Environmental Ponderings No 7: The Practicalities of “Stuff”

We all collect “stuff”.  Some of us take this to extremes and become hoarders. If you think carefully about your various friends, I am sure that amongst the list, somewhere, there is at least one serial hoarder. That is often one of those people that uses that magic phrase, “I’ll keep it because you never know when it might come in handy…” In truth, it very rarely does, but we end up with more clutter and junk pressing hard on the limited storage space most of us have.

Some “stuff” ends up in our homes because of the pressurised formal and informal consumer marketing that batters us on a daily basis – newspapers and magazines, TV and radio adverts, social media,  peer pressure, invented new trends and fashions…it all ends up with us buying things that we don’t need or can’t use for long….and then it becomes “stuff” in the cupboard, on the shelf, or in the drawers.

What  is made worse is that a great deal of “stuff” that we buy has a limited usage life. Have you ever tried repairing a broken toaster? Don’t bother, most of them have a modular design which means that they cannot be repaired. The manufacturer wants you to buy a new one….regularly. I worked in Soweto in the 1980’s and there was a thriving small appliances repair sector. These were one man businesses that would ,and could, repair anything and everything at a fraction of the cost of a replacement and often the equipment worked better after repair than when it was new. This thriving little cottage industry is no more.

If we are honest with ourselves, a large proportion of the “stuff” we accumulate can be used by others. Instead of it sitting in a cupboard doing nothing, what about donating it to a charity shop like Hospice or the SPCA who could sell it for a good cause? Winter is upon us and there are many people who could benefit from the warmth or coverage of those extra clothes that are clogging up your wardrobe and let’s face it, we are NEVER going to fit into them again, are we?

There’s also the “stuff” we acquire to be up-to-date with the latest gadgets and gear. How many old cell phones and chargers do you have sitting in your drawers and cupboards? Two? Three? Five?  We have about four in various places. Think of all of the recyclable materials that are locked up in those items. Think also of the many toxic materials that, if we don’t dispose of them responsibly or recycle them, could end up in the environment that we depend upon for our clean food, water, and air.

Don’t take my word for it or be mildly stimulated by my rather weak examples. Check the story of stuff out on the best place to experience real examples explained powerfully and simply. Watch the 20 minute movie,
“The Story of Stuff” on YouTube ( http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/ ) and be inspired to re-examine your perspective on “stuff”.  This “cartoon about trash” put together by Annie Leonard and her friends has been viewed over 400 million times worldwide since it was produced 8 years ago. The movie may intrigue you into looking at the other movies in the series – “The Story of Bottled Water”, “The Story of Cosmetics” and “The Story of Electronics”. That might even take you onto to the second level of “stuff” covered in the subsequent movies, “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC”, “The Story of Broke” and “The Story of Change”.

It is tough to change and we all want to hang on to our “stuff” but give some thought to parting with some of that “stuff” for  reuse, recirculation (there’s a new term…) and  recycling. If we all do just a little, it will help our communities, our dwindling natural resources  and our diminishing cupboard and drawer space

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 30 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.