First and foremost, let’s establish that there is, in fact, no such thing as “away.” Everything that we dispose of goes somewhere. The very concept of throwing things away attempts to alleviate us from thinking about the ultimate outcome of our disposables (which is, ultimately, everything). If it’s “away,” it is not in our sights and no longer our concern. Unfortunately, our collective – yet unspoken – pact to ignore where “away” exactly is has resulted in innumerable negative social and environmental outcomes.
Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. Although we have all signed onto this pact, we most likely have not done so fully consciously. Through well-developed advertising and gaslighting, we have bought on to corporate campaigns to convince us that we need all of these consumables and that their planned obsolescence is just how it is and that we are at their mercy to simply accept it.
The good news is: we are not at all powerless. Whether or not we signed on knowingly, we most certainly have the power to get off this hampster wheel of consumption. You don’t want to be a hamster, do you? (Not that I have anything against hamsters. To the contrary. But you get what I’m saying.)
It may be helpful to keep the rather forward-thinking WWII motto in mind: “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Or do without.” I would like to add these additions: Make it creative and keep it fun.
When that shiny little (or big) item presents itself to our fully manipulated consumer mind, the first thing we should ask ourselves is, “Do I need it?” If the answer truly is “no,” why spend the money and the resources? I am not suggesting complete asceticism here. Of course there are items in life that we want as opposed to need. In those cases, I suggest asking yourself the Marie Kondo question: Does this piece of art, clothing, or cookware spark joy?
If the item in question actually is something you need, let’s take a look at what we already have. If you have something at home that would fit the bill for what you need but is in disrepair, figure out how to repair it and make it useful once again. I have become a big believer in YouTube tutorials. If you have a question about how to repair something, I am willing to bet that some kind soul has gone to the trouble of recording their adventures in doing so. Reach out to a handy friend who loves to be helpful. In recent years, many communities have developed repair cafes where people come together to fix things and make them useful once again. The closest one to us is in Athens. If you want to start one here in Atlanta, Repair Cafe offers a great Starter Kit. If it’s clothes that need fixing and you are not yet a passable seamstress, check out Mending Life.
Consider borrowing or swapping for items that you need. Neighborhood tool sharing groups are popping up in many areas. If there isn’t one in your neighborhood, check out how to start one here.
My personal favorite option is thrifting for what you need. If you enjoy the hunt, this is a challenging (in a good way) and fun way to source some of the things that you need. Of course, we all think of the Goodwill, which is fine, but there are so many thrift and consignment storefronts in the metro Atlanta area to find hidden treasures. This gives items the opportunity to have a second, or even third, life. Finding creative and resourceful uses for items already in circulation helps prevent the processing of virgin materials.
If you’re handy or want to be, you can consider making what you need. And if you want to be a total rock star about it, make things from materials that you already have or that are second-hand themselves. Think pallets for outdoor furniture or cool old crates as nightstands.
Lastly, if you do need to buy something that is new, do your best to purchase it responsibly. Avoid mass processed, inexpensive stuff like fast fashion (full disclosure: I have loved Old Navy just as much as the next person) and buy the best quality you can afford on your budget. Purchase from companies that offer buy back programs. Choose items that are actually repairable and that you can find replacement parts for. Support companies that commit to good social and environmental principles like Who Gives a Crap? for toilet paper and Rothy’s for shoes.
Ultimately, the first step in being a responsible and thoughtful consumer is being conscious about what we actually need. What is it that we consider to be enough? I’ll bet it isn’t as much as you might think.