Friday, 25 November 2011

How I Consume

Today I’d like to talk about how I consume stuff. I’m not talking about edible or drinkable stuff (which you could argue I do in slightly ill-advised quantities!), but all the other things in my home like the stuff I sit on, eat my dinner off and fill my wardrobe with.

My Magic Questions

When I figure out I need, or could do with (more on that distinction later) a product, my brain goes through these stages:

  1. Could I/we (me and my boyfriend) do without buying it? For example, I’m going on holiday but don’t have an ‘easyjet-sized’ suitcase. I could go and buy one, or I could borrow one from a friend and make sure I bring them back some chocolates to say thanks. Another example: we have friends coming over for dinner but don’t have enough chairs. Answer: use the garden furniture and make a joke out of it! Both these examples happen regularly round these parts.
  2. Could I make it? This applies mainly to clothing and accessories currently, but also soft-furnishings and gifts for other people. This is an area I hope to expand in the future.
  3. If it’s a bit fat ‘NO’ to the questions above, then it leads to: Could I get it second hand? And so often the answer is ‘yes, the thing I would like can be bought second hand’ by either hunter-gathering my way through charity shops or spending a bit of time trawling on eBay.
  4. If the answer to the above question is still ‘NO’, or we require the item quicker than the gods of charity shopping are willing to grant it to us, we buy the item new but the best quality we can afford so that it should last the longest amount of time before needing to be replaced.

I write endlessly on this blog about question number 2: making things. In this post I want to go into my thoughts on second hand, but really many of the reasons for me preferring to buy second hand are the same as why I choose to make rather than buy my own clothing.

So, as we’ve clarified, if I find I need or would like something new, I’ll usually see if I can get the thing second-hand before heading to the shops or amazon. Now, a LOT of people find second hand stuff to be a bit (or very) gross. The thought that someone else has owned and touched and used their thing before they had it makes them uncomfortable. I’m not judging anyone’s responses, but I feel it would be valuable to think about why that that response is their primary one.

'New' is a new concept

The first thing to take into account is the notion that all possessions must be ‘box-fresh’ straight from the shop or delivery depot is a relatively new one. When my grandparents were my age in the 1940’s, they were skint, working class Londoners, newly married, making their home and going about their business. During this time, and for all their lives leading up to that point, second hand was usually how you got most things. Furniture, clothing, shoes, pots and pans, etc. etc. all were bought second hand or acquired from members of their family; all those things had lives beyond the initial owner. Of course, the Second World War halted most domestic product manufacture and import, but many poorer people in the UK had been living this way for their whole lives even before war broke out. Obviously, I’m not idealising those horribly tough years, and I’m not necessarily saying that given the ability to do so, my young grandparents wouldn’t have chosen a new product over a second hand one, but I am saying that I see how they rubbed along and post-war, raised a family without Primark or Wilkinson’s (probably the UK equivalent to Wal-Mart) and that is what I aim to do also.

Kick-Starting Consumerism

After the Second World War ended, both the UK and US governments decided the best course for economic recovery was to kick-start the manufacturing industries. But the industry that needed to grow even more than car, washing machine or vacuum cleaning production to make this happen was the advertising industry to create and keep up the desire for these products. It was the advertising executives that constantly pedalled the idea than brand-spanking-new products would make you a happier, better person, and reflect your social standing as higher than those around you.

Quality or Quantity

Of course, the desire to be happy, better, and of higher status were not created by the advertising industry, they were always there. My grandparents wanted those things as much as the next person but, and here’s the crux of the thing, they always sought them through quality rather than simply newness. In fact, they held that notion their whole lives. I remember how my maternal grandmother, who had grown up in very poor conditions, in her later years would be absolutely thrilled with a gift of an expensive, high-quality, used coat from my paternal grandmother (who was wealthier and thoroughly middle class), infinitely more so than by a new, but evidently lower-quality, coat bought on a market stall.

The world of advertising had to almost drop the concept of quality from its list of concepts to pedal. Because if you market a product as the best quality within its field, with subsequent longevity, why would the consumer need to buy another from the same company for many years? Once the post-war homes of the US and UK had their TV, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, car etc. sales faltered and the advertising world had to find new desirable attributes to market to convince consumers to up-grade those tired old models they bought just a few years ago. Which is obviously why quality has also fallen off the list of priorities for most manufacturers: you’d probably need more than two hands to count the amount of times you’ve heard people say ‘they don’t make them like they used to’!

Advertising and Manipulation

When you see advertisements from the 1950’s today, they look relatively naïve, almost child-like in the simplicity of their messages. But as trying to create ‘need’ to consume already existing products got tougher, advertising got smarter. Advertising has used and manipulated the knowledge gleaned by psychology since the grandfather of modern advertising, Edward Bernays, deployed his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s, theories of psychoanalysis in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Obviously there are many excellent books and documentaries tracking the rise and development of advertising and its relationship with society, but it’ll suffice to say that it has got so clever and insidious that so much of it effects our choices and mind sets so we don’t really know what we genuinely want and/or need. The difference between 'want' and 'need' is also worth taking a look at.

'Want' and 'Need'

It serves the advertising and manufacturing industries to keep ‘need’ and ‘want’ blurred. Now, I know I am very fortunate having been born into a stable family in one of the first world nations, so I’m highly aware that this statement is extremely relative, but the course I have chosen for myself has always been, relative to my society and peers, low paid. Before I started to really think about these things around my mid-twenties, I used to get pissed off and feel aggrieved that I couldn’t afford all the things that I felt I ‘needed’ and ‘deserved’, like a new pair of black jeans or patent, cone-heeled mary janes from Topshop, etc. But I ‘had a word with myself’ and started to realise that I in fact just wanted those things, and then I began to look at how those notions of need/want got mixed up. Choosing to buy second hand not only saves me money (last year we kitted out an unfurnished one-bedroom flat for just £130 by only buying second hand furniture and accepting free items that were kindly offered to us, oh, and finding one clothing rail on the street) but also means I am somewhat out of the radar for all those advertising messages. Not watching much TV and no longer buying heavily advertisement-laden magazines also helps me with this.

Negative Impact on Esteem

Also, so much product advertising relies on exploiting and perpetuating our insecurities. It feels makes us feel bad about ourselves and our lives and then suggests the way to feel better is by purchasing this dress or sofa etc. But the key to happiness and fulfilment clearly doesn’t lie in buying those products because if it did, then we’d all be happy with what we’ve just bought and the whole thing would grind to a halt.

There is a horrendous series of advertisements on TV at the moment for an online department store called ‘Very’. One of the adverts shows a pretty girl wearing a 1970’s style jumpsuit telling us that we should buy it because it makes the wearer look ‘taller and slimmer’. Another in this series features the beautiful and naturally curvy TV presenter Holly Willoughby wearing a silver party dress. She confides with the camera/viewer that she loves the dress’s ruched waistband because it hides a ‘multitude of sins’. I nearly spat my coffee out when I saw that blatant example of exploitation of women’s negative body image. Now, I don’t want to go massively off-piste and discuss in-depth the feminist implications of these adverts, but I do want to highlight the negativity involved in advertising. I feel you can detach yourself from it to a certain extent by not being their ‘target customer’. I certainly don’t want to endorse that kind of message by buying their products and effectively funding the creation of those adverts. The time that ‘Very’ (.co.uk) assumes I spend, or would like me to spend, feeling insecure and rubbish about the size of my belly or my height, I would prefer to spend reading a funny book, looking for vintage sewing patterns on eBay, or stitching myself a new jacket. Sorry about that, ‘Very’.

Choice

One thing that is unarguably advantageous about buying new compared to second hand is choice and accessibility. Shopping for stuff today does give you a vast (some would say overwhelming) array of options. So how comes, having ascertained a want/need for a new pair of jeans for example, does the ensuing process of shopping for said item so often feel like going into battle? Shopping for new stuff despite of, if not because of, the amount of choice on offer to us is usually NOT an enjoyable experience. And let’s be honest, the idea that we have great choice of products available to us is pretty false when most of what a retailer has on offer is near-identical to the other retailers. I would argue that in some cases more variety can be found when looking for something second hand, because most retailers are afraid to invest in stocking products that don’t fit in to the prevailing current trends, be that sofas, shoes or TVs. There are also well-documented statistics which prove that people (AKA consumers) are less happy now than they were sixty years ago, despite this ‘utopia’ of products available to fulfil each wish and desire.

I would go as far as to argue that the choice of products we have available to us, and the process we go through to choose what to buy, provides a feeling of power. But it's a kind of false power when most of the places you can buy stuff are all owned by the same multinationals if you research far enough up the food chain. People often used to exercise power by involvement in local and national politics and issues, involvement in trade unions, community groups and other collectives. Involvement in those things has been marginalised, which is to our own societies detriment. What do we do with our time instead? Well, shop mostly.

Availability and Ease

Agreed, when you want to buy a certain product, a kettle say, by going to a retailer that sells new kettles, you are guaranteed to walk away with one and can usually be sitting at home with a cup of tea within the hour. Believe me, I am well aware that you can’t so easily walk into a second hand shop with a shopping list and expect to have all that ticked off by the end of the day. But we managed to kit out most of our kitchen with second hand equipment (I know some people are going to find that a bit icky!) with a bit of patience. There is certainly a hunter-gathering-related instinctive thrill to be got from a successful second hand shopping trip which is infinitely more of a buzz than I would achieve having walked out of Topshop or Urban Outiftters having made a purchase. When there is so much stuff freely available RIGHT NOW, there is always the feeling that ‘maybe I should have gone to a couple more shops to have found something a bit more suitable’. By comparison, a charity shop purchase makes you feel 'WIN!!!!!!'.

The Thrill of The New

What is ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ and ‘untouched’ anyhow? I’ve already discussed the fact that most of the garments, and any other products you can buy, have each been created by hundreds of pairs of hands. Yours is not the only pair of hands to have been on that thing. The idea that your ‘box-fresh’ item has been zapped into existence by a single machine just for you is so very far from the truth. That item came into being months, possibly even a year or more before you saw it. It has most likely been transported from half-way round the world via a series of cargo ships, trucks and warehouses, but having been caked in plastic to retain or create that ‘new’ smell we all so enjoy. And then when it is in the store, how many hands have picked it up, felt it, tried it and put it back down before you selected it? In particular, garments and shoes have probably been manhandled and dumped on the dressing room floor, and had sweaty bodies and feet squeezed into them multiple times before you decide to buy them. If that item had been previously purchased, used, washed and cared for (and often just purchased, put in the cupboard, then taken straight to the charity shop) then classed ‘second hand’, does that make it so completely different from a ‘new’ item? In my opinion, no.

Economy Vs. Ecology

The final issue I’m going to discuss today regarding ‘new’ Vs. ‘second hand’ can be also be framed ‘economy’ vs. ‘ecology’. The same reason that rabid consumerism was desirable in the immediate post-war period is still a prevalent one today: economics. Making, transporting, advertising and selling stuff creates jobs and therefore supports families. It also supports our governments and helps them achieve and maintain a position of international power which keeps poorer nations from developing to a position where their populations can support themselves, reach self-sufficiency and achieve a non-poverty standard of living, but that is a discussion for another day. Indeed everyone deserves to be able to support themselves and their families, but I find it a concern that the definition of that in the West seems to be ‘to a level where those workers are then able to freely purchase every item that is made, transported, advertised and sold’. I definitely don’t have a definitive answer, but I am aware that I cannot afford a lot of the new stuff many of my peers regularly consume, but then neither do I have to work the same excessive hours and worry about getting promotions like many of them do. I’ll come back to these topics in the future.

What I DO know, and what everyone who isn’t mental has acknowledged, is that this level of consumption we currently have in developed/Western/First-World nations is actively screwing up the planet. And the damage we are reaping won’t just effect us in the West, it’ll effect the entire globe including those who have almost no impact on the globe at all. Doesn’t seem fair does it? Not to mention all the children from every nation who has been, and will be, born into this mess. The public knows our consumerism is screwing the planet, the experts and scientists know this, the governments know this, the heads of corporations know this, but we cannot seem to make the leap: to jump off this economic merry-go-round to implement some of the measures that we know we need to to start seriously preventing and repairing some of the damage. Because profits will suffer, governments’ stability will suffer and indeed some first world families’ livelihoods will suffer. I don’t have the answers and even if I did I don’t know if too many people in positions of power would hear me or listen to me above their own agendas. But I will live my life the way I feel comfortable, and a lot of that is making do, making and modifying things and buying second hand.

48 comments:

Miriana said...

Excellent and very interesting post. I've just bought four 1950s Ercol chairs for a bargain price of £60 from our local Heart Foundation Furniture shop, so definitely feeling the 'WIN' sensation from that.

Your post reminded me that I once read somewhere that there was once (and may still be) upper class snobbery (similar to the 'new money' snobbery that did and still does exist) towards people who had to buy their own furniture as it meant that you didn't have a decent lineage pedegree that would mean you would inherit some pretty good stuff.

charlotte said...

a great great post, if I could only get over the need and want that cling onto me along with impulse!! On the whole I am very careful really embrasing non consumerism BUT those very clever marketing people seem to know this now, luckily I don't work in a town and I'm able to hide myself away in pretty Devon and put all that stuff somewhere where it doesn't toch me!! lol x x x

Miriana said...

Oh, and don't get me started on built-in obsolescence (wow, that's a hard word to spell)

aviewintomyworld said...

Brilliant post Zoe!i love your 4 questions to yourself - i think i do something similar without ever having seen it broken down like that!
I've just moved into house and have furnished it pretty much second hand so far, be it charity shop armchairs that will teach me how to re-upholster them or bed donated from my sister. Some stuff I've got new - like kitchen appliances but I got best energy rating and best quality that i could afford so that they'll last.
funny you say you know the kettle thing will get to people - i'd take a second hand one off someone i know but not via a charity shop - how odd the way our mind creates these classifications :-)
louise

Kat said...

What an interesting post! Since I started sewing about a year ago, it has definately made me think a lot more about my shopping habits, particularly when it comes to clothes. It is so easy to just go into a shop and pick something up that you may not particularly like/need which then gets relegated to the back of the wardrobe. Making clothes gives me so much more control over the fabric and fit, resulting in a garment that I have spent time putting together and therefore value so much more than any generic high street item. It has made me realise that so much of my wardrobe is made up of clothes I don't even like. In future I will be planning my garments more carefully and making as much as I can - I would rather have a small wardrobe of clothes I really love rather than one bursting at the seams that I feel rather apathetic about.

K.Line said...

Fantastic post - goes to show how relevantly the personal is political. I share your feelings. In fact, second hand things appeal to me because they have seen other lives. What's a fancy antique but a second hand item?

Heather Lou said...

Thank you for saying what I think about on a daily basis. It's SO hard to break out of the consumerist cycle but I think we finally ended our relationship this summer. I'm trying so very hard to stop buying new things. For Christmas almost all of my gifts will be beautiful, well thought out handmade items - or else second hand and tweaked. I make an exception for books since a thoughtfully purchased book will stay with someone their entire life.

It's just a matter of convincing the rest of the planet that this is the way to go. No big deal.

Suzie said...

What a fantastic post - I love your writing style and how atune you are to both sides of the story while making your point.
I have recently found myself slipping into the 'want' mindset that I had managed to get out of while I was travelling...and am making a conscious effort to realise the difference between 'need' and 'want'!

vickikatemakes said...

This is an amazing and really thought provoking post. I've recently decided not to buy anything new to clothe myself (other than underwear and hoisery - because I can't make them myself, although I'll have a go at knickers!) and I pland to do this for a year so that it becomes a change in lifestyle. This is entirely due to your post a week ago about the seamless pledge.

This has forced me to face up to what I buy, why I buy it and most directly where I buy it from. Of course, that's if I buy it and don't make it. Reading your post has crystallised the thought process even more.

We're also extremely fortunate in having the resource of Etsy, Ebay, Gumtree to name a few where we can source pre-loved items. I'm developing an eye for what is available - just because it's not perfect now doesn't mean that it wont be after a little work.

I'm truly impressed that you furnished your flat for £130. I know that my mobile phone contract will cost me more than that this year.

Christina said...

Hi Zoe, Thank you for that post. You summed up the reasons and machanics of consuming extremely well. Better than I ever could do so myself. It also made me remember how much the way we consume is, like so many other things, a reflection of our upbringing and experiences.

Many of my most cherished possessions have been used by other people or my family before. Like the cutlery I'm using, that has been a present to my great-aunt in the 1930's. It's a silver-coated WMF classic. They still are producing this design but at 60€ a spoon I don't even dream of affording it. So if I ever want to own more than my three spoons I will have to buy them second hand. And would gladly do so. And isn't it great to know that it is just as useful and almost as beautiful as when purchased about 80 years ago!?

Daruma-san said...

I love your decision-making process. I've been developing something similar for myself and was wondering how to say it best. Now I can just point people to your post!

Minnado said...

Great post Zoe and you raise lots of interesting points. I definitely think that the "charity shop gods" work especially if you are patient enough to wait, then often you will find the item you want/need second hand. We have a lot of second hand kitchen equipment and also have quite a few things like a coffee jug, which were charity shop finds that have obviously never been used. I think some people don't realise how much un-used stuff there is out there in charity shops. My four year old calls charity shops "toy shops" and I have been told I am cruel because she has never been in a "real" big chain toy shop! There have been some good snippets about women, make do and mend and the rise of consumerism on BBC 4 recently on a programme about the history of Pathe Cinema. This sounded like it was adull and dry subject for a tv prog but was really interesting - you may catch it on i-player if you missed it. There isone episode in particular about cinema-based womens' magazines Pathe used to run.

Scruffybadger said...

Great post Zoe, i appreciate the time you've put into shark g your views. I agree with everything you say. It's about behaviour, and what you let determine your behaviour. Im proud to say that I haven't bought any new clothes ( even secondhand) since 2010. I don't even think of the need now. It's only a first step, and everyone will have their own goal for how far they take it, but I wish society really is able to change from being so consumer driven, and it's this time of year with all the Christmas marketing that it becomes more distasteful.

Scruffybadger said...

Oops! Funny typo "sharking" should read " sharing"! And I should add to my own self criticism that I need to change my fabric buying behaviour that seems to have increased as a result of not buying rtw!

Elle C said...

What a fantastic and well thought out post. I am going to print out several copies and keep them around to remind me not to get sucked in to buying crap I don't need. Thank you.

Miss Katie said...

What a fantastic post, you really are an inspiration to your readers Zoe! I try and buy as much as I can second hand or make things for myself and I've never been happier, you're so right about that "win" feeling. I recently bought a beautiful 1940s housecoat and felt like I was taking home a stunning piece of history that would last me a lifetime and hopefully bring joy to others after me. A much better feeling that buying something for a couple of quid at Primark, and helping out the environment too. Win win win!

firstmute said...

What a thorough and thoughtful (and very non-judgmental!) post! Reading blogs like yours has definitely made me think harder about my own consumption, and I'm gradually transitioning to buying as much second-hand as possible. (I'm in love with the new-to-me set of mugs that I just got from Goodwill for $.50/ ea!)

I have a long way to go, but it's inspiring to read such a practical assessment of consumer culture.

Andrea said...

Excellent post! Your writing echoes a lot of what has been going through my head this past year: our society’s endless drive to consume, the difference between quality and quantity, the delusion that because there are a ton of shops with RTW items we actually have more choice, and the vast amounts of waste we are creating. These are all topics I related to in my early twenties. And then life happened, I got comfortable in my middle class North American lifestyle and promptly forgot all about it. It’s only since I started sewing and knitting in earnest that I’ve seriously thought about these issues again and these days make a conscious effort to stay away from mindless consuming. Also, thanks to your recent post about the Seamless Pledge I’m going to formally put my actions where my thoughts are as I’m taking the Seamless Pledge for the duration of 2012. Thanks for sharing!

guyonbajo said...

Great post!!! thanks for putting all those ideas together, I totally admire you for this!

Brumby said...

Hi Zoe, firstly thank you for taking the time to write this post, I found it interesting, thought provoking and pursuasive. When I moved into my place just over a year ago I adopted the same philosophy of sourcing preloved items. My bed head is made from two old front doors, the spare bedroom bed head was rescued from the tip. Both were stripped back and painted, and now garner many compliments from visitors.

I love that I can buy solid wood products at the local charity store for a fraction of what I can buy nasty chip board furniture for in the chain stores. I love that my furniture is not replicated 100 times over in lounge rooms or bedrooms across the country. The ecological benefits are an added bonus on top of it!

Once again thank you for taking the time to write the post, it was further thought on a topic already dear to my heart.

The Old Fashioned Way said...

Brilliant post and one that i hope people who dont already share this mindset read. This "need" and rabid consumerism are as you say a by-product of the invention of capitalism. We have all felt this desire to consume desperately at one point or another and that is just a terrible indictment of our society. When I lived in London i felt this need so much more as i was being constantly bombarded by advertising and the things my peers had. Since ive moved away ive found it much easier to stop buying (especially clothes which i havent bought new for almost 2 years). However as @scruffybadger pointed out, my fabric consumption is worrying (i just wrote a post on this actually), and i would like to get to a stage, like you Zoe, where i dont consume this too. However, here in Beirut, second hand is just not a concept at all that people understand- the society is much too obsessed with presenting a perfect front- so it is difficult.

KC said...

Thank you for this.

RebeccaHoward said...

Wow Zoe. What a well written relevant post. You can bet your bottom dollar that some university lecturer will pick this up and plagiarize it for a sociology lecture somewhere. It was thought provoking and succinct. I really need to rethink my shopping habits. In fact I guess like many of us, these thoughts have been lurking around uncrystallised in the back of my mind for some time, especially since my children have become old enough to make consumer decisions themselves. Thank you for sharing this and all your great posts with us out in blog land.

The Old Fashioned Way said...

Sorry, one more thing on this and then I'll shut up! Its not just clothes and household stuff that this extends to. A lot of what we consume excessively and that is equally damaging is cosmetics and cleaning products. These work with the same "need" messages and are often somethng people forget about. I try not to buy any branded goods in my house- including cleaners and cooking stuff- as these are all just run by corporate evil-doers. I am not saying this to brag but just to let you know its very easy to switch to making your own cleaners, and cosmetics. Seriously, easy and better for you.

Sandy said...

Thank you for this very well-written and well-reasoned post. I had many thoughts such as those already mentioned in previous comments, so I would like to address something I didn't read yet. Namely, the idea that we are not good enough -- too fat, have "figure flaws", etc. I'm so tired of being told how to look. My friend sums up the advertising worldview as: You are Inadequate; Buy More Shit. I'm calling bullshit. I'm not inadequate, and I don't need some lousy item to make me better. Thanks again, Zoe.

Emer said...

Great post I too am all about buying second hand. I am at the stage now where I actually prefer to buy second hand rather than new. The charity shop gods really do answer if you persevere. Just bought a winter wool coat for a fiver. Fits perfectly.

Sigrid said...

Thoughtful, as always. I know some people can't stand second hand partly because of the way the shops smell, but also because it makes them feel poor and as if have no choices.
Recently I bought my son some jeans from Target and then when we were home I asked him where they were made. When he said "Lethoso" I actually felt sick. So stupid that I ddn't even think to look while I was in the store. I know that when we are in the shopping mode we want it all feel new, clean and good--but new can be much more distasteful than used.

Donna said...

Thanks for this post. Brilliant and much needed.

No Regrets, Inc. said...

Love it!!! Go, Zo!

MrsC said...

Wonderfully put. I have no qualms at all about buying second hand and prefer that everythign in my house be older then me where possible! I also tell all my friends wanting to take up sewing to buy a decent second hand machine not a new one as you will get something that is sturdy and will last. And that goes for so many things.
I have new and old things and I try really hard to think twice and buy once. I try to have a 'one good thing' approach to stuff, instead of several cheap ones. And I love the voyage of discovery that is opshopping.
Your post has made me more conscious of what I am doing and inspires me to be even more committed. Especially since everything I just said excludes my fabric purchasing beahviours!

MrsC said...

PS, I wonder these days whether there is a fifth question you are asking - can Patty crochet it??!! heehee!

Sølvi said...

Wonderful post, Zoe! Thanks for taking the time and writing this!

Kristy said...

Great post, but I fear you're preaching to the converted here amongst your blog readers. It's the likes of people in Top Shop and Forever New or the other disposable fashion stores who turn their noses up at something last season let alone something second hand that we need to convince to think through your pre purchase questions.

Bunnykins said...

I couldn't agree with you more. But, then, I'm one of those who grew up with next to nothing and learned to ignore advertising. Lots of inherited china and bits, but you can't wear that. I learned to sew as I was too tall for children's wear,and then too tall for ladies wear which, at the time was too sophisticated for me. Not so now with the greater range of sizes and uni-age dressing. But the quality is just not there, even in some very expensive things (cheap plastic buttons on a $CDN400 blouse?)

I love old things, though. Give me a solid wood something compared to the most of the furniture available now. I learned to refinish furniture decades ago and am now going to tackle upholstery. We live with vintage, some inherited, some things I bought decades ago. All of it gets thoroughly cleaned first, of course. I have embroidered Egyptian cotton sheets, fine china, good wood furniture, and stylish light fixtures, all vintage. The house doesn't look junky at all because I'm picky in what I buy. You really have to learn to train your eye to find gold in among the jumble.

Now, about that store you've pictured. I see some treasures there.

Jane said...

Great post - I came here via Steph at 3 Hours Past. I thoroughly agree with it all, even though I have worked in, ahem, advertising all my career.
I think my consumerist tendencies have been far more in check since I started sewing in earnest, although I feared for a while they were just being channelled into a lust for fabric! Having kids has made me far more aware, and for parents out there I highly recommend a book called 'Simplicity Parenting' by Kim John Payne.
I read somewhere not long ago (and I'm sorry I can't recall where) about how consumerism can partly be put down to a reaction against years of wartime deprivation. I think the context was about how home sewing went out of favour because people had resented needing to do it, out of poverty and lack of available consumer goods.
My husband and I were watching some 'River Cottage' on DVD last night and reflecting how growing food at home had probably been a victim of a similar mindset. If you needed to grow veggies, keep chickens etc to sustain your family during war years, then it was an understandable reaction to rejoice in being able to just buy all that at a supermarket.
We are fortunate enough to have a house with a bit of land around it, and for us I would add to your list: "can we grow it"?

Becky said...

A very thoughtful and well-written post. I really admire your commitment to less consumerism and how you strive to build an entire lifestyle around it. Especially in reaffirming it in a time of year where the urge to consume is thrown at us from every angle.

Alessa said...

Thanks once more for sharing your thoughts and opinions, Zoe! Always so well thought out! These consumerism posts are one of the reasons I follow your blog, because it's a subject I think is very relevant, even though I only practise it in the small things for now.

One thing that struck a chord with me is your statement that buying second hand allows you to work a job that you love, even though it's lower paid, and to work less hours. As someone who is bent on a job with higher-than average pay but also more stress and hours (I'm on my way to be come a doctor), this is something that I never even thought about.

Thanks for making me think, Zoe!

Little Blue Mouse said...

What an interesting post.
I've loved reading this, thank you.

Jo Campbell said...

Great post, Zoe. I love second hand things (I'm wearing two items right now given to me by a friend having a clearout) but I do find it difficult to find suitable clothes in charity shops up here in NE Scotland - I'm tall, prefer natural fibers and enjoy Medieval/Victorian fashions. We have some great pieces of second hand furniture, either bought at auction or free from Freegle, the favourite being a large, glass paned, solid wood bookcase that takes up almost a whole wall in our living room. But my favourite has to be second hand books - I love that pre-loved look (although folding down the corners of pages is just a no no - you have to show a book some respect).

Jen said...

I've been thinking a lot about this subject and you put a lot of my thoughts into this post in a way that I was having a hard time articulating to others.

I grew up in what I thought was a fairly middle-class home, but my parents weren't big consumers. My dad was born in Holland in 1940, so his childhood stories often told my brothers and me about what it meant to not have and how to be happy with what we do have. I shopped and wore second hand and vintage way before it became popular here in the US. Both my dad and my maternal grandmother were infamous in the family for keeping things because they just needed a little repair.

I have 3 children and hope to have 1 more. Because I don't want to spend more on baby/child things, I saved almost everything from my 1st child, even though there are 6 years between her and my 2nd. Fortunately #2 was a girl and I'm slowly working my way through my oldest's clothing. She gets very little new unless I make it myself; usually her 'new' clothing comes 2nd hand from ebay. Our 3rd child is a boy, so her wore far less of the clothing I have saved up, but I am saving all of his things in case our next one is a boy. When I'm done with these clothes and things I'll be passing them on to my brother and his wife, for their daughter. Some of the things I've kept from my 1st child were worn by my cousin's daughter, so they've already been through 3 kids. Most people think I'm strange for saving all of the clothing, shoes, etc. - especially since my husband is in the military and we move frequently and that means it all comes with us. But, really, I don't see any point in doing otherwise. Why get rid of it when it's still good?

Erika said...

Another great post! I agree with basically everything you say, for so many reasons are second hand and self-made better for one's personal mental health, society and the planet itself.

Of course, for there to be second hand items, someone do occasionally have to buy new things, but with the low quality stuff mostly made today I despair a bit at being able to find good second hand items in 40-50 years. A lot of my furniture and kitchen stuff is second hand or - even better for my personal economy - hand me downs/heirlooms from various family members. I remember as a young adult finding second hand kitchen stuff gross, but today I've very much outgrown that attitude. I wouldn't use a "new" spoon without washing it first, so how is that different from washing a second hand spoon prior to using it? None.

I do however draw a line at underwear, and try to buy for example organic cotton knickers. Another exception are shoes; no matter how good I find second hand shoes, my picky "I'm only happy in orthopaedic shoes with custom made insoles"-feet does not agree with me. Shoes need to be new, preferably not even tried on in the store, with perfect impact-cushioning. And they only last about 12 months of wear... That would be my major comsumer-item. I do feel guilty about it from time to time, but I've come to accept that health must trumph economy, style, ideals and even the enviroment.

jen said...

Another great post and a lot to think about. This goes right along with a business crisis I've been having in my brain lately that I'm trying to sort out. Thanks for always having such in depth and thoughtful posts.

Zoe said...

Thank you all soooo much for your comments and reponses to this post. It was one I had 'brewing' for some time and it took me a while to get all my thoughts and feelings on this issue down in black and white. It really reassures me that there are so many other people also thinking about their consumer actions and striving to make changes.

Thanks again lovely peops!!!!!

Zoe xxx

Stephanie said...

I'm a bit late to the party. But thank you for taking the time to writing this post!

Mimi Jackson said...

Fabulous post. Very well put. You're preaching to the choir in this case, but I do love how well you stated your position.

tatiana said...

I see I'm not the first person to get excited about this post. These are the same issues my boyfriend and I discuss and the way we try to live as well. I couldn't agree more that the "easier" we make our lives with gadgets and accessories the less control we have over our own lives.

Awesome post. I'm a fan.

Anna Aa. said...

I'm tempted to yell out a loud "Amen!" (but I guess BF might chok on his curry if I do ;-D )
You make such good points! I'm all for the second hand shopping, remaking garments and sewing my own clothes! (Have been sewing for approx. ten years, the last two on an everyday basis, and it's just so rewarding to be able to wear something homemade with a proper fit. (store-bought clothes rarely fit regular build people.)

cocoanuts shop said...

We also pasionate about charity shops and "marches aux puces",fantastic blog!!!
Noe & Marina

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