Journey to a sustainable future

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Story of Stuff

Have you ever read a book or an article or seen a movie that changed your life?  I mean, really made you think, "Wow.  Everything I have thought, or have been doing up to now, has to change.  Now."

That is what The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, our Communities, and Our Health--and a Vision for Change by Annie Leonard did for me.

I found the link for the short youtube video via the Center For a New American Dream (which is awesome in and of itself, by the way).  Steve and I watched that, and then I decided to borrow the book from the library.  The video was made before the book, so the book expands and digs deeper on the topics represented in the video--with the same cartoon-y graphics, and colloquial tone as the video.  It is a very approachable book; Leonard does a great job of presenting depressing, complex information in a matter-of-fact, simple way.  Throughout the book, she also talks about hopeful changes that are occurring that relate to each topic and subtopic.  This keeps the book from being so overwhelmingly sad that you want to stop reading.

Me, I couldn't read it fast enough!  I have a degree in Natural Resources, so the environmental issues were not new to me, but seeing how they are so related to the workers' rights issues, and racial equality issues, further convinced me that a) the environment is the root of everything, and thus b) you cannot work for labor rights or hunger eradication or racial equity without also working for environmental justice.

"The crises of poverty, inequality, and the environment are all related—and they are all related to consumption.  It is simply not an option for those of us in the wealthy countries to refuse to reevaluate our consumption patterns; the planet is in crisis, we’re not sharing fairly, and it’s not even making us happy." ~ Annie Leonard, the Story of Stuff

One thing I especially appreciated about The Story of Stuff was that Leonard did not shy away from hard topics.  She asks us to truly evaluate our "free market" economy, and see if the way that the U.S. is being run is really the way we think  it should be.  Lots of other countries have chosen not to have democracies in the same way that America has democracy, and they are doing fine.  People in more socialist-leaning countries report greater happiness than people in the U.S. do.  Leonard isn't saying that we need to be socialist, but what she is saying is that the current modus operandi isn't working, and we need to find something that does. 

"Victor Lebow, after WWII: 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 an at ever accelerating rate." ~ Annie Leonard, the Story of Stuff

Democracy does not have to equal consumption.  We do not need to buy things in order to prove that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Indeed, our adherence to the work-spend mantra is tying us even more strongly to the rat race and our own unhappiness: that is not freedom.  Consumption is a new kind of tyranny.

Leonard helped me to see the real price tag.  When I took environmental economics in college, we tried to assign monetary value to things that Nature does.  But flood abatement, soil retention, air cleansing, and carbon sequestration are very had to put a tag on.  And so when those things are gone, we as consumers--who caused their demise--never see that cost in our credit card statements.

Leonard does not say to stop consuming things.  Even mushrooms use resources when the grow in the forest.  We have the right, as a species on this planet, to use resources.  What we don't have the right to do is overuse resources. 

"What I question is not consumption in the abstract but consumerism and overconsumption.  While consumption means acquiring and using goods and services o meet one’s needs, consumerism is the particular relationship to consumption in which we seek to meet our emotion and social needs through shopping and we define and demonstrate our self-worth through the Stuff we own.  And overconsumption is when we take far more resources than we need and than the planet can sustain, as is the case in most of the US as well as a growing number of other countries." ~ Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

I agree with that statement.  And I am trying to live a life that reflects my belief.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homeostasis of Stuff

love this shirt!  have owned for more than one year!
I have discovered that getting rid of items, stuff, junk, even things you really liked, is easy.  What is hard is not replacing them. 

I sold a bunch of my tank tops to a local consignment shop, and relegated a few t shirts to my pajama drawer (really: a white t shirt when I hang out with a toddler all day?).  So, I went to that same consignment shop to go buy more tank tops--pretty ones, feminine ones.  Came home with some great shirts at great prices. 

And then my drawer was full again.

Well, some of the shirts are difficult to breastfeed in.  Steve informed me that he didn't like a few of the others.  So I sorted through all my shirts, and selected stack to sell to the consignment shop. 

And my drawer is kind of empty again.  And I was convinced that I needed to go shopping, because I didn't have enough shirts anymore.  Thankfully, I thought about this a little bit more, and decided that if I still feel like I don't have enough shirts in a few weeks, then I can go shopping.  It is like I am used to have x amount of whatever, and so when I have less than x amount, even when that was thoughtfully and deliberately done, it feels...uncomfortable.

orange nursing tank top September 2011

Of course, I have plenty of shirts.  And I still wear the same 5 ones over and over.

I try to enact the "one in, one out" rule.  But I have fallen into a trap of minimalism: if I only have a few of something, be that mixing bowls, bath towels, tank tops, or socks, then they need to be the perfect ones.  They have to be exactly what I want; clothing needs to exquisitely reflect my style and taste.

In Oregon, the rain jacket is standard attire
Now for some things, this makes sense.  If you only have a few pots and pans, then you need to have what you use: no sense in having a double boiler if what you really need is a sturdy stock pot.  But if you have the 5 qt pot with steamer baskets, is it necessary to also own the 6 qt stock pot?  Maybe it is; only you can know that.

But clothing has become an issue for me.  Which is kind of funny, because clothing never used to be my "thing."  Ask my sister; she deplored my selection of clothes every morning in high school.  In college, I routinely wore the same four pairs of pants, the same 6 long sleeved t shirts, and the same black fleece jacket to class.  And I seriously never thought twice about it, and I don't think anyone else did, either.

I have had good reasons to buy new clothes: none of my pre-baby clothes fit post-baby.  It took me ages to lose the baby weight.  I am now under my pre-pregnancy weight.  All of these do, in my mind, necessitate, or at least validate, wardrobe editing.

orange nursing tank top July 2012
I have to come to accept that at any given time, my clothes may not perfectly project "me" because "me" changes.  And just because I do own fewer clothes/shoes/purses than the average woman in America, does not mean that I have a right or need to go acquire more of those items.  I am learning to let empty space be ok.  I am learning that just because I am not full, does not mean I am not satisfied.  I am learning to be content with "enough."