By Associate Editor Natalie Gates
Stuff. How much of it do you have? Think about each piece of clothing, each book, plate, pillow, knick knack, and—the big one—electronic. Think about the number of items you get for Christmas, your birthday, or a shopping spree alone. Think about how much you throw out each year.
It’s enough to make you nauseous.
I was reading this article for class last week, called “Collaborative Consumption: Shifting the Consumer Mindset” by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. Once I finished, I had the overwhelming urge to grab everyone I know by the shoulders and tell them about the epiphany I just had. If you have me on Snapchat, you might have gotten a tiny bit of that.
Over time governments, economists, and, especially, corporations have molded our society into one that “can’t live” without our personal possessions. If you ain’t got no stuff, you ain’t nobody. We are told we must work more and more hours a week so we can afford to buy all the stuff that makes us “worthy” and brings us “happiness”. Once that stuff wears out, we throw it into an invisible disposal system buried in the ground or an oven that burns it and spouts the fumes into the sky, and on to the next.
Watch Story of Stuff on YouTube for more on this.
Since we—and several generations before us—have been raised to worship “stuff,” it’s impossible to simply tell a whole population to just quit consuming. That would be inconvenient; in the high-paced reality that is most of our lives, we can’t handle many more burdens. It’s better to have your own washing machine at home than to have to lug your laundry to a laundromat. Bostman and Rogers reference the “Great Washing Machine Debate” which came about in the 1980s because of the collapse of laundromats and staggering increase of washing machines in landfills every year.
But what if laundromats were hip places where you could multitask—grab a coffee, eat food, socialize, and do your homework? A laundromat in San Francisco called Brainwash has done just this. This is collaborative consumption. Botsman and Rogers define it as “organized sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping through real and online communities”. It’s not just laundromats. Things as simple as clothing swaps, thrift stores, and car-sharing are all collaborative consumption; they all gradually wean us off mass consumption, reduce our environmental footprint, and slowly pry open the grasp of capitalism.
Botsman and Rogers write, “Instead of trying to change consumers, the system itself has changed to accommodate needs and wants in a more sustainable and appealing way, with little burden to the individual.”
There’s a guy in Japan named Fumio Sasaki who owns only 150 items, including his wardrobe. A practitioner of Zen philosophy, he is kind of my idol right now. Maybe he had to throw out thousands of possessions first to achieve this minimalist lifestyle. But, if he truly lives this way now and for the rest of his years, the amount of waste he is saving in his life alone is simply staggering.
Imagine if everyone valued experiences as much as we value stuff. Imagine the extra productivity, quality time, and pure uninterrupted joy there would be. Not to mention the general mess and clutter it would eliminate in your home. Both us as consumers and business owners can do our best to start shifting mindsets and inviting others to follow suit.
This isn’t to say I’m never going to buy something at the mall again. Stuff doesn’t stop overnight. But if I give you a homemade wall hanging, a used shirt, a free pass for the bowling alley, or a coupon for a full day of fun times with me for Christmas, don’t be surprised. You’re welcome.