This Year I Will Use What I Have

Anyone who has been reading these pages for long will know how cross I get about mindless consumerism. And 'stuff'. An endless ocean of miserably manufactured, 'must have' tat which keeps us all in the malls and up to our eyeballs in debt, and working all the days of our lives to pay for it.

I have never been much of a spender, having been brought up by very thrifty parents, and also because walking around shops and making decisions about buying things is like my worst nightmare.. and yet, somehow, I have effortlessly collected a house full of stuff. It's like there really is a conspiracy.

So, having spent a lot of time over the last few months contemplating, well, everything, I have come to a few tentative conclusions:

1 Our society, organised around global capitalism as it is, exploits the labour of many to benefit the few. Here in Tasmania, I am one of the few. I can buy a kettle from K-mart for $12 or a jar of orange marmalade made in Poland for $1.20. I cannot buy a jar of locally made jam for less than $4.50, and I cannot buy a locally made kettle at all.

As the parent of four brilliant, darling children, I am doing all I can to make sure they have the best chance to find meaningful and fulfilling work. Why should the brilliant, darling children of parents in the developing world not have the same chance of finding meaningful and fulfilling work just so I can have a $12 kettle? And why are the brilliant, darling children of Tasmania condemned to work at Kmart when they could be starting kettle-manufacturing businesses?

2 Our society, organised around global capitalism as it is, exploits the resources of the many to benefit the few. My river isn't being polluted by mine tailings to make a widget to put in my kettle. But I expect someone's river is. I get the kettle. They get the polluted river. I am a bit lucky aren't I?

3 I can't see any way to fix the evils of global capitalism (I am working on it..) but actually, maybe I don't have to participate in it any more. Can I live my life creatively and happily, with much more labour, and also much less guilt, in the cracks and spaces between the monolithic institutions that rule our lives? What if I just try? I can only fail, and then I'll be right back here where I already am. To paraphrase Thoreau, it is better to aim high, and fail immediately, than not to aim high at all.

4 My very first act will be to not buy stuff. In an age where we are all defined as consumers in every sphere of life, I think this might be the most subversive act of all. And also it frees me to lie in the hammock and read my book, instead of going shopping. I am also determined to work out how to avoid grocery shopping, then my life will be heaven on earth.

5 I don't quite know how I am going to work this out. As I write, my last black bra that fits is coming apart at the seams, and Posy and Rosy could both use new rash vests for swimming. I can't leave the cash economy altogether, but I can think very carefully about where my dollars go.

6 My first and biggest challenge is to use what I already have. If I were to measure my (quite modest) houseful of 'stuff' against the possessions of most other human beings through time and space, I imagine I would be up there in the 1% . I don't need more things (except a black bra and two rashies ..). I think what I need is to look at what I have with different eyes. The eyes that can see how much I have, instead of the eyes that can only see what the neighbours have, and what all the beautiful people on TV have, and what all the bloggers have in their perfect houses and gardens. What I need is to be able to wake up every morning and say, 'I have enough!'

7 I just examined my bra - with difficulty, as I am wearing it - and I am pretty sure I can mend it. A course of action that genuinely didn't occur to me until I was writing this post. Now I can put off thinking about how to acquire a new one.

8 The children are going to LOVE this:)


Anonymous said…
"An endless ocean of miserably manufactured, 'must have' tat which keeps us all in the malls and up to our eyeballs in debt, and working all the days of our lives to pay for it." BRILLIANT! It sums it up!
It's pretty hard to sign out completely I believe but signing out of parts of it is more than possible. Leeks make nice garden borders. Tomatoes make for luscious green vegetative plants in a front garden and would fit nicely between the lavender (which would likely help keep away bugs and draw in pollinators anyway), and it's amazing the places you can grow beans. ;)
I think you do a superb job being thrifty and frugal Jo and don't ever forget what you already do achieve. It counts! :)
Unknown said…
I think you should run for parliament Jo. You make sense, they dont.

Hmmm if you are not going to buy anymore stuff i suggest you spend more than $12 on your kettle. perhaps you should invest in a solid one from Odgers & McClelland Exchange Store. One you can pass down to the children - they will fight over it for sentimental reasons. No one fights over a $12 kettle.

Jo said…
Jessie, thank you, I always get inspiration from your can-do make-and-mend lifestyle:)
Lynda, oh my goodness, I no sooner declare an end to spending, and you send me to a site full of the world's to-die-for kettles! Bad Lynda! I don't actually have a $12 kettle, I have an old electric kettle that leaks. I am going to try and mend it, but if I can't, I will be visiting Odgers and McClelland for sure. Although actually, I have owned an enamel tea kettle before, and burned the bottom out of it on the gas stove. It is possible that an electric one might be safer for a vague person like me..
Anonymous said…
There's nothing like starting the new year with a manifesto :) Very inspiring!
Anonymous said…
What a stirring post Jo. I am girding my loins to the fray and I am only up to point 2! I am SO with you on this mindless consumerism lien. You only have to look at what happens when there is an extended power outage here in Tassie to see how dependant on "stuff" we have become. I can't send a few dehydrated kefir grains to Spain for less than $13 so how on EARTH can that jar of jam get from Poland to us for $1.20?! Why aren't we asking questions about this kind of thing and if we keep allowing our countries responsibility to feed, clothe and care for our nation to be outsourced to other countries where are we expecting our kids to get jobs or maybe they will all have to move to third world countries?!

Our river was almost polluted to the nth degree by a pulp mill not so long back and it is only thanks to the fall in paper prices and the collapse of a most powerful network of heavyweights in our state that we aren't having to breathe through a gas mask at the moment. Our state is for sale and there are frackers sniffing around at the moment that we should be very worried about. I wonder why we need to support an ailing forestry industry that insists on chopping down old log forests to turn them into sawdust to send to another country to make newspapers that we line budgie cages with! I read somewhere recently that eucalypt fibres make awesome textiles, akin to bamboo in a very clean and green process so WHY aren't they aiming at that kind of market? Status quo and big business kickbacks keep we consumers in the dark (and happily so, ignorance is bliss) and big business and their nefarious deeds in profit.

I think if we all bowed out of rampant consumerism as much as we can (depending on our circumstances) then we are voting with our feet. Buy local and support someone who lives near us, look after small business. Shop at IGA! Learn to make do, to be creative with what we have, to share, to explore "other ways" of doing things to get what we want and what we need. We are so used to just mindlessly consuming that we forget that our parents didn't have sliced bread, they didn't have the internet, cheap chicken and so many other things that we take for granted but they did OK and we were none the worse for that "lack".

I hope you can hear the Halleluiah chorus of support that I am sending your way Jo. Here's to mending and growing and sharing and finding new ways to do things with what we have. Here's to upcycling, recycling, resourceful thought and finding people locally who can fill our needs. A kettle from the thrift shop is at least a kettle that prevents more natural resources being plundered. Do we need that expensive coffee machine? Do we need that expensive coffee! I think the imperative word is "mindless" consumerism. Once we become "mindful" it can start to change for the better and if we all become more mindful about what we do, how we do it and where we send our consumer dollars, we can change the world :)
Jo said…
Dar, yes, a manifesto!
Fran, I know you were already with me on this - your life is a testament to thoughtful, creative thrift. And what a magnificent rant!
I hear you on living like our parents and grandparents did. I was just thinking the other day of the difference in the number of electronic products in our house growing up in the 1970s compared to the lives of my kids..
CJ said…
I loved this post. The questions you raise are ones I've spent a long time thinking about as well. Difficult questions and who knows what the answers are. But I'm with you on less spending and less stuff. I'm a big mender of things as well, partly through need, but it's good for us. My sofa has been darned a hundred times, and the duvet cover has been re-seamed again and again too. It makes me happy to buy as little as possible. And I try and find things that are made in this country if I can, although it's very depressing to see how much is "Made in China".
Bek said…
Love this post! And so timely coming after the buying frenzy that is the xmas and boxing day sales (always amazes me that some people treat this day as if it was the REAL celebration of the festive period) consumerist madness.
I hate buying cheap crap. The idea of supporting a "global economy" that relies on cheap third world labour is appalling to me. I would rather spend more on quality goods, ideally Australian made, or nothing. But I still sometimes get sucked in. (Oh, look at those bathers in target, so fashionably nautically themed. I could totally use another pair of bathers (despite the fact that I have two and don't go swimming all that much), and they are so cheap!) It takes a conscious effort to say no, actually I don't need them and they aren't cheap when I'm paying $30 for something that someone got paid 30c per hour to make.
You are so right that compared to the majority of our ancestors we like in a spendiforously magical world of affluence, even if we only own two pairs of bathers. But we need a reminder of this constantly. Thanks for that.
Jo said…
CJ, I want to be better at mending! I can do buttons and take up hems on school uniforms, but I want to be able to do duvets and the couch as well! Will ask for advice from all you experienced peeps when needed!
Bek, I KNOW! It is so easy to buy. When I am actually in a shop, I suddenly find myself 'needing' all sorts of things that I didn't need half an hour before when I was at home.
I was about to say I didn't buy anything at the post-Christmas sales, but I did - The Boy took me out to choose a new laptop, which I had to order. Hoping it will come soon. Imagine having to share a computer with the children! (Who remembers the days of one computer to a whole family? See, I am just as much a consumer as anyone else in the world!!)
Anonymous said…
You post on imitation French knick knacks made in Chinese factories has stayed with me! Now I look at all furnishings and lighting (not clothes, I am not that strong yet).

I was so disappointed recently. I went to buy a stool that was purportedly made from an old tractor seat. This was in a market in the country, in sheep and wheat country! The seat came from China!!! I mean! Really? If one cannot source a recycled metal tractor seat in the land where they were used! Obviously fake.

Imagine? A whole factory to make seats that look like they have recycled seats!!

So my house is not furnished. My home is not full of "beautiful things". Cause most of them are fake. And I just can't support factories polluting the world for something that I may dispose of when my tastes change. And something that is not real!

Even though I know my air travel is worse! Bugger having a conscience!
Wonderful post, Jo! I hope you will inspire me all year long to buy less. It helps that like you, I hate to shop. The hard thing is that sometimes I actually need new stuff--but where to get it? I love buying used when possible, of course, and am beginning the year with a hunt for funky, wonderful mismatched soup bowls. Let me know if you see any!

Jo said…
Lucinda, yes, I have had that same vision - a Chinese factory assembly line turning out millions of 'handmade' shabby-chic signs with all those heartwarming messages - you know, Live, Love, Laugh or whatever.

Frances, I was inspired by your avoidance of Target last year! But yes, I have the same problem, where to buy well-made, responsibly manufactured, preferably local, durable items that will last forever? The second-hand market in my small city isn't prolific, but I will keep looking for that second hand kettle for now. And I will absolutely keep an eye out for those soup bowls:)
Tracy said…
Hi Jo

Thank for leaving a comment on my blog this morning. We loved Tasmania, as I knew we would. Dh and I have been three times together and we always come home thinking how lovely it would be to live there. I have a Tasmanian heritage (Dad's fanily are from Yolla), but this is the first time taking our children to enjoy ... everything.

I know we are going to be fast friends. I have same aversion to shopping and accumulating stuff. Off now to add you to read older posts.
Judy said…
Great post Jo. You know I am with you on this one :-)

I surpassed myself this year with almost abstaining from Christmas shopping! My eldest daughter got home from Uni and offered to do all my Christmas shopping for me (she loves shopping). I just stared at her blankly. She then spent the next 2 weeks leading up to Christmas telling the whole family what a scrooge I was and how this green and thrifty stuff had gone too far......but I had cunning plans.

The best of which was for my niece and nephew. I printed out golden tickets for a camping trip with their aunty, to include a day at Alton Towers. Of course I hid the tickets inside the wrapper of a chocolate bar, so they really thought I was a scrooge when they unwrapped them! And of course their mum got a golden ticket for a child-free minibreak :)

It was such fun making up silly terms and conditions to print on the back. Such as...

Warning: Water rides may result in getting wet
If you are too small to go on rides then tough. Eat more vegetables
Adult accompaniment is available for rides that do not spin round and loop-the-loop
Homemade cookies provided - no need to eat rotten flesh (It is a minecraft reference - the kids understood)
In the event of your mother fleeing the country, you will be returned to your grandparents for safe-keeping

Now technically Alton Towers is a theme park so hardly a green place to visit, but it does employ lots of local staff. And we will be staying at a small campsite - so 3 days with no electricity, computers or devices. And the rest of the time we will be exploring Dovedale on lots of long walks. Should be fun!

I would like to not buy anything too but my walking boots that I have had for 6 years have split. I have bought 2 pairs secondhand which didn't fit, so I need to bite the bullet and buy some new ones. Plus a new cooker - having just used the small top oven for 6 months it is making awful noises. It is apparently too old to fix!

I can't see a way of not buying anything at all, but sticking to essentials, trying to get them used or local, and investing in good quality ones that will last is my aim.

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