Personal Finance

The story of stuff

“You cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.” – Annie Leonard (Story of Stuff)

You only have to switch on the television, the radio or start surfing the internet in order to be confronted by a myriad of commercials and advertisements, desperately trying to make you aware of some material thing that is missing from your life and present you with an easy way to obtain it. Whether it’s an online ad at the side of the screen or the commercials running between your favourite songs, the message is pretty much the same; here’s something you didn’t even know would make your life easier/happier/more exciting, why should you have to live without it? Why indeed? Well, after watching the short film, The Story of Stuffthis week I might have a few more reasons to think twice before I head out to make my next purchase.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

I’ve been on a mission for the past couple of years to simplify my life and a large part of that has involved simplifying my lifestyle and rethinking my spending habits and consumption patterns when it came to accumulating “stuff”. Part of the motivation was the need for a drastic lifestyle modification afterlife threw mea marriage breakdown and a job loss all within the space of four months. However, a much bigger part was spending time with people who were more motivated to spend money on experiences than on accumulating stuff and seeing how rich their lives were as a result.

The fact is, that we live in a consumer-driven society which relies on materialistic citizens in order to survive. In 1955, Retail Analyst Victor Lebow observed that “our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…. We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” 58 years later, I think it’s safe to say that, in North America, his observation has become our reality.

The materials economy

According to “The Story of Stuff”, everything that we have the ability to consume is part of a linear system known as the Materials Economy. The system runs through five phases: Extraction – Production – Distribution – Consumption – Disposal . It is a system which is in some serious trouble because it relies on resources which are not renewable and which will eventually run out. No matter how much we love our “stuff” , when we get to a point where 99% of purchases are no longer in use six months after purchase it’s pretty clear that most of the time we’re buying for the joy of buying rather than for necessity. If we want our resources to last longer, we need to make some changes.

This is good news for those of us looking for an incentive to spend less on material objects because now we can argue that our frugal spending habits are not miserly, they are environmentally conscious! In conserving our own resources we can also help to conserve the planet’s resources and contribute to a healthier living environment by bringing less toxic stuff into our homes. We can eliminate debt and build wealth by reducing our consumer spending and redirecting those dollars to start working towards our savings goals. It’s an awful lot easier to create financial freedom when you reduce the amount of money you need each month to cover expenses and it’s a lot easier to be happy when you don’t define success by comparing the possessions you’ve accumulated to those owned by someone else.

I’ve written before about the importance of having a motivator for every goal; something bigger than the goal itself which will keep you going when your motivation levels are low. For me, this short film has provided a new motivator for simplifying my life and spending less. It’s also given me a bit of a wake up call when it comes to inspiring me to pay closer attention to the state of the planet I live on and to take more ownership of what I can do personally to make a change. As with any film, there are things I agree with and things I’m planning to research a little more closely but this 20 minute short gives plenty of food for thought.

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