Friday, March 27, 2009

The Gospel of Consumption

Today is my final day at NewsBank, and this weekend I have to finish packing up East Hill and load all my stuff into a UHaul to bring back down to Massachusetts. As I've been packing over the past week, I've found myself alternately amazed and apalled at all the stuff I've managed to collect into my possesion over the past two years.

Part of me values the idea of surrounding myself with beauty and function, with objects that have a story to tell; not those that were purchased from a big-box store. Living in Vermont, I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to raid acquiantences' barns for old crates and chairs and other items that had long ago been given up as junk. I've spent many afternoons digging through flea market tables, church rummage sale bins, and the dusty booths at antique stores. I've scrounged the woods and created things from what I've found there. I've been happily surprised by the stuff that other people have given away at the 'free tables' on East Hill and at NewsBank. I've received wonderful, thoughtful gifts. Thus, most of the things I'm carefully packing into boxes hold some sort of meaning for me, and I look forward to unpacking them some day in the future and creating a new home with them. The stark, modern home look is not for me! I like windowsills cluttered with plants and knickknacks, and little objects around the house that remind me of places I've been and people I've known.

Another part of me, though, is in awe at the sheer amount of stuff. Do I really need all this? Can't an apartment be a home without three pitchers and six vases and sixteen candles and twelve potted plants and an old fashioned typewriter that weights 20 lbs? And shoes! Let's not even get into shoes...

The home design blogs I'm so fond of constantly advocate paring down your belongings to keep your space organized and efficient. A book I recently read, Vegabonding, by Rolf Potts, also champions doing away with unnecessary stuff that we think we need but which really just puts us into an endless cycle of sacrificing our precious free time to work harder and buy more stuff. Even at work, the topic of possessions has been coming up. I recently had to edit an article that referenced Susan Strasser's book Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash and was able to delve into the book a little bit. Among other fascinating issues, it discusses the prevalance of disposable goods in Western societies and how they were created and propagated not for our convenience or even so much our cleanliness, but rather to make someone rich... rich enough to build a football stadium, in fact. In 1900, the average gentleman needed to buy only one straight razor in his lifetime, and he could resharpen and reuse it over and over again. But then, King Gillette realized that if he could convince people that disposable safety razors were the wave of the future, he could sell that single gentleman not one single razor but hundreds and hundreds of disposable razor blades over the course of this life... and thus make hundreds and hundreds of times more money. In a nutshell, all these disposable goods and packaging are a) bad for our pocketbooks (duh. buying one is cheaper than buying many!); b) bad for the environment (disposable stuff=landfills); and c) bad for our quality of life (back to working more to buy more stuff that we don't really need and losing our free time to do the things we love).

My real reason for this blog post, though, is not to instruct everyone to go buy resuable shopping bags and water bottles and join Lyndsay in the no'poo movement (cuz that's just not for everyone!), but rather to politely direct y'all to this utterly fantastic and relatively brief article that pretty much sums things up.

The Gospel of Consumption
And the better future we left behind
by Jeffrey Kaplan

Read and enjoy!

Thanks for listening!


PS - This weekend, the plan is to snowboard on Saturday, then go for one last hike around East Hill, finish packing and saying goodbye on Sunday, and move to Mass. on Monday. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Wow lady.. thanks for advertising my hair adventures to all. ; )