I want to talk for a bit about my other, other work. I’m involved with a charity, based at a warehouse. We get donations every minute of every day. We sort, sell and re-distribute the majority of items and are grateful for every single thing that comes through the door, from designer to high street, from eclectic to mainstream, furniture to sports gear to clothing and everything in between. It’s wonderful as a charity. More items mean more money that can be directed to where the need is greatest.
But I have to stop sometimes and think about what is actually happening. This is life at the other end of the consumerist cycle. Every minute of every day, people are bringing cars and vans full of ‘stuff’ that they don’t need, no longer want, and won’t miss. Every. Single. Minute.
Actual tonnes of items. Discarded, unwanted. Bags and bags of poor quality clothing, manufactured on a mass scale, changed every season with passing fads. Brand new, tags-still-on, never even worn. Purchased to fill a void that can never be filled.
The thousands of pounds worth of clutter that comes through the door each and every day.
The bags, piled high, of items people no longer ‘need’ or ‘want’. The money wasted.
The dark side of consumerism.
If people were to stop buying stuff…what then? What happens once someone has ‘decluttered’ their home? More often than not, they begin to fill up that empty space, once again, with more purchases. Why?
I watched a documentary recently on Haute Couture. An exclusive club of super-rich elite, buying directly from fashion houses, spending hundreds of thousands on one single piece. The programme showed the collections of some of these women. Beautiful, stunning items of clothing that had been worn….once. Or twice, if they were lucky. Then shelved away in purpose built wardrobes or rooms. Some even had tags on to remind the owner when and where they were worn. Gathering dust for decades.
It can be Primark or Pucci. Debenhams or Dior. The premise is the same. Why do we feel the need to hoard items we’re never going to use again? Call it a collection. Call it well-organised. Call it clutter. Call it consumerism. Call it what you will. It doesn’t matter.
We need to examine why, as a culture, we are engaged in the relentless pursuit of more. ‘Enough’ never is enough. It’s a foreign concept to the western world to actively resist the idealism we are fed, that having it all really does equate to a better life. That being richer only correlates with the amount of money we earn and subsequently the amount, and price, of items we can purchase.
Why do we have the need to show one-upmanship? Why do we need to display our wealth? What does it mean when our society is built on the idea that we must spend more to be worth more?
Our growth is seen as an economic term. We don’t measure happiness. We don’t measure worth. We don’t measure kindness or creativity. We know our place in the world by how much money our country of residence spends or earns. How much we manufacture, import or export. We all know that money makes the world go round. Doesn’t it?
So it continues. On my next shift we’ll continue to pile up the physical items no longer needed. We’ll continue to direct the proceeds of our over-spending, over-consuming society to areas where money really is needed. Places where even basic human rights are not being met. And I’ll continue to dream of a world where the focus isn’t on money. Where everyone has what they need to survive. Where wars aren’t fought and wealth is evenly distributed and growth is a term that can include the things that are really important.
We call it ‘unrealistic’ to dare to think of a world where we aren’t driven by relentlessly consuming. We pour scorn on those who dream of this ‘idealistic’ world. We laugh and sneer and call it an unachievable utopia. There’s no way ‘the world’ could function like this. Get real.
And so, we go back to buying more stuff to make ourselves feel better, every hour of every day.
And it all continues.