maggiealderson

Too much stuff

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

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Consumerism has to end. By which I mean all of us constantly buying new stuff, to stimulate perpetual growth, as the basis for buoying up economies – as the American public were so famously urged to do by President Bush after 9.11.

It can’t go on. Surely. We have to find another model.

This thought struck me very strongly in a shop called The Emporium at Disneyworld, Florida, where I was a couple of weeks ago.

It was Saturday night and we’d decided to head to ‘Downtown Disney’ – a kind of Disney capital city within the nation state of Disneyworld – for dinner. Me and my beloved pal, Karen and our two tween kids.

Downtown Disney is basically a theme park of consumerism. It consists of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops – all of them entirely Disney, whether they be an Irish pub, a Mississippi steamboat restaurant, a candy store, an ice cream parlour, or the Christmas store.

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The Emporium was the department store, selling all the Disney merchandise across all the ranges from the obvious stuffed toys, to jewellery, homewares, gift food, make up, luggage, clothing… I could go on.

Among all the merch, was a roiling mass of temporarily insane people, wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth as they scoped the endless shelves of tempting trinkets, in a state of extreme excitement, adrenalin pumping on a consumer high – anxious lest they miss out on some essential cute item to take home, or purchase as a ‘gift’.

To me, it was Dante’s inferno, although I did examine the offer in detailed fascination at quite how many ways the Disney icons can be exploited in fundamentally useless objects.

Then I started to imagine how it would all subsequently look in the Illinois homes, Kentucky trailers and New York apartments where it would end up. Where, after an initial coo of excitement it would gather dust and eventually be thrown away.

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Is this really what we are exploiting the earth’s resources for? I found myself thinking, feeling quite ill at the prospect. Images from the amazing 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi flashed into my head.

If you haven’t seen it – I urge you to (the trailer is at the bottom). It’s astonishingly moving to watch and hear (the music is by Philip Glass), but way beyond that is the message – even more pertinent today than it was thirty years ago.

The title is a word from the language of the Hopi Indians of the American South West, meaning ‘life out of balance’ and the film is a breathtaking – and heartbreaking – visual essay of time lapse photography, contrasting the beauty of the natural world, with man’s impact upon it.

Watching the crazed consumers in the Downtown Disney Emporium, desperate to snap up their Piglet Pillow Pets, Goofie Picnic Cups, Mickey Mouse Rollerbags, Sleeping Beauty Necklaces etc etc etc, I remembered the moment in the film when it cuts from a beautiful untouched landscape to a heavy digger, clearing the ground for mining.

All that destruction and pollution for rubbish like this. The water tables of central Asia destroyed to grow cheap cotton, the factory cities of China belching out pollution – for a Minnie Mouse oven glove and tea towel set.

Now, I could write what I properly understand about economic theory on the back of a Donald Duck coaster – I’m fairly well across Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, but then it gets a bit hazy – but it seems to me that the concept of constant perpetual growth being necessary to keep things on an even keel is fundamentally flawed.

We simply cannot sustain ever increasing production indefinitely. It’s common sense. We’re creating mountains of trash using the resources mined out of real mountains. I have this image of the world collapsing like a balloon, empty on the inside.

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There has to be another way and I believe it’s going to start from the ground up. Not from elevated ideas, but because our houses are getting full up – see my previous posts on clutter clearing.

Since I’ve started doing that, using valuable time and energy to clear out stuff I have mindlessly consumed, so I have room to live more comfortably, the urge to bring more stuff in, has left me.

I know it’s not just me, or even a tiny minority of hippie types who forage hedgerows for food. Talking to my friends there seems to be an increasing understanding that – just like any other addiction – non-stop shopping creates too many problems in our lives to justify that transient pleasure hit.

So what is the alternative to constant ‘growth’ as the basis of economies? Can anyone tell me what to read?

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  1. Ah you see Euro Disney is not like this …in fact having been to DisneyWorld and DisneyLand about 35 years ago I was TOTALLY surprised when I went to Eurodisney last year and found that I STRUGGLED to spend money – because once you are in you are in… And apart from lunch there wasnt much else to buy .. One pair of ears that is it ( yeah yeah a few shops but NOTHING like American disney places) … Others may disagree but I think it is a peculiarly American Disney phenomena to buy, buy, buy …

    Me? I’m happy in my own little ‘buy only what I need with a few luxuries’ world ( not popular or PC I know but there go … I am at peace with me)

    Keep up the great insights mags … We love them!

  2. Great post – I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the wake of the Bangladesh disaster. Stuff is very seductive though. It puts me in mind of this quote from The Mayor of Casterbridge – “She found she could have nice personal possessions and ornaments for the asking, and, as the mediaeval saying puts it, “Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words.”

    Even more so when you can take, have and keep for next to nothing, then throw away next week to make room for more….

    • Yes, I was going to mention that terrible factory in Bangladesh in this piece, but I took it out as I didn’t want to stray too far from the initial point. That quote is spot on. I think acquiring STUFF is a fundamental human instinct. It’s a form of nest feathering, but now just as in the West we have too much food, we have too much access to cheap stuff and we are having to learn restraint which goes against our fundamental nature. I really wonder what will happen to the global economy if this feeling of not wanting any more – with houses being too full – starts to spread.

      • There was an opinion piece in the Age this week which struck home with such force. My friends and I are all quite committed to spending the extra few dollars it takes to buy products such as free range eggs but I do not think that any of us have considered (before the Bangladesh tragedy) that our cheap clothes come at such a price to those who make them. How can we galvanise clothes retailers to offer us the same options? Most people would pay a little more to know that the clothes they are wearing are not the products of other people’s misery.
        And Maggie – I too feel a powerful urge to stop buying ‘stuff’. But I wonder if part of this is because I am becoming older and wiser – recognising as we all do at some stage that things will not make us happy. There are very few teenagers I know who do not have a focus on new (cheap) clothes and lots of them. How can we take advantage of the wonderful social conscience that most teenagers have and change the ideas about ‘stuff’ while they are still young?

      • This is a very valid point – the age and wisdom thing. I wish I had the answer…

      • AGREE!

  3. I enjoyed the post. So try although I don’t know the answer. I try not to buy too much plastic for my 3 yr old grandson and had a car boot sale recently which was very revealing of what I had collected over the years.

    • I’m hoping someone who studied economics at uni will tell me a book to read… What other systems are there, apart from endless growth? Not communism obviously, as human nature isn’t up to the rigours of it…

      • thanks for reminding me that we need to be mindful about our consumption. I recommend “Small is Beautiful ” by E F Schumacher, as outlining an economic future without the basis being continuous growth.

      • Gosh, that’s a classic I had completely forgotten about. Must take another look at it – last time was in 70s!

      • A touch ironic for this to come from a fashion writer?! 🙂 But I love your fashion/clothes writing (which I feel is a guilty pleasure to read!) and enjoyed this piece too, which is more in line with my study/professional interests.

        For further thinking on this, I do recommend anything from Tim Jackson, “British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.” He put out the UK report ‘Prosperity Without Growth’, later published as a book, and has written much elsewhere. You’ll also find lectures, TED talks etc…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Jackson_%28economist%29. The Earthscan Reader on Sustainable Consumption, which he edited, is a great grab-bag of reads too, such as on the psychology of shopping! I had this for an assignment and nearly read the whole thing!

      • Hi Claire – you are so right about the irony of the fashion angle and it’s something I’m intending to write about in the future… x

      • Try The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding. Great book!

      • Maggie I do have an Economics Degree but sadly I have accumulated so much other “junk” in my mind – I cant remember any of it so cant help. It’s not only cheap bits of useless fluff that we’re buying – I’m finding with social media etc I am filling my mind with quick bits of (largely irrelevant) information. I have recently tried to focus on being more disciplined and less distracted and reading more books. I hope there is another alternative to this endless dissatisfying cycle of consumerism but sadly I doubt it.

  4. And then there’s the packaging for everything we buy! Have you tried to open a new razor package lately? ! More useless rubbish and more and more landfill. Love your blog Maggie.

  5. You are singing to the choir on this one sister! I too find the concept of destroying our natural resources to make crap which then becomes landfill, a fundamentally flawed way of living.

    I am not pure in this regard, but as I busily declutter, it becomes clear that less is more.

    Thank you for the reminder about Koyaanisqatsi!

    Please keep blogging, we love you (in a non stalkerish kind of way).

    • Honey, I’ll take any kinda lurrrrve xxx Going to a boot fair and seeing the masses of unwanted cuddly toys makes me feel ill too… we are suffocating under mountains of slightly grubby plush.

      • and people donate them to Charity Shops, where I suppose somebody must buy them, shudder at the thought of giving a child a pre-loved soft toy, unwashed from previous owner(s)

      • Repulsive… I agree.

  6. Great post Maggie. I have often thought the same in these sorts of shops. They bring up a mix of overwhelm and despair at the waste of Earths’ resources.

    However, I think the paradigm is very slowly shifting as simplicity and decluttering become things that people speak about and aspire to.

    The ultimate distorted expression of the urge to acquire is the show “Hoarders – Buried Alive”, which I am strangely drawn to and watch with appalled fascination.

  7. I recently read:

    Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough by Clive Hamilton
    Permalink: http://amzn.com/1741146712

    Very thought provoking, but still doesn’t have all the answers economically…

  8. In our village of Springwood, we have Simplicity Circle. There is a book called “Less is More”. It has a series of essays and the book has been left at various coffee shops to be read over coffee or borrowed. Meeting take place once a month where the group discusses what they think of a particular essay.
    Recently there have been moves to make the village plastic bag free.
    I haven’t been because it clashes with my historical costuming, but I hear about it.

    • Tell me more about the historical costuming! Last term me and my daughter made a full Ann Boleyn costume for her Tudor project. It was SO fun. We made the farthingale using willow twigs and cardboard to stiffen the stomacher… Thanks for book tip, will check it out.

  9. Hi Maggie – agree! We need a new model. I asked the wise one next to me about economists who were writing about alternatives to current growth model and he pointed to the following;

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Jackson_(economist)
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Daly
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Latouche

    Also mentioned a book written in the 70s called “the limits to growth” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth) and their predictions are basically on track – which means civilisational collapse mid century! Argh!

  10. Maggie, I’m unsure whether you have seen the docco Kevid McLeod (of Grand Designs fame) made about India. He visited one of the massive garbage tips where kids spend there days fossicking for plastic as a way to earn a living. Really gives you pause in terms of all the crap we buy then chuck away.

    Friends of mine have just returned from Havana, they said you didn’t see any garbage in the streets, everyone is so poor that absolutely everything is recycled!

    Which is something to be admired.

  11. I live in Melbourne within a kilometre of three outlet malls and I watch people arrive by the tram load with looks of glee so they can buy crap. And they leave with armfuls of it. And it is crap. I’ve looked. Sad. A vacation to Melbourne – a beautiful city – is for some, gorging on consumerism.

    • Ugh, but it’s not hte people is it? it’s the system. We are trained to be consumers from infancy. All those games for kids on the internet they have to ‘earn’ ‘money’ to ‘buy’ things for Moshi Monsters, it’s so sick. Actually I might blog about that!

  12. You have hit the nail on the head Maggie. Perhaps society has fallen into the trap of mindless consumerism, bombarded day in, day out by advertising and marketing.There is a fabulous book called Affluenza on this topic written by Clive Hamilton. I remember reading it years ago. It was so powerful that a group of my girlfriends and I decided to trial a “buy nothing new month” immediately after reading it. Such a liberating exercise.

    • My library did have Clive’s book but it appears to have been nicked. However there is another book of the same name in the catalogue. It’s author is John Da Graaf and it is based on a two part documentary that aired in the USA. Part three offers solutions according to the contents page. I haven’t read it but will borrow it today to see what it recommends.

    • I must read that book. I’ve been meaning to for years… We are trained from childhood to shop. It will take such a fundamental shift to change it…

  13. Hi Maggie

    Economist OH pointed out this by NYT journalist Paul Krugman. It seems consumerism is king. However OH says investing in the future and doing things smarter are alternatives.

    “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.”
    Paul Krugman, The Age of Diminishing Expectations (1994)

    Liz

    • oooh a real economist, I’m beginning to wish I’d studied it at uni… I can see that quote rings exactly true – for the system we have now. I’m just – truly, madly, innocently, sincerely – whether there is any other possible system to replace it with? Not communism…

  14. Great post Maggie. It’s hard with small children. We don’t buy them much at all, but people use them as a dumping ground, if they get some silly trinket they give it to my children! My mum finally gets t and knows to buy one really good quality toy or game rather than 20 useless $2 shop crap things, the in laws are not great, they send so much stuff that just breaks immediately it does my head in. Walking into my daughters bedroom makes me shudder sometimes! The amount of stuff!! Ugh!! I have no answers but agree with what you have said.

    • And all those awful goodies bags at parties full of CRAP. A friend of mine gave each child one decent toy and all the kids were outraged and the other mothers muttered. I got really sucked in buying my daughter stuff. It was like being slightly possessed, but we are now giving most of it away and she doesn’t miss ANY of it… I am hopeful that so many people are feeling queasy something fundamental will start to shift…

  15. I read a great book a couple of years ago – ‘Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping’ by Judith Levine, a Brooklyn-based writer.
    Actually, I think it’s time I re-read it.

    And then there’s ‘Living the Good Life’ by Linda Cockburn, about an Australian family who spent 6 months trying to become completely self-sufficient and spend no money while living on a normal-sized Queensland house block.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. My library has a copy which I’ll be borrowing.

    • It’s really inspiring that there are so many people out there trying to consume less – but if we all did it the system we currently have will collapse. I want to know what other systems there could be…

  16. Hi Maggie, I live in Melbourne also and declutter for a living and am constantly astonished at how much everyone owns. It’s also no surprise at how weighed down people feel and the burden in maintaining these items.

    The need to acquire is often to fill a void however I feel as if the tide is turning slightly. My children in their 30’s are far more conscious of their purchases and mindful of their origin – there is also far more in the media now but it’s all about education. Pity it isn’t addressed thoroughly in all schools through their curriculum.

    I think we can all make a difference as individuals through choice and lead by example but it’s going to be a slow process don’t you think?

    • I think the population is increasingly going to divide into the mindful – people like us – and the rampant consumerists. It is going to be slow because our whole system is so geared up to shopping and I just don’t know what the alternative can possibly be..

  17. Growth Fetish by Clive Hamilton is one book that looks at these issues Maggie.

  18. I went to IKEA a few years ago and watched people load up trolleys and trolleys and trolleys of flat packed “stuff”. It was an overwhelming experience in so many ways and I haven’t been back (I left empty handed). The Sydney Royal Easter Show showbag “hall” (in inverted commas as it is actually warehouse size now) incites similiar feelings of over-consumerism of cheap junk. Nature strips on council pick-up days are groaning under the weight of all that flat pack furniture – not only is it falling to bits but it looks very dusty as if it’s been sitting in a garage for years. $5 t-shirts at Target and the like have consequences (in Bangladesh to name one). I don’t know what the answer is and I hope someone here suggests a book which might provide an alternative global economic strategy that we could slowly but surely begin in our homes. Great post!

    • I’m gathering together a list of really interesting books and will read at least one of them and post on it… it turns out this is a big issue for discussion. Comforting it’s not just me sitting alone thinking ‘am I mad – or is this nuts…?’

  19. Dear Maggie,

    The Limits to Growth, Meadows et al, 1972. You’re right: our level of consumption can’t go on, and it won’t be pretty if it does — which it will if we keep following the current economic model. On the matter of clothes, spend more and buy less. At least the workers will be better paid, or so we hope. Also, buy services rather than stuff — the gift of a massage, for instance. Among the more affluent in the West there is a growing queasiness about the mountains of crap we are discarding, even as we rape the real mountains — I’ve been worrying about this for years — but I don’t know if that’s enough to turn things around, not when the thing governments fear most is unemployment.

    Thanks for thinking beyond the cash register.

    • So agree – I always try and buy things that will be eaten or used in other ways, or experiences, like a massage. Also totally agree on the clothes front. I do worry that the affluent tiring of too much stuff will come too late – as all those who have been denied need to catch up with us. They don’t yet know too much stuff clogs up your life… Thanks so much for this. x

  20. Brilliant post! I wholeheartedly agree with you Maggie.

    Paul Gilding has written and spoken about ideas on curbing consumption and forging a new economic model – his work his worth looking into if you’re interesting in reading about alternatives.

  21. While we can never have too many hats, gloves, and shoes; quality is paramount. Fewer items of the finest quality.

    Gloves and earrings are the most important
    Items in the wardrobe. They can update an
    Outfit instantly.

  22. Hi Maggie; thanks for yet another thoughtful post.

    A few years ago I read “Affluenza: when too much is never enough” by Australians Hamilton and Denniss. It’s not exaggerating to say it changed my life – and my buying habits – forever. There are a couple of other books with Affluenza in the title which I should read to compare; I imagine the premise is the same.

    On an entirely different note, are you back on the 5:2 after your trip away?! At least on fasting days we’re consuming less. 🙂 I wonder how you’re going (as I sip my herbal tea with Stevia).

    • Yes, I’m fasting again! Good point – less of everything. I’ve had a steady loss of 1 pound a week, although it’s been a bit hard with family staying for a week. I’m going to have to do it all at the end of the week, which will slow it up a bit. Is it working for you?

      • Sadly it’s not working for me in terms of weight loss. I’ve been doing it for 6 weeks now and I just seem to lose and regain the same 1.5kg in an endless disheartening cycle.

        But! I do feel energised, with a diminished appetite. and somehow some of the tummy seems to have disappeared slightly despite the scales telling a different story. So I will continue on the 5:2 way and hope my body suddenly works out what it’s supposed to be doing.

        I’m grateful to you for mentioning it here – it made me go and investigate more.

      • Sorry to hear it’s not going great guns for you. I’ve found that I have to restrict myself to 300 calories. In all honesty, I think this means I probably eat 500, as it is so hard to be 100% accurate weighing everything, so I just decided that really restricting was the only way. If I do that I lose a pound a week pretty steadily. NO way of losing weight is easy DAMMIT!

      • Tara I too was a faster but gave it up recently – I too found that I just wasn’t actually getting anywhere with it in terms of weight loss (over 10 week period). Since I have stopped though I have been gaining weight (despite exercising hard ie 6k runs or 1 hr high intensity weights/cardio etc 5 times a week) I think the 5:2 for me is good for maintenance but not for significant weight loss. I thought I felt better on it too but faced with choosing bn having nothing and a piece of toast for breakfast after a run, I found it increasingly hard to choose nothing given my disillusionment with it. I so wish I had different results.

  23. Maggie, here are some books you might enjoy

    -Affluenza and Gorwth Fetish by Clive Hamilton

    -cradle to cradle and Upcycle by William McDonough

    – lessons from Madam Chic by Jennifer Scott

    You might also like these blogs:
    – miss minimalist
    -empty emptor
    -lost in a spotless mind
    -project 333
    -zen habits
    -the simply luxurious life

    There are lots of communities around the new minimalism and the curated wardrobe, which will give you lots of tips and strategies for reducing the amount of stuff in your life and being happier with less.

    I recently gave more than half my wardrobe to charity, and I feel much better for it – lighter, less weighed down by too much choice, more stylish, happier. I’m planning to do the same on the rest of the house – I don’t need two dinner sets, stacks of pillowcases, drawers and drawers of kitchen doo-dads…

  24. There’s a distinct possibility that a levy on income will be imposed here in Australia to assist disabled people through life.

    Virtually everyone is saying we need to help this group.

    But immediately the head of the large dept store Myers came out and said such a levy would (or he may gave said could) reduce retail spending. His response has met with some criticism.

    So the idea of reducing our spending, as admirable as it is, will be a difficult one to get off the ground. Working people and shareholders (often retirees) have huge vested interests in consumerism.

    I assume if this movement takes off, and I think in a teeny way it already has, it will be a slow one. In the meantime all those aspects of our lives can adjust to the new social and economic order.

    I guess what I am saying is don’t overlook how entrenched spending is and how difficult it will be for some people to adjust. But as with any change in our thinking we must start somewhere. Look how long it took to get safe cars. But we have benefited so much as a result.

    So let’s embrace as much as we can, tv programs on hoarding, websites about recycling and simply modifying our spending patterns. It will need a lot more than ‘modifying’ but it is easier to start small and to start seeing results sooner than later.

    • Irene, I signed the petition first thing this morning! What a disgusting attitude Myer has adopted. Weirdly enough I have just recently spent two weeks on crutches due to a knee injury so I am well on board with the rights of disabled people (after coping with uneven footpaths, public transport, the TAC, the Police, etc)

      I am considering handing in my Myer One card as a consequence.

    • Agreed. Our society is so built around consumerism that big business and politics have too much invested in it to change. A shift in paradigm is going to have to come from the grass-roots level. Maybe there won’t be a huge change until people are so unhappy that they revolt….!

      • This is exactly why I want to research what alternatives have been suggested – I’ve been given some great reading tips on here and will be following up on it all x

  25. Hi Maggie
    Have you heard of Collaborative Consumption? (www.collaborativeconsumption.com) which is described as a new economic model – a shift in consumer values from ownership to access – have a look

  26. I am reading the excellent “Made on Earth: What We Wear, Where It Comes From, Where It Goes” by Wolfgang Korn: it charts the journey of a red fleece – from manufacture in Bangladesh, to its eventual demise and reallocation/repurposing.

    The week before I borrowed it from the library (another decluttering habit I have been polishing) I bought 3 cheap and cheerful tee shirts ($9 each) which I (to be fair) did need for the cooler weather. But if I’d bought good quality ones last year, then I wouldn’t have needed them, would I??

    After the Bangladeshi disaster I picked up my new T shirts and looked at the labels. Yes, “Made in Bangladesh”. I hadn’t even checked when I bought them – too much of a hurry. I had marvelled at how nicely they were made: well cut, quite good fabric. What a bargain!

    It is easier not to care: more convenient and certainly cheaper. In the short term, at least…

    What a vicious circle our demand has created. Buying what we “want” has to become what we “need”.

  27. Advertising, media – pressure to spend.

    ‘Massive savings’, ‘Buy now, pay later’.

    The ongoing massive global consumption of…..stuff. It just leaves me cold.

    How appallingly repugnant.

    • And just heard on the radio this morning that the whole world economy depends on turning the population of China from producers to CONSUMERS. Then it’s all over…

  28. Hi Maggie, I have recently stumbled across some great websites on minimalism. Very fascinating to read and really makes you think what you can do without! I love http://www.theminimalists.com. Really well designed, beautiful website. One of thecreators, Ryan, shares his 21 day journey into minimalism including packing up EVERYTHING in his home and over the weeks only unpacking what you need. A very stark realisation of how much stuff we own and never use. I haven’t been brave enough to try this yet but small steps! (Ps. Ryan reminds me of a young Jack Kerouac 😉
    Also bemorewithless.com is a really good resource. Its heartening to see there are many people around the world who are really questioning why we need so much stuff!

  29. It’s the quality issue – Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance! I object to the cheap, usually poorly made stuff that breaks/gets misshapen etc after a few uses. I agree with the above comment that it’s worse when you have kids – I must have thrown out a zillion crappy plastic dinosaurs the kids have received in lolly bags after parties.

  30. I very much agree with what everyone is saying. The West cannot continue consuming unnecessary stuff. However the consequences of us ceasing have the potential to cause even more massive poverty in the countries which provide the cheap labour to manufacture the wretched stuff.
    A BBC programme called Blood Sweat and T-shirts this brought this home to me. A group of six 20 something high street consumers were sent to India to see just how their cheap fashion was made. It was an eye opener for them and me as viewer. Firstly, the exploitation of the workers is dreadful but when asked why they put up with the low wages and often poor conditions they spoke of how much it meant to them to be able to support their families and educate their children.
    So I don’t know what the answer is. We can’t continue to ravage the environment for the sake of junk and cheap garments. But if rich nations just cease to consume the unecessay stuff there would most likely be dreadful consequences for millions of already poor people.
    We are in a very big mess!

    • Annabel, you make a very valid point, I don’t know the answer…but it’s a huge question…

  31. You’re so right. My post before last was all about STUFF and clearing clutter.. Just too much everywhere. How did we all get so greedy and acquisitive? Or how did I, come to think of it? When I take my no longer wanted items to the Charity Shops I look at all the stuff waiting for new homes which have been left there – at one time someone bought them thinking they “needed more” Crazy… I am trying harder. Promise.

  32. Yes, Affluenza is interesting. So is The Selfish Capitalist (Oliver James). And then go to Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food.

  33. God Maggie. U could be my evil twin. I get angry with u when we don’t agree bur my god this has been my mantra for so long now. When we were growing up with 7th us and a dead brother in the mix we had nothing. But we didn’t know we were just happy. I feel sick at what people buy for people they don’t like and never see. My Xmas list is for my four boys and my husband no one else I buy a box of champers and visit friends and then it is all over . My close friends say I am to generous but really what’s it all about. I want a
    Mirka mora before I die and I will be a happy woman!!! Another rant sorry. I used to drop my boys off at Xmas time to mow and clean gardens for all my older besties they couldn’t believe their luck 2 hot boys doing their gardening for them they thought they were in heaven and it Cost nothing …it’s not about money is it. !!!!

  34. One of your columns many years ago in the Age supplement was about not buying any new clothes for a period of time – can’t remember if it was 1, 2 or maybe even 6 months. Ditto for the “stuff” – lets get over buying so much of it. But…..for God’s sake Peggy is a tween!!! How gorgeously I remember her debut into your columns xx

  35. I hear you Maggie! My 8 year old daughters room is overflowing with stuff as is the rest of our tiny cottage that we rent, however after loosing our home in the 2009 bush fires, we still have not been able to rebuild and have an empty block…I find it so difficult to get rid of the stuff as we lost everything! I have kept your posts in de-cluttering and hope to have the time and motivation soon to follow your principal start with one job and get to the next etc! In fact I hope to do start that tommorrow! But what happens to all that stuff? Yes it becomes land fill, awful when you think of it. I find myself trying to justify with 8 year old about whether she really needs another beanie kid, she already has about 40 odd! Perhaps we need to send this somewhere that another kid can enjoy eg 3rd world countries but does that help? Probably not! Food for thought!!!!!

    • Plus everyone needs to make a living and a lot of that stuff creates wages for people, hmm a mess indeed

      • That’s exactly it Annemarie – how can we keep everyone fed, clothed, houses, but without this notion of constant growth? People have given me loads of links to stuff to read, so eventually I will post again. So so sorry to hear you lost everything. I think you are exempt from guilt for having stuff in the circs…

  36. Maggie, I’ve read your novels and always thought “bloody great writer”, but jingos! Did NOT expect writing like this to come from you. Not just the style, but your clear position. You’re amazing.

  37. My long dormant corporate brain just kicked back into gear while I was washing up (oh, the irony…). Most of us have the ability to influence the often appalling working conditions created by rampant consumerism: yes, certainly through cutting back on our own consumption, but also through looking at how we are investing through our superannuation funds (pensions in the UK). In Australia there is over $ 1 trillion invested… not to be sniffed at.

    A reasonably significant action in the investment industry and particularly with super funds is signing up to “Principles of Responsible Investing” (http://www.unpri.org) supported by the UN. It is a work in progress, only gaining traction in the last few years, but the initiatives include looking at working conditions, under the broader umbrella of “sustainability”. I won’t bore you all with the head bangingly frustrating process of getting corporate boards and super funds to a) recognise the value of ethical investing and b) do something about it….but if you are interested in where your money is going, ask your fund if they have signed up to the Principles of Responsible Investing and if so, how they assess the consistency of their investment decisions with these principles.

    Companies can do what they like if no one asks questions ; and often the conglomerates that look nice and friendly have a dodgy enterprise or two tucked away.

    Sorry Maggie – I could bore for Australia when I get on this topic, so I will shut up for now. But when you consider that in Australia we are about to contribute 12% of our income each year into our superannuation, it is worth considering: “how do I want my money to be invested?”

    • That’s a good point and something I have never even thought of before! Thanks for the link!

  38. I agree with all of the above comments!
    Maggie it is important that you make these issues known. You have a widespread loving audience and can reach many who are caught up in the consumer trap.

    • I’m quite encouraged by the response to this post – I thought people might think that a) I’d gone mad or b) had a damn cheek considering I’ve written about fashion for years… I do now have the sense that more people are becoming aware of the implications of the SHOP SHOP SHOP society we are living in and that change will start from the bottom up.

  39. i agree completely Maggie. I buy mostly second hand clothes for our family, and avoid crap plastic throw away rubbish for the kids. my daughter is turning five tomorrow, and for her party gifts to the guests they are potting up and planting petunias in terracotta pots to take home (as part of a garden theme). Am I the only one who hates party bags??? Also, if I buy technology (computer, ipod, kindles) i buy them refurbished. Much cheaper, and good as new (better because it doesn’t use as many resources. Product packaging is terrible, I wish there was a more sustainable solution other than ‘don’t buy it’!

  40. I too saw Kevin McLeod’s show he made in India that Miss Annie mentioned above. Children climbing over rubbish tips, desperately trying to stay clean, to find plastic bags for recycling. Here in Aus, the supermarkets would really prefer we just took them, instead of insisting on bringing green bags to slow them down at the cash register. And kids crap – lolly bags after parties are full of useless little pieces of plastic landfill made just for the 5 minutes before you throw them out. Not to mention the Macca’s toys. So we’re teaching kids this is how you behave. And then there are the tips full of old tellies and computers, all just thrown away because it’s not even worth the cost of taking them apart to recycle the plastic and metals.

    I find it all so terribly sad. Unfortunately I have no idea what the answer is, but I’m glad there is obviously such a large group of others who are also concerned. Thanks Maggie.

  41. Loved reading this!
    We recently went to Disney World and it was quite a challenge walking my 11 year old through all the “stuff” but I knew that even if we gave in and bought him some Mickey Mouse figurine it would just sit on some shelf gathering dust. So we decided to take photos of ALL the “cool” things we saw and thought we might love and then we put the photos into a photo book we made of the trip and now we can look at the “stuff” any time and remember what fun we had. And I never have to dust a thing

    • This is just BRILLIANT!

    • This reminds me of something my late mother taught me about consuming (or resisting the urge): “I can admire something beautiful or desirable, but I don’t need to possess it”. It often comes to mind when I admire some lovely jewellery, or a fabulous handbag. For children, a photo sounds like a wonderful souvenir. For myself, my mind’s eye is enough.

      • So so true… I made a formal complaint at the British Museum a few years ago. I had taken my daughter there to see the Egyptian rooms, for a school project and it was so full of people taking flash pictures, we had to leave. The flash off all the glass cases was having a strobe effect and we both got horrible headaches. People are so moronic about the photography thing. It’s as if they think they will see it MORE with a camera than with their eyes. It’s actually instead of looking.

  42. The economy needs to grow at at least 3% a year to accommodate school leavers looking for work. Economic growth is not the issue- economies can grow in many different ways such as through the provision of services, rather than rampant consumerism. Economic growth is unevenly distributed throughout the world and where I live in Nigeria everything is recycled and nothing is thrown out if it has some value. India is rapidly becoming a service based economy.

    • What percentage of people retire each year? I would think it was more in the ageing Western nations – less in Africa. I get your point, but you are still thinking within the current mindset – what I’m interested in is radically different ideas. People have given me loads of fascinating links on here, so I’m hoping to post in the future about them.

  43. I agree wholeheartedly. I guess the rise of etsy and that whole recycled/crafty movement is a start, but it’s a far cry from toppling the whole “plastic items churning-out, spend-spend-spend big industry crap”. I mean many Asian economies are pretty much based on people buying “stuff”.
    I can’t see them embracing recycled chunky hand-knitted cowls on a mass-scale anytime soon. Even if consumers were to suddenly eschew spending (unlikely)…what then? Asian economic collapse?

    Recycling metals and plastics sounds like the go (but that’s without considering the environmental impact of melting them down, right?).

    I’d be happier to see some kind of stringent global laws re: manufacturing (i.e. thou shalt not pour toxic crap into waterways etc) rather than any kind of carbon-trading Kyoto protocol crap.

    Investing in “sustainable futures” sounds warm and fuzzy, but it doesn’t change the fact that 99% of mass production is NOT sustainable and not going away any time soon.

    In the end it all boils down to one thing: Governments not giving a shit.
    Maybe they can come up with some kind of regulatory board that subsidises companies that use sustainable means of production and materials….and assesses products before mass manufacture for usefulness, tastefullness and recycle-ability.

    “I’m sorry, but that hideous Mickey Mouse toy does not meet our criteria. Have you thought of making it out of biodegradable jute?”

    • If we choose to invest, directly or indirectly, in organisations that are genuinely “responsible” then things can change.Money talks: a united body of shareholders can have a huge influence on business decisions. It takes time, but it is doable.

  44. Oh dear Maggie, such big replies for such a huge subject!
    I recently attended a great forum at the MCA Sydney “The suburbs will be the death of us”. Host/MC was Fenella Kernabone and a varied panel of four including the wonderful and super talented painter Ben Quilty discussed urban sprawl etc all over the world and how to house the world’s ever zooming numbers in the most intelligent and humane ways possible. Mine field of course; who gets to decide and why?
    Greenpeace makes news in Sydney today with some of its members buying shares in Amatil (Coke, etc) in protest/presence on board attempt as the multinational refuses to build recycling centres! Brilliant tactic what!!
    My personal motto – respect, recycle, reuse and if it ain’t broke then keep using it, then if and when it is broke have a go at fixing it (I recently fixed my fridge! I still can’t believe it and it gave me the most enormous feeling of pride/achievement … amazing what can be achieved with a medium sized philips head screw driver and a tiny bank balance!!) BX
    PS Onto my second wedding for the year with brides using/remaking gowns from the seventies; one mother to daughter (so we know all the history) the other a vintage market in Paris (all mystery!!) purchase (both in excellent condition and a joy to behold and work with) BX

  45. Crazy recycling
    I was in Woolworths in the middle of Sydney yesterday. There was a stand in the middle of the aisle with plastic bags of 2nd hand fabric rags for cleaning up mess etc. Some bags were torn open and the pieces about 25cm square were obviously old clothing, curtains and so.
    The bags weighed 1.5kg and were A$5.

    So far so good, well at least it is better than throwing it away we might say.

    But it was from the UK!

    Imagine the energy used to transport bags from the UK to Australia. It is even crazier than us buying oranges from the USA. If it was 2nd hand clothing I *might* be able to accept it. But using fuel, and it isn’t wind power like 2 centuries ago, is so greedy on resources. It’s bad enough about too much old clothing but adding fuel to the cost.

  46. Hi Maggie I so enjoy your blogs, books and columns (still miss you in SMH). Great to see you switch onto this topic. I have recently sold all my oodles of excess clothes on ebay and will now only buy quality near new preloved items on ebay – as need arises i search for a specific item. Ive really noticed I’ve killed the impulse bug. I now have a neat functional and very cool wardrobe now. This keeps me out of the shops wasting time, money and additional earth resources. I’m fortunate to have as my model grandparents who lived a simple frugal and happy life with just the basics – and a few luxuries mostly entertainment, travel or other activities that enriched their lives. They would be horrifed with the waste and accumulation of junk. It seems to me alot of the shopping activity is just out of boredom and looking for lurrve in all the wrong places. Thankfully I havent turned shopping into a past time with my 18 year old daughter -we’d rather make a mess in the kitchen together. PS I hope you write again soon about style tips for 50 plus women

    • I agree with everything you say – and all put so succinctly. I’m sending a load more stuff off to charity shops tomorrow. We’ve cleared out my daughter’s toys and she said as we did it ‘I don’t want to be a hoarder…’ She’s seen the TV shows and I think it’s been a useful lesson. Well done you conquering the impulse buy. I haven’t entirely got to that stage yet, but the vast majority of my purchases now are mindful and planned. Although I have to say even the last two more impulse buys were things I really needed. I just hadn’t gone out looking for them that particular day, so it was serendipity more than impulse. x

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Maggie Alderson

author, journalist, fashionist, motherist

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