I like paying attention to the way we talk about things we own or purchase. For example, when someone receives a compliment on say a new piece of clothing, the response back is often, “Thanks! Can you believe I only got it for [insert some inexpensive number]!?”
We are quick to use the money card to show empathy. The type of empathy that says “I’m not a rich snob,” or “I promise I didn’t spend too much,” or “I don’t usually buy a lot of stuff,” etc. What’s wrong if you did splurge on something?
The better question to ask before you buy is what meaning does this item hold for me? Am I being intentional with this purchase? Do I promise to love it and maintain it or am I buying it for short-term satisfaction?
Expensive things might be better after all.
the things in our Society
We live in a throw-away society. Progress and well-being in the United States are sadly measured by the Gross Domestic Product or GDP. As you know, GDP is a measure that thrives on production, financial maximization, and unchecked consumerism. Not so much on the sustainability of the environment and people’s well being.
A lot of companies chase financial maximization for their shareholders. They avoid acknowledging the environmental and social impact of the products or services they create. Other companies green-wash the numbers by conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound or sustainable.
Yet, if you were to look deeper into the supply chain, you’ll find some staggering truths.
Cheap is not better
The infamous proverb “you get what you pay for” is one that is ever-present throughout life. “Pay for” can also be understood as hard work, patience, rather than only some monetary form. It’s those things we feel we’ve earned that mean the most to us in life.
Personally, I’ve bought cheap items as a way of short-term gain, from headphones to clothing, to shoes, and tools. Past Kyle rarely saw the long term benefits of a “cheap” item because of the lack of quality and commitment. Sometimes, I knew from the moment I first used the item that it wouldn’t be around for long. Perhaps age is what makes this proverb more relevant.
After reading, Let My People Go Surfing, a business book about the company Patagonia and its founder, I vowed to take it a step further regarding the way I think about my consumption and consumerism in our society.
What if we spent more and bought less?
If “what’s the cheapest price I can get this item or service” is our first thought as consumers (and the same thought for companies providing goods or services), it’s easier to disregard quality and source. We are less likely to feel responsible for keeping or maintaining the stuff we own over the long term because we paid so little for it.
Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills, giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material.The Atlantic
Cheap and single-purpose items are quickly pitched when they break or go out of style. It is said that only about 15% of used clothing gets donated and about 9% of plastic is actually recycled. The solution? Buy less.
Some time ago I bought a used, Patagonia quarter-zip sweatshirt from REI’s Used Gear website. It’s my favorite piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. I love how multi-purposed it is and where it came from. In fact, I’m wearing it right now as I type these words.
By learning what it took to make this sweatshirt and the philosophy of the company who did, I made a promise to love it and use/repair it until there is no other option. With this knowledge came extreme ownership and intrinsic value. This sweatshirt is a direct reflection of my values.
While people may look at something like this through the financial lens as I once did, reasoning they could find a cheaper sweater, I am proud to say that owning items like this reduces my need for more items and fulfills me.
The final purchase price says nothing about who we are. Neither does the things we own. Rather, our values are based on the intention of our purchases, who we buy them from, and the impact they have from cradle to grave.
It’s hard not to sound pretentious or self-righteous when you talk about these things. I promise that’s not the place I’m coming from. This article is about us as consumers and the environmental footprint we all collectively are leaving. Sadly, if we don’t change together, I believe we’re heading to a point of no return.
If we learn the true cost of things produced in our society, we might think differently about our consumption. We all have a moral obligation to stand for something that positively influences our society.
Let’s All stay accountable
Our choices are the one thing we are in control of and, when used intently, can drastically affect positive change. These intentional choices contribute to our well-being and happiness in ways that we may not fully comprehend just yet.
If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.Ghandi
I vowed a short while ago to continue to educate myself on my impact in this world, from cradle to grave. I vow to choose things that align with my values and avoid shortcuts.
How we spend our dollars as a collective society matter. And if the quote “what we own ends up owning us” is true, let’s choose the right things for the right reasons.
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