The Real Thrifty

Do you want to see something that makes me really cross? Say you are flying over a city, about to land, and you fly over this lovely suburb with its trees and houses and backyards. I love thinking about all the families in their houses, living their lives, cooking dinner, yelling at their kids to do their homework, and here I am, flying over their heads. Spooky. This is not the bit that makes me cross. 

This is. This is the other bit you fly over on your way to the airport, and this here, these giant, giant warehouses, are full of all the ticky tacky crap that the people in those houses up above (that is, you and me) need, to fill up our houses and backyards and sheds and storage units. And all of this stuff is made in China and brought here on giant cargo ships, and our government feels it is just so important that they get those cargoes of toasters and lamps and flat-pack end tables here in a timely manner, that those cargo ships are allowed to take a short cut through the Great Barrier Reef, because, lordy, what could go wrong? And then all the lamps get packed into giant trucks and trucked through the night on giant freeways, then repacked into giant warehouses so that we can go to Target and buy a $20 lamp to put on our end table, until in a few years it begins to look Not Quite Right, at which time we'll pop it on the curb on hard rubbish day, and go back to Target and buy a new lamp, because, hey, there is always a new lamp. There is, it appears, an inexhaustible supply of new lamps. Each season, at a Target near you.

I have a lamp from Target. It was half price in a clearance sale. I am nothing if not thrifty.

Isn't it quite cute? It is a little bit French provincial, next to the little bit reproduction classical Roman urns, which came from one of those nice shops full of things that look like they came from France. But of course, they both came from China in a giant container on a cargo ship, and my French Provincial decor is a fake pastiche that just hints at how I might really want to be living my life, you know, in a tiny but tasteful manor in a pocket-sized patch of forest with quite a modest moat really, and a walled potager with lots of espaliered fruit trees, and really, just a teeny conservatory with grapes trained under the glass ceiling, and... where was I? 

But really, it's all just a big fake. Our tastefully arranged middle-class lives are pre-made for us on factory assembly lines in China.

I have a dream, not a great big noble one, like MLK, but a smaller, more personal one. I don't want to fill my life with stuff that doesn't mean anything real. I don't want to buy stuff that is made out of other stuff that is wrecking the earth in various ways, that travels around in giant cargo ships threatening fragile marine ecosystems, and requiring acres of bug-ugly warehousing to store. I don't want to live in a world that is that ugly. When I moved here to the lovely town of Launceston in beautiful Tasmania eighteen years ago, cows and sheep grazed around the airport. Now the paddocks around the airport are an industrial estate with no actual manufacturing, just giant warehouses, full of lamps, presumably.

What I want is a life where, if I feel I need a lamp, I can a) find or buy one of the millions of lamps already in existence that have been tossed aside in the quest for a more hipster lamp, or b) find an actual craftsperson who can make me the most beautiful lamp I and they can imagine, and I will save up for a whole year for that lamp, and will treasure it forever and pass it down to my children and their children. Or maybe I could c) make one myself. Most unlikely.

I am beginning to see that 'thrifty' is not buying trinkets at half price that are cheap for me, but really cost the earth. 'Thrifty' is making the very most of what I have, being careful with the good things the earth has given us, not being greedy.

The things on that end table that have actual meaning to me are the little glass vase, chosen by one of Posy's good buddies from an op shop for her 5th birthday, and the ceramic pot pourri bowl, made by hand in the highlands of New Guinea, where I grew up, and given to me by my mum.

These are my stories. Reproduction classical Roman urns from China? Not so much. I am thinking about the world I want for my kids. It includes meaningful work for creative people, which is all of us. Can I avoid contributing to an economy which wants us all to be automatons during working hours, and mindless consumers in our time off? I'd like to. I expect it will be annoyingly inconvenient. Stay Posted.


Anonymous said…
You are the prick to my conscience, Jo. I too do not want fake reproduction from the factories of China. A plastic, ticky tacky copy of life. I will await your posts on how you deal with these conundrums.
Anonymous said…
You are the prick to my conscience, Jo. I too do not want fake reproduction from the factories of China. A plastic, ticky tacky copy of life. I will await your posts on how you deal with these conundrums.
Anonymous said…
Why did blogger allow me to comment twice? Was it a plot by the Chinese manufacturers of Apple products on which I type? Or an endorsement of fake copies by ironically copying twice?
Anonymous said…
...and my French Provincial decor is a fake pastiche that just hints at how I might really want to be living my life, you know, in a tiny but tasteful manor in a pocket-sized patch of forest with quite a modest moat really, and a walled potager with lots of espaliered fruit trees, and really, just a teeny conservatory with grapes trained under the glass ceiling...

This bit made me smile. It reminds me a bit of the story about Marie Antoinette, who used to enjoy playing at simplicity and pretending to be a shepherdess. Set aside the fact, of course, that I doubt she'd have ever interacted with anyone of said occupation, and that their jobs were immensely hard work.

I think it's a challenge to see past what we're all being sold- by companies, but also by our government. IMHO, modern capitalism pushes the idea that we're nothing without our possessions- that what we own is an indicator of who we are at heart. I don't think many people- even people involved in various aspects of sustainability- really see that. Everything is for sale, every cause has a merchandise stand attached to it.

Personally, I'm trying to balance the things that I have to buy new with things that I can get at op shops or find lying around. I got a fantastic coffee table that way the other week- someone had put it on the curb because one leg was coming off at the joint (incidentally, nothing a bit of glue won't fix)!. That, and I use everything until it can't be used any longer- I have one particular shirt that I've worn since I was 16! Not perfect, obviously, but a step in the right direction at least.
Jo said…
Lucinda, it is undoubtedly a capitalist conspiracy! But I'm not sure capitalism can be ironic, except by accident.
I am waiting to see the results of my conundrums too.
Sister Caveman, yes, I am the opposite of Marie-Antoinette - the proletariat dreaming of the (completely modest and unpretentious) French chateau.
And yes, I am beyond annoyed at the fact that we are all reduced to the status of consumers by our society. I say 'no' to that, while still buying stuff left, right and centre!
And part of that response is absolutely to stop buying stuff. I love your coffee table win, and extremely long-lived shirt. Take that, seasonal fashion!
Unknown said…
Looking at this from the perspective of someone trying to manage a manufacturing business in Victoria owned and operated by Australians employing Australians and following the laws and regulations of this country HOW DO WE COMPETE with the mass produced products from China and other nations without our labour awards and working conditions. We produce a quality custom engineered product which unfortunately loses out over quantity and price. We like many others are struggling to stay afloat and our only defense is to produce quality and to seek that point of difference with the mass produced often inferior products.

I fear that the era of craftmanship of unique quality items in all areas of our lives might have passed as "trade" in itself declines. Those that do take up this occupation are asked to deliver on time and on budget to a customer with appetite for McMansions filled with fake moulded furniture rather than crafted. What will the future be like when the generation facing retirement within 10 years passes. I fear our only choice will be to consume imported fakes. Perhaps now is the time to start buying up all the solid original furniture that will last the distance.
Jo said…
Lynda, The Man has managed a local, quality manufacturing engineering firm for 18yrs, which was then taken over by a large US firm, and will probably not survive as a local manufacturer.
One day all the oil will run out, we won't be able to ship and truck stuff all over the world any more, and will have to manufacture locally again. Which will be a struggle if we lose all that expertise.
As for furniture - my neighbour is a high end funiture designer and maker. Beautiful Tasmanian wooden furniture that costs an arm and a leg, but will last forever, and be the classics of the future. The craftspeople are out there. Just need to save up..
Bek said…
So true. I also want to opt out of the consumer mindless consumption. It's taken me a while, but I'm at the point where I now buy very little, but what I do buy I want to be very good quality and I'm prepared to pay more for it. I love the idea of only having possessions that mean something, that tell a story in some way. I can't tell you the number of things I've given to op shops over the years; things that I just HAD to have when I saw them, but years (or months) later just didn't care about. I look back now and think I was a fool. I'm glad I've learned better.
Anonymous said…
Well said! I will try to keep that in mind as I embark on two trips this Fall requiring air travel...I don't want to return with "must have" souvenirs that I later toss.
Jo said…
Oh Bek, the things I've bought, then gotten rid of! It's just criminal!
And Dar, mmm, souvenirs. Now isn't that an interesting concept? As mere 'consumers' we really are all being played for fools, aren't we?
Judy said…
Bravo Jo! What a lovely post that echoes my own sentiments.
Jen's Busy Days said…
Jo, I think you might like a book I read recently... a little off track but still may speak to you. Biomimicry by Janine Benyus. I found it very interesting on the thought of how we work and live in our space on this earth.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW
Jo said…
Judy, you always inspire me! And Jen, thanks for that recommendation, I'll put it on my library list:)
I hear you and sympathise fully with the imported we have to have it non essential items that as you get older, you realise really aren't important unless they are necessary. We create more landfill every year. Your lamp however, is very pretty and practical, as are the gorgeous vased flowers.
Jo said…
Hi Merryn, lovely to meet you:) I enjoyed peeking at your lovely edible tropical garden on your blog.
The single best thing about getting older is deciding that you don't care what anybody else thinks about what you are doing any more, hence my new project:) And yes, my Target lamp will be staying right where it is to remind me... that I really don't want to go there again!
Well said Jo. Not sure what the answer is really.... except to keep supporting the Op Shops. Consumerism is just sickening really isn't it. I seem to have missed a few of your posts. Good to see that you may well be emerging from winter at your place. cheers Wendy
Jo said…
Wendy, that is certainly one of my answers. There is surely so much stuff out there already that I don't need to add to the demand for new. and as for emerging from winter, if you could see the weather today. Dismal. And freezing. There are wet sheets draped all over my living room.. however, there could well be sun tomorrow:)
Joanna said…
This is so well put. I like the link you make between what we own and our real stories - something I have sensed instinctively but not been able to put into words. It seems a brilliant mantra for curbing our consumerist tendencies.
Anonymous said…
"Here here!" for Annoyingly Inconvenient Ms Jo! We the people NEED to become annoyingly inconvenient to those big warehouses that ship crap from China because we seem to have forgotten that it is "We the people" that are actually supporting this morass of consumerism. Without us handing over our readies and thus directing what is dangled in front of us temptingly like a carrot on a stick in front of a donkey...We have handed over our good taste to middle men who pick and choose for us. How lazy have we become?" You can't blame China for cashing in when the rest of us will be content with cheap plastic garbage really...I dare say there are artisan craftsmen in China who shake their heads in disgust but when society accepts commercialism in order to be able to access a HUGE variety of "stuff" it is inevitably going to end in tears and with the majority of the profits funneled into some nefarious middle mans pockets in exchange for "dodgy" at the least and "earth violating" at it's worst. You are so right in wanting to take back your choices and in the process we are going to have to take stock of what is really "worth it". Buy much MUCH less and what we do buy, buy well. I recently traded some most scrumptious Portuguese hand spun, hand knitted woolen hats for one of Stevie-boys gorgeous endemic Tas wood spoons. The satisfaction level was extreme...the outlay nix. We need to be learning new ways to get what we want. Ways that forge community and that fill our hearts and our souls with joy and delight but more importantly, fill the futures of our kids with's up to us..."STOP BUYING THE CHEAP CRAP FOLKS!" This message was brought to you today by the combined angst of Ms Jo and Ms Narf of upper Launceston and Lower Uppercumbuckance...
Jen's Busy Days said…
Here, Here!!! Yay to the Ladies of Upper Launceston and Lower Uppercumbuckance!!

I am about to move house and while I won't throw out good still useful things I think I will be taking the time to access my possessions so I make better choices in the future.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW
Jo said…
Joanna, stories are my 'thing', so that is a good way for me to learn to think and act differently. I imagine there are different triggers for different people.
Fran honey, who needs a soapbox when I have a Ms Narf? I will be requiring your ghost-writing assistance on all future rants:) I love your beautiful barter story. Both parties sound like they received a wonderful, meaningful gift from that transaction.
Jen, moving house is just a terrible nightmare in many ways, but as you say, a good time to look at all that stuff and ask if you really need it. Of course, the advantage of having lots of useful stuff is that you don't need any more, a position I am very much in. For me it will be all about not buying more stuff on a whim. Such a temptation, even for me who detests shopping! All the best with the beastly move:(

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