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Many people just survived Black Friday and are loaded with new gadgets after waiting in line during the wee hours after Thanksgiving. Sadly, less than 1 percent of all those new gadgets bought and sold during the holiday season will be in use six months from now, according to Annie Leonard in "The Story of Stuff," a short film produced by Free Range Films and available free online at www.storyofstuff.com.
"The Story of Stuff" chronicles the life of consumer goods from the "cradle to the grave," and offers an alternative vision to our consumerist culture. Leonard points out that we have lost our identities as "mothers, farmers, firemen, teachers, and become consumers."
Indeed, we are defined by what we consume, and are targeted demographically by stuff-peddlers from infancy to old age. In our culture, we feel awkward if we don't have "the right stuff" — fashionable clothes, flashy "bling" and the newest techno-gadget. What we don't often see is the consequences of our national addiction to stuff.
We see more advertisements in one year than our grandparents did in their whole lifetimes. We consume twice as much as they did as a result. Our houses are twice as big, our waistlines are bigger, and our savings accounts are considerably smaller. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population but consumes 30 percent of the world's resources and creates 30 percent of the world's waste, according to "The Story of Stuff." We have already used one-third of the world's natural resources, and are quickly chewing our way through the rest.
A few suggestions for surviving the holidays with less stuff:
— Develop habits of zero waste; use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, and avoid bottled water and other over-packaged products.
— "The average person in the U.S. watches TV for more than four hours a day," notes "The Story of Stuff." "Four hours each day filled are with messages about stuff we should buy. Those are four hours that could be spent with family, friends and in our community."
— Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to use more resources. Unfortunately, many cities still don't have adequate recycling systems and need public pressure at the local government level to get put into place. Start Precycling — buy the least amount of packaging, or skip buying it at all!
— Shopping is not the solution to personal or environmental problems. The real changes we need just aren't for sale in even the greenest shop. Learn to live more simply so that others may simply live.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at Shawn@ShawnDellJoyce.com. To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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