the story of stuff [day 214]

I have an idea.  I know, no surprise…

I stumbled upon this little video called The Story of Stuff.  It’s a little over 20 minutes long, but I watched the whole thing.  Before I get into the details here, take a look if you haven’t seen it.  If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, skip around and take a quick look.

Although I like the overall message, I was questioning the statistics as I was watching it.  The presentation is awesome, the content easy to follow.  Again, the overall message here is a good one, but I have a few things to discuss and challenge.

The big picture of stuff. The message here is that we, as Americans, are abusing our planet, taking advantage of the disadvantaged and that we have all fallen victim to materialism.  On many levels, this is true, but some of the statistics seemed a little off to me.  After a bit of research on this video, I found they are using it in schools to teach children about materialism and “stuff”.  I’m not opposed to that at all, but this video is not just creating awareness, it’s trying to impose a guilt trip, and as Fox News stated, “Other critics have called it a “firehose of paranoia” meant to scare children into becoming environmental activists. They say the video romanticizes poverty in its attack on industrial nations and corporations.

I hope we’re teaching our kids to watch something like this and process it in a healthy way, as they should do with everything.  My kids question things, think about everything they take in, and sometimes have a viewpoint that even I haven’t thought of.  This video’s overall message is a good one, and unfortunately, it does paint an accurate “big picture” of our wasteful society.  The reason I say that, is because this video could be remade without all the statistics, showing both sides of the message about consumerism.  That’s a hint for my idea…  

Funny stuff. Okay, this part cracked me up, but I did have to do a little research on it.  They talked about how pillows (and many other things) have brominated flame retardants in them.  Then they said something about the government finding a better way to keep our heads from bursting into flames while we sleep.   First, all my pillows were made in China.  Second, they all say, “Certification is made by the manufacturer that the materials in this article are described in accordance with the law.”  In legal terms, that means they listed everything with the least amount of data allowed for this to be in compliance.  Ironically, I just reprimanded my son for getting too close to the fireplace with his blanket.

Most of my pillows are cotton shells with polyester filling.  Nothing about flame retardants.  With all of the information I’ve looked at, I could do an entire blog on pillows.  Looking through the Federal Trade Commission and related sites, basically the government says they need more testing to determine whether or not BFR’s are bad, manufacturers of BFR’s say they’ve been in use for 30+ years without any issues and the law, as far as I can tell, doesn’t require those chemicals to be listed on the tags.  According to my other research, which has eaten up a ridiculous amount of time, washing these items in super hot water or using harsh commercial-grade washing chemicals will “wash out” and deteriorate the BFR’s.  So… let me get this straight.  You can basically replace one chemical with another?  Now that’s funny!

One last thing on this ridiculous rabbit trail, the federal requirement number (RN58755) is not a number that says what the requirements are, but basically meaning that manufacturer must be listed with the Federal Trade Commission.  Basically, my pillows are legal.  Nice.

Speaking of government stuff… This video says the government should be responsible for our safety and well being, not corporations.  I have some mixed feelings on this.  Ultimately, we are responsible for our own safety and well being.  The government should have policies and procedures in place to help us and support our best interests, but let’s look at the motivation.  Corporations are motivated by money, plain and simple.  The government, well what exactly is their motivation?  I think there are some government workers that are in for the right reasons, but I also think there’s a lot of them that aren’t.  The government should require full disclosure and make sure we are getting all the information we need to make healthy decisions.  Yes, they are somewhat responsible to make sure we are protected, but it’s not their sole responsibility.  Corporations should not be profit-driven information minimalists, although many are.  All in all, we should be able to easily see whom and what we are supporting with our purchases, unlike my pillows, which I have no idea if they are comfortable chemical fluff or were made in a sweatshop.  I’m not ready to go pillowless, but this does bring up some interesting questions.

Planned and perceived obsolescence of our stuff. I do think that some things, most things, are made to last a specific amount of time… not all things, some things.  I could talk about planned obsolescence, but we all know about that.  The more intriguing phrase here is perceived obsolescence.  Our perception of how long something will last, many years ago, was a huge selling point.  We have been so well trained over the years, that we don’t expect a long life out of that new coffee maker or cell phone.  If something breaks, it’s cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one.  A lot of products are “designed for the dump”.

Other products are designed to change frequently, leaving the old stuff useless, yes, completely useless.  Do you think it’s any accident that the first iPad has no camera, but the second release will have a camera?  This is not some guy at Apple having a great idea to improve a product.  This is planned uselessness?  Planned keeping-up-with-the-Joneses?  Whatever you want to label it, it’s planned and it works.  We’ve all fallen for this at one time or another.  The glorious ads showing us how we need that new whatever.  I bought an iPhone 3GS because I wanted the video feature.  My old iPhone had a broken screen, but worked just fine for over a year with the broken screen, yet I really had to have the video.  I use it occasionally, but not nearly as much as I pictured in my head before getting it.

Thoughtful stuff. The little green radio part did make me think.  $4.99 for a small electronic device does seem really cheap when you think about the whole manufacturing process.  From natural resource, to manufacturing, to distribution, to retail store, to purchase, then to your home, that’s a lot of material, time and energy for this little product.

How long would you keep the little green radio?  Is it meant to be disposable?  This is thought provoking stuff, again, leading to my idea.  Yes!  I’m getting there, bear with me.

The last of the stuff. Okay, my last point before the big idea.  I don’t know if these statistics are correct, but I do know this.  In the U.S., we are wasteful.  I see it everyday.  You can’t live here without seeing it.  We have a plethora of disposable stuff, heck, we even have disposable cell phones.  We buy things knowing they will end up in a landfill.

I know we have no time to do “pillow research”, which I did to prove how ridiculous it is to even try.  I suppose my whole point here is to make smart choices when making purchases, looking at the big picture.  And if you have kids, teach them to make educated choices and look at the big picture.  Now, on to my idea…

The stuff idea. If you made it this far in reading, you deserve some sort of award.  :)  My idea?  Track 10-12 items, from the time of purchase to its death.  I don’t want these to be all my stuff, I need a few people willing to participate in this with me.  The items can be electronics, clothing, toys, books, housewares, anything that is purchased retail.  I would like to follow new things, but having a few used things sprinkled in would be great too.  Any takers?  Not a lot of work on your part, just a few item updates here and there and allowing me to snap a couple of pics.  If you would like to participate, please shoot me an email or comment here.  Let me know your item(s) list.

I will start with one of my own items, which will probably be used.  I’ll do a history on the item, hopefully easier than the pillow thing, and follow the life of the item.  No made up statistics, just several case studies, tracking information to see if I’m on track in my belief system.  Who’s in???


3 Responses to “the story of stuff [day 214]”

  • Deborah McFarland Says:

    Ok…this will be fun…because I am QUEEN CONSUMER!
    Let me just give you a list of some Christmas Items…that’s pretty new.

    1. McCulloch Power Steamer
    2. Calvin Klein Perfume
    3. Digital Camera (pink)
    4. Texas Longhorns Desktop Calendar
    5. Nap scarf and hat (dark brown)
    6. Weezer, Tegan & Sarah, Sublime, The Offspring, Muse, and Modest Mouse CDs
    7. Vest Coat (faux fur)
    8. Aldo’s Gray Boot
    9. Mosin Nagant 91/30 Rifle
    10. 2011 Moleskin Journal

    You will have to remind me periodically of this list and I will report where each item is throughout the year.

  • Nancy Says:

    Do you have in mind the kind of items you want to track? If so, and I have one that’s pretty new, I’m game! Love your crazy ideas!