The Story of Stuff: Follow up to Walmart Rant Post
So, do any of my fellow bloggers out there ever start writing a post and inside you’re thinking – “Don’t go there girlfriend – I want to keep my blog all sunshine and puppies?” That’s exactly what happened to me yesterday; only I couldn’t stop myself and kept writing and writing till I was ready to join Greenpeace and travel the open water in a motorized rubber raft chasing illegal fishing boats, whalers and polluters.
S**t. I did go there. But, I don’t regret it – in fact I think it’s high time I went there. There’s something about articulating an inner feeling and then all of a sudden I see similar positions all over the place. Shortly after writing my post I found the Story of Stuff movie on the net. Then, I opened my freshest issue of Ceramic’s Monthly (which I read cover to cover yesterday) and read a commentary titled quixotic? an essay on transition (not yet online) by Drew Nicklas that talked about the very same thing I so clumsily tried to express yesterday. He was a doctoral candidate studying international political economies when he discovered clay and switched gears.
I chased these discoveries by reading the Denver Post before dinner and saw an article on lackluster holiday sales. I don’t know about you, but I avoid the mall like the plague but drove by it last Saturday where there was hardly any parking to be had. How much money does the government and big business want us to spend anyway? Remember after 9-11, President Bush said “Go Shopping” to save America? Well it seems like we’re all shopped out. As a country, we’re on a vicious treadmill of spend, work, pay bills, and then spend more only to be hit with high credit card bills which causes us to get a second job or maybe tap the equity in our homes (if you have one) only to lose it in foreclosure months later when we spend even more on cheap stuff we neither need or can’t afford. I haven’t even touched on shopping as therapy or how our stuff is poisoning us with the toxins in everything from toothpaste, pet food, toys, etc. etc. or the rising cost of gas and food.
Back to The Story of Stuff which explains two different strategies that big retail corporations have perpetrated on unsuspecting citizens. It has to be two of the biggest conspiracies out there! They’re called planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence. I snoozed through micro and macro economics in college so this was all news to me, though I did sub-consciously understand the underlying ideology already.
Planned obsolescence is the pre-planned retirement of an object by the manufacturer where it ceases to be functional after a time which causes consumers to replace it with another *newer* model. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been through 4 or 5 computer printers since getting my first computer 10 years ago. Printers, for example, are so inexpensive now a days, that rather than fix it which would cost the same as a new model, we go out to buy another one to replace the one that stops functioning.
Perceived obsolescence is when an object doesn’t stop working per se, but instead goes out of style. Think fashion here or maybe the latest gadget. The movie illustrates this point with women’s shoes. Clunky heels one year and pointy high heels the next. If you’re not wearing the one in style, you sort of stick out like a sore thumb. So, when faced with that dilemma, we donate our old shoes, and buy new ones every year even though our last season’s shoes never stopped functioning as were designed to in the first place. If you’re anything like me, I hold onto those shoes for a few years, hoping that they’ll come back into style until I finally donate them.
Did you know that only 1% of stuff that is purchased is still in use 6 months after being purchased? That’s pretty pathetic. Places like Walmart contribute to the cycle by offering us cheap stuff. But, as I said yesterday, this comes at a great human and environmental cost.
What to do? Spend consciously. Ask yourself if you really need xyz. Be honest with yourself. Finally, buck the trend and be yourself. If we stop caring about trying to fit in and just start being ourselves, it will be a much better world.
It’s not lost on me that I make stuff and sell stuff. I think that is really what I’ve been grappling with the past year. How do I reconcile this with our disposable society. I’m still trying to figure that out, but I do think my stuff doesn’t compete with pottery at Walmart if merely because of the price difference. Currently I sell a mug for $16.00 – which is pretty reasonable for a handmade cup. I know I’ve checked around. But, at $16.00, it gives pause to the buyer – they have to really like it to buy it and will hopefully keep it for their lifetime. I know it may sound like I’m trying to justify my position, but I’m not – I’m trying to understand how I fit into the equation without selling everything I own and beginning a life of ascetic subsistence.
Finally, the last serendipitous moment was when the ever so talented Andrea posted this little movie at the end of this post on global warming on her blog yesterday.