Life from an outsider's perspective…

The art of replacement; knowing when to throw.

Consumerism, marketing, contentment, happinessOne thing that I like about life here in Tenerife is that the people aren’t rich enough to take part in the consumer culture that is so rampant everywhere else. It’s been a while since I wrote anything for this section “Vida Enigmática”, so here’s my take on current consumerism:

Just a few decades ago, the reason we gave to buy something new was because what we had simply broke and could no longer be repaired. The art of repair seems to have been forgotten alright. Lost in fact. To the point where today, material goods are no longer repairable because to do so is uneconomical. Often, you replaced things with an identical unit. How many times does that happen today? Never. Why? Because even if we wanted to, the flux of change is so great, it is no longer possible to buy the same item even only 1 or 2 years later.

But how often have you bought something expensive only to want to replace it with something else within a short period of time? It’s true that most of us in Western civilisations experience a truly insatiable lust for possessions. Indeed, it’s what motivates us to work so hard in the first place – to improve our standard of living. But does it also improve our quality of life?

About 10 years ago, I read the result of a life satisfaction survey where they asked many employees working in all salary brackets what sort of income they would need to achieve true happiness (or something like that). To my suprise, according to the survey, almost everyone’s answer was that to be happy, they would need to double their current wage earnings. Interestingly, it didn’t matter if they were poor or already quite rich, people assumed that more money would undoubtedly translate into more hapiness. But is that always the case?

More recently, as we’ve became richer still, the excuse people gave about buying quality items was “because they last longer than poorly-made, cheaper items”. Sometimes, this is fair enough, because it is more economical to buy something that lasts longer in the first place. Even so, the justification for purchasing a replacement item was never solely because it was an “improved” model.

What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
Don’t need it now 

– U2, Beuatiful Day. 

Now, we’ve been so brainswashed by decades of advertising that possessions are the route happiness, the western world has divulged itself with the latest, most expensive “must-haves”. I’m talking about the sake of buying something new and throwing out the old, just because the new thing is bigger and better, faster, contains more memory, is lighter, stronger or more fashionable. In my opinion, these are not very good reasons to warrant buying something new. We hardly even question anymore whether we really need the new item – we buy it because we can, and that’s it. Full stop. Neither do we give so much as a second thought about throwing out something that still functions. These days, things become superceded or obsolete at crazy rate.

It’s not exactly a sustainable way of life though, is it? What about the environmental cost of consumerism? Sure, okay, you might say that the packaging might be able to be 100% recycled, but that still requires energy, right? What about the energy that went into making the actual product? It’s transportation costs? Where is your money really going? Will it end up in some fat executive’s wallet who works at the at the top tier of some commercially-driven hierarchial pyramid, only to be splurged somewhere else?

The way I look at it this: every time you buy something, anything, you’re killing some part of the world, somewhere else. Each time you buy a new appliance and plug it in, something, somewhere dies. But I’m not just referring to kitchen utensils, I’m talking about each and every man-made product that’s available. Why? simply beacuse the resources that go into making these things have to be taken from our environment, in whatever manner. For a generation that loves watching shows about causality, Karma and the butterfly effect, try and tell me it’s not happening for real.

So my advice to people is not to get sucked in. Don’t read catalogues or magazines. Save your money for a rainy day. If you have to think twice about buying something, you probably don’t even really need it. If you earn so much money that it seems to burn a hole in your pocket, consider giving some of it to charity! Meanwhile, use your things and enjoy using them. But wait until something accidentally breaks. Then repair it. And when you can’t repair it any longer, consider replacing it as the final option. Sell the old thing on ebay, give it to charity or recycle it – don’t just throw it in the cupboard.

You might complain that the cost of a new replacement battery or charger or whatever hardly makes it worth while. “It’s not worth it; for only 15 dollars more I can get XYZ which includes the UVW for free!”, you say. And I’ll respond by saying that it’s because of supply and demand. If more poeple bought just the replacement parts instead of the whole new thing, the cost of the replacement bits would surely plummet. Not only is it better for the environment, but you’ll get so more satisfaction buying things which you actually need to, when you need to.

One Response to “The art of replacement; knowing when to throw.”

  1. Absolutely agree with the “don’t buy crap” mantra, but I’m not so sure that “people aren’t rich enough to take part in the consumer culture that is so rampant everywhere else” still holds true here. Or, at least, despite the general level of winging about abject poverty, what I am seeing is that folk around me are acquiring all these “mod-cons” somehow.

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