“we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”
– fight club
The need for things is one of the core elements of human culture, only the amount changes, depending on cultural belonging and level of prosperity as the main factors.
Since the want for stuff is also the driving force of the whole economy, it’s basically a huge lever on the economy. This lever is at all times pulled in various directions by many kinds people. With varying success.
So, here’s a rough overview of ways to get things:
buy new things in a shop (local and online)
The decisions on how and where and from which material these goods are produced are mostly determined by commercial factors. Most often this means paying as little as possible to achieve the desired quality. The impact and extent of these decisions grow steadily, hand in hand with globalisation.
The results of this are products in high quality and quantity, but somewhere along the production line the quality usually lowers. Not necessarily the quality of the product, but of other points along the value chain, e.g. treatment and payment of the workers. This concerns factory workers as well as the ones sourcing the base materials., e.g. miners and farm workers.
Most goods for most shops are produced in centralised industrial complexes, often outsourced to a low-wage country. As a side effect, this lengthens transportation chains, increasing fuel usage and therefore climate change, as well as soil sealing.
But to be thorough, there are positive aspects to it. Most important, it creates a lot of jobs, which people need to sustain their living. It’s also the easiest way to get stuff, because you just need money, which you can obtain in a lot of different ways.
go thrift shopping
Shopping in thrift shops, flea markets, antiquarian and second-hand shops not only lets you find treasures and rarities for good prices. It also lowers the amount of trash to handle as well as the demand for new products, therefore reducing the use of raw materials and energy.
reuse and repair things
“to appropriate by destruction.”
I once participated in a workshop, where the obligatory introduction ritual at the beginning was to show something you had in your pocket and use it to explain yourself. Try it. All the things you own are a piece of your story. And the story is not just how you got those things, it’s also about what happened to them while being around with you, when you fiddled them nervously, dropped them while distracted or doodled on them while having a phone call. Many would say that this is a way of damaging the object. They’re right. but in damaging,
we make these objects a part of us. Even without a special case, you can easily recognise your phone because of the ditches and scratches it has.
Though Commercial, Keri Smith’s “Wreck this Journal” is an excellent example. The book on the right clearly belongs to someone, and if we’d know the person, we could easily match it. The left book, however, is brand new, giving no indication.
Fixing things is similar to thrift shopping in its impacts but needs an investment of time, material and skill. The needed material would have to be bought in most cases, since sourcing it from waste or natural resources on one’s own is complicated, if at all possible.
upcycle / DIY
Upcycling means taking things that are already there, optimally waste or decommissioned items, and changing them in a way which gives them a new use.
Like repairing, you also need material, skill and time for this. Also, some product types, like furniture, are easier to produce by upcycling than others, like electronics. Some, like food, have a limited keepability, which makes them almost impossible to upcycle.
download and produce yourself
Since the invention and distribution of 3D printers for home use, it is possible to invest in them once, and then print out downloaded designs, eliminating the preceding production steps to the preparation of one thing – the printing material.
There are necessary skills for this, and the quality is not yet the same as in mass-production, but the perspective offered is a potent one.
This way of producing the goods you consume is called prosuming and will be described at length in an article to follow.
build from scratch
Needs even more time, skill, and material than upcycling, but if you have those, the possibilities are endless. Especially in combination with rapid-production processes like 3D printing, this can be a good way to get things that suit your needs perfectly, in a reasonable amount of time. The material choices are limited by now, but with a quick technological innovation, they are getting more every day.
Not really a production way, but combined with doing things yourself, it can be handy to be able to make your own raw materials, preferably from trash or side-products.
For using alternative ways of getting things, you need time, skill and material. Having one of those things can help you get the next one, and get it easier.
So in what ways do you get your things? Have you tried the alternative ways yet? I’d like to read about it, just leave a comment!
Also published on Medium.