Love Your Stuff

178 - StuffA lot of people will tell you modern society is too materialistic. That we’re all focused on our ‘stuff’ rather than what’s really important – including each other.

I’d like to suggest something different.

We’re not materialistic enough!

It’s not that we love and cherish our ‘stuff’ too much, it’s the opposite – we don’t value ‘stuff’ enough.

We use things once then throw them away. We replace things rather than repairing them. We don’t look after the things we own. We buy things we never use. We enjoy the thrill of shopping for and buying things more than the things themselves . . . all in all, perhaps we should give our ‘stuff’ a bit more care and attention?

I’m not the first person to say this.

George Monbiot wrote the same thing a decade ago, pointing out that most of us no longer bother to sharpen knives, or know how to fully work our various gadgets, let alone know where the various materials in our belongings has come from. The blog Stuff Does Matter has a similar message.

If we really valued our possessions, understood what had gone into producing them,  were more selective in buying them, took better care of them, tried to repair them when necessary – then as a society we’d certainly consume a lot less.

I also suspect as individuals we’d also decide we need less stuff and clutter in our lives.

The Science Fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling wrote that we can group our belongings into four categories:

1 – Beautiful things

2 – Emotionally important things

3 – Functional tools, devices and appliances

4 – Everything else

He suggests that we should have beautiful things, emotionally important things and useful things in our lives – it’s the everything else category he asks us to question and do away with. The writer Dave Bruno goes further, asking us to consider whittling our possessions down to, an admittedly arbitrary, 100 things or less !

A philosophy of simplicity and frugality is important if we’re to combat our mindless consumerism, but we also need a philosophy of good design, careful choosing, proper maintenance, repair and sharing.

If you need a bag to travel to work with every day then it makes sense to buy a bag that you love, is well designed, long lasting and ultimately worth repairing when it breaks. The same applies pretty much to all your other every day items – using well designed items will not only be more enjoyable and satisfying, but they should also last longer, and prompt us to take better care of them. Its an issue of quality over quantity. If you’re after suggestions to reinvent your personal possessions more thoughtfully there are a huge number of sites, groups and articles devoted to these  ideas – Everyday Carry, What’s in Your Bag, Good Design, The Verge, What’s in My Bag.

There’s obviously a balance to be struck – not mindlessly filling our lives and homes with more and more stuff and being more selective about the things we buy, but without obsessing fetishistically about them either.

If we get this balance right we can perhaps change our lives – progressively doing away with the unnecessary ’stuff’ cluttering up our lives, while finding the stuff that we do own and value being more useful, meaningful and enjoyable.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in my ebook The Year I Saved the World]

 

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Photo image used under Creative Commons Licence from denharsh, via Flickr

Comments

  1. Thanks for this Jack – love the Diderot !

    I’ve thought about this a lot lately – the ethical components of choosing/buying/spending/owning/throwing away ‘stuff’.

    I don’t think there’s a set of ‘rules’ that apply to everyone all the time – the best we can do is wrestle (my new favourite word) with these issues in an attempt to come to some sort of temporary contentment.

    I think there are perhaps a couple of maxims we can consider as we do this however:
    “think global, act local” and “live simply so that others might simply live”. Both tend to be overused, but remain, in my view, effective reminders of our interconnectedness.

    I’ve written before on buying local and ethical shopping – I’ll also be writing about charity shops specifically shortly, I bought a ‘new’ suit from one only yesterday.

    10 Tips for More Ethical Shopping – http://nextstarfish.com/?p=4978

    10 Ways to Eat Local – http://nextstarfish.com/?p=9095

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