchased are kept beyond 6 months.

The average house size has DOUBLED since the 1970s.

We each create TWICE the amount of daily garbage today that we did just 30 years ago.

The US has less than 4% of our original forest.

We have 5% of the world's population, but we use 30% of the world's resources.

If the entire world consumed resources as fast as we (the US) do, we'd need 3 to 5 planet Earths.

Furthermore, I was stunned by the Planned Obsolescence and Perceived Obsolescence that grew out of the aftermath of WWII. That's what angered me most because I've bought it hook, line, and sinker. Planned Obsolescence was when designers purposefully discovered ways to create products to break fast enough to keep the consumer's business booming. Ever heard the famous phrase "They don't make 'em like they used to?" It's true. They don't. On purpose. And when breaking didn't work fast enough, Perceived Obsolescence stepped up to make it necessary to replace items more quickly.

An influencial voice of the post WWII time was President Eisenhower's council of economic advisors chairman who stated: "The American economy's ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods." So...produce, we did. Another influencial quote during the beginning of American consumer capitalism was made by Victor Lebow, a 20th century economist, who said in 1955 that:

"Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."

Since watching I've been making a list of items I've bought that we had to throw away within months to a couple years of purchasing for failure to work or for being outdated. And this is just a start:

several irons, several hairdryers, dozens and dozens of beeping, flashing toys, many broken picture frames, broken pots/pans/dishes/tupperware, 4 non-working computer monitors in just five years, hundreds of pens, furniture (book shelves, desks, chairs, beds, etc.), several cell phones, several home phones, answering machines, digital cameras, printers, DVD players, TWO ovens, VCRs, TVs, multiple baby items (car seats, etc.), many, many, many flashlights, many firestarters, yard stuff (broken hoes, rakes, shovels, etc.), tire tubes, many shoes, fans, old non-recyclable satellite dishes, and plenty more...

My list doesn't even touch the regular consumables that we threw away daily like plastics, diapers, styrofoam, etc. Ick! I'm rather pleased over the multiple treasures we've found that were used or discarded elsewhere--and the various items we've recycled either by donating to others or finding a decent new home for. But recycling isn't nearly enough, folks. The need for "stuff" is a crisis. I'll have to track down the quote, but I believe it's Dave Ramsey who says that it takes us 3 years to accumulate today what it took our parents a lifetime to acquire. Scary stuff.

There are many suggestions provided in a link at the end of the presentation. One of the suggestions was to go unplugged more often, which we did this week. Annie Leonard says that even if online communities give us a good jumping off point, studies show that advocacy has a greater impact on change when practiced in our own communities as opposed to online/Internet communities. Not only did I talk more with my surrounding neighbors and friends in my town, but I got far more accomplished in my home than ever before. WOW! I definitely think I'll do it more often. We've even discussed getting rid of our TV completely (if we could only get NFL games online in real-time, we'd probably make this change TODAY).

As always, I'm still sorting through this information--will continue checking other sources--learning what I can about my own community. I'm curious what you think about all this. If you do take the time to watch this video, I'd love it if you'd drop me an email or leave comments below.

4 ♥ thoughtful comments ♥:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I hope others watch the video and change their ways! For families who want to save money, going GREEN will give you some more GREEN in the bank! My coworker changed his lightbulbs to CFL's and saved $30 on his bill...and that's in an apartment!! Our city provides bins for trash and recycle. We pay for water, sewage and trash. We started to recycle everything and compost all foods...we called for a smaller trash bin and it's saving us $60 per year!! There is a lot of info out there, but small changes will make a difference and save some cash...and save the PLANET!
-say no to plastic bags. Use a reusable bag, PLEASE.
-get a reusable water bottle. It takes 15 billion barrels of oil to product a years worth of platic bottles. Stop and maybe gas prices will go down!! Don't use plastic #3, 6 or 7 because they leach toxins into your body!
-Pack a no-trash lunch with reusable items.
-Use cold setting for laundry or line dry.
-Clean fridge coils, AC filters.
-No more paper towels, napkins, paper plates or cups!
-Unplug cell phone chargers when not in use. This is phantom electricity and it costs a LOT. Use a power switch for the TV, DVD, etc. and turn it off when you're not using it. Unplug coffee, toaster to save more.
-Drive under 60mph and do errands on the way home to save gas.
-Print using draft to save ink.
-Buy Energy Star appliances.
-Eat at home! Plant veggies, fruit!

Again, so much stuff we can all do to make a different and SAVE cash!!

Anonymous said...
Check this site out...she'll make you a fabric reusable bag for FREE! Check out the facts on barrels of oil used...STOP using plastic bags and maybe gas prices will go down.

Shaye said...

Awesome ideas, y'all!!!! THANK YOU! Keep 'em coming!

Laureen said...

OK I'm laughing. =)

You want to go anti-consumer? Move onto a boat. You can't overconsume; there's no place to put it. You can't buy cheap stuff because the marine environment will destroy it in half the time. And anything you do buy, you must know how to maintain or repair. You don't use too much power because there's only so much throughput on a boat.

What's horrifying though is that even though we were a family of four in a 1200 sq. ft home (small by local standards), it still took us over a year to get rid of all the junk. And we're still doing it. Most of the liveaboard boaters I know are still purging. Gotta love it.

More of my stories of the joy of ditching stuff here:

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