I am part of a group of people (generation X and younger) that have grown up in the debt-based growth model economy. We have been told for our entire lives that we must be a consumer – that we must consume at levels that go beyond our ability to pay for what we consume. I remember saying to friends in my early 20s “I can’t afford it” and being told to get a credit card so I could ‘afford’ it. It made no sense to me to borrow money that I couldn’t afford to pay back. I’ve never had a credit card and never will. But the stuff and the debt we accumulate just gets bigger as we go through life – houses, cars, boats, TVs, gadgets, and fancy furniture. Then add to this baby products, kids toys, books, clothes, home decor and more. We consume like crazy people, linking our self worth to our possessions. Stuff apparently represents success. I’d like to challenge this view, as I believe we define success for ourselves. Success comes from knowing what you want to get out of your life and knowing that you are working towards it. It is being able to recognise your achievements when you get there. This movie from the Story of Stuff explains how we became such good consumers.
What our generation is not told is that this level of consumption has huge environmental ramifications including unconscionable amounts of waste. We’re not told that the people making the things we buy often have disgraceful working conditions (True Cost movie trailer). And we’re certainly not told that beyond basic necessities, stuff does not make us happy (look up the research). In fact, materialistic people are often profoundly unhappy. But surely that’s not a surprise, is it? That having stuff doesn’t make you happy? Clearly, the more you have (or want) the more you have to work for it. If you are always working to pay for the stuff, you probably aren’t enjoying hobbies, or spending as much time with family as you’d like, or having experiences that you’d enjoy (these are the things that make us happy). Then with the small amount of time you have left you are probably cleaning and sorting the stuff. Yep, we are living the dream, aren’t we? It seems to me that stuff restricts us and reduces our freedom. That’s how we were feeling when we decided to sell our house and focus on things that make us happy. We’re entering a new phase of our lives, one where we are not homeowners and may never be again. Friends and family have responded in ways ranging from disbelief to thinking we are naïve. This debt-based growth way of living is so deeply entrenched that it’s easy to believe there is no other way. We have more research and planning to do for our future but that’s a whole other story for another time. What about you, are you collecting memories or things? Are you buying experiences or stuff?
In September I invited you to participate in the Buy Nothing New Month (October) challenge with me as a way to raise awareness of our consumption habits. As I suspected this challenge was easy for me. I am well practiced at buying nothing but food and hygiene products. I spent the month continuing to declutter and plan the Poowong Pickers Festival which gives sellers an opportunity to declutter and buyers a chance to buy what they need secondhand. We fixed some things, and borrowed tools and equipment from family and friends to get big jobs done around the home. The only things I bought at all were some secondhand flip top bottles for the kombucha and Ainsley spent some pocket money on a secondhand doll.
One interesting thing for me that came out of our group challenge was that a lot of people felt they couldn’t participate because they were expected to give a gift during October. Or they did participate but allowed themselves to buy a new gift for someone. Where is the rule that requires us to give a possession? There are so many experiences and happy memories to give a person once you start thinking about it, that there really is no need to give them more stuff – especially when we know it only provides momentary happiness, and perhaps not even that. Some examples include tickets to an event or show, zoo passes, a promise to teach a specific skill, music lessons, and so on. But also I wondered ‘is it unacceptable to give someone something secondhand as a gift?’ I have never done it for fear of the social stigma attached but I am ready to challenge this now. Let me know your thoughts.
Now over to you. Do you shop much? Did you do the Buy Nothing New Month challenge? How did it go? Tell me what you did to avoid buying something new, I’m sure there are some really creative solutions out there.