Stuff. We’ve all got it. It’s that pile of unused clothes in the wardrobe. It’s those plastic bottles filled with creams and oils shoved into the bathroom drawers. It’s the condiments and stacks of useless receipts in the car glove box. It’s the five tins of canned food that have been sitting at the back of your pantry for three years. Stuff is everywhere, it accumulates, it seeps into our lives and our homes and our bags without us even trying to let it in. Kind of like The Kardashians but worse—worse for us and worse for the environment. We’re all victims of our stuff, but you know what? We’re all letting ourselves be.
We’ve spoken about stuff before and how overwhelming it can be when you have too much of it, but we’ve also talked about some ways in which you can make your excess stuff disappear in an ethical, re-purposeful way. Here would be a good place to visit after you’ve soaked this juicy article in. For now, let’s have a little chat. Let’s learn more about how stuff gets to us, and what we can do to control it. Oh, and just so you know, all of this info and inspo has come from one major source: The Story of Stuff.
The original Story of Stuff video lasts for over twenty minutes and, let’s be honest, ain’t nobody got time for that. So, we decided to break it down for you! Take a long, hard look at your stuff ‘cause soon you might not want it to be your stuff anymore. Okay, here goes.
Stuff comes to us in a five-step, linear procedure:
It’s The Materials Economy.
Let’s break them down to what they’re really about:
Extraction is the first rung in this shaky, unstable ladder. This is where the big corporations take advantage of and exploit the natural world by extracting the materials that are needed to make our stuff. They’re taking the metal, the cotton, the paper, the water, the animal products, and basically all forms of our planet’s natural resources in order to meet the supply that we, as consumers, are demanding. They’re taking too much, too fast, and you know what? We’re actually helping them do it.
Then comes the Production. After these materials are extracted they are sent to big factories in order to be made into stuff, and what goes hand in hand with the production of these natural materials is chemicals. Yep, chemicals, and it’s the factory workers who are getting the full brunt of the toxic fumes. Also, the thing about production is that a lot of the time it is prediction-driven rather than orders-based, which often results in over-production. But there is a light! The majority of the ethical, sustainable brands at our fingertips today participate in slow fashion, have limited stock collections, and only make a piece when it is ordered (scroll through our Ethical Brands directory to have a look at a few of these companies).
After that we have the Distribution. We’ve got to hand it to the big players in this mass-consuming world; they know their shit. They’re experts at making us buy the stuff we don’t need, and this is the part in The Materials Economy they use to do it. Also, have you ever looked at a price tag and wondered how that item could possibly be so cheap? There is an answer to that question: it’s because the cost of its production was externalised. This means the lowered price was substituted in other areas, including in the extremely low wage the workers who made that item were paid. Just remember: if you’re not paying the proper price for something, somebody worse off than you is.
The next is Consumption. Despite appearances, this is where we, as consumers, can make the biggest difference. This is where we can ultimately stop or change this linear system. We can choose what we consume, how much we consume, and at what rate. We can ask ourselves if we really need that dress in those two other colours or those $2 plates that’ll chip after three uses. If we over-consume—which we do—then there’s the disposal. Disposal is pretty self-explanatory: when there’s no more need for our stuff, it’s disposed of. It’s ‘thrown away’. When we throw something away, it doesn’t go away. We all know that. It just goes somewhere else. It ends up in a bigger bin than the one in our kitchen and then to a giant hole in the ground that is already overflowing with other ‘thrown away’ stuff. It’s even started to clog up our ecosystems.
The one phenomenal issue with The Materials Economy—apart from the problems that are rife in each individual cog in the machine—is that it’s a linear system; there is no place for it on a finite planet. It’s completely unachievable and extremely detrimental to the health of our already deteriorating earth, of our one home. What needs to happen is for this system to be altered in a way that makes it circular, where there is no disposing, but repurposing. This makes much more sense, right? A lower waste system that values reusing over mass-production? Yeah, we think so too.
There is, however, one thing that is not really given much credit in The Materials Economy: us. The consumers. The conscious consumers. Whether we like it or not, money is the most powerful thing we can vote with as consumers, and it is with our money and where we put it that is the number on the ballot paper. This may sound like a long shot, so bear with us, but we can change this system. We all can. By controlling how much stuff, and what stuff, we allow into our lives and where our money is going, we can forcefully bring about a re-design of this failing linear system. We all vote with our money for the kind of world we want to live in, so let’s vote for change.
So, there you have it. That is The Story of Stuff: where it comes from, how it gets to you, and why you can never seem to escape it. We know you have good intentions (we do too!), but before you take those clothes to Vinnies, or chuck those creams and oils away, or throw your receipts into a compost bin, or eat out of that cobwebbed tuna can, don’t forget to have a look-see here.
Be conscious, be aware, and be mindful of how much stuff you allow into your life, and also of how much of your stuff you actually need. What we hope you take away from all of this is to value: value the stuff you bring into your home so you don’t need to keep buying more, value the process of deciding whether or not you need that new item, and value the earth enough to know that it can’t cope with our waste for much longer.