Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It used to be, even when I was a kid, that people didn't have as much stuff as they do now. And before my time, it used to be that ordinary, everyday items such as shoes and shirts and dresses and blankets were pretty danged expensive, so people only owned 2-3 changes of clothing or one pair of shoes. Kids had to run around barefoot in the summer so they could save their shoes for school (if they had any at all) and for the winter. They might have only one or two toys in their whole childhood. Socks that developed holes were carefully darned, not thrown away. Blankets as we know them weren't that common; quilts were. And quilts had to made made slowly, lovingly, by hand, most often from little scraps of feed sacks or bits of cloth leftover from making dresses and shirts. Have you ever seen a quilt where even the pieces themselves are made up of little strips joined together until they're big enough to make say, a diamond for the point of a star? People didn't do that because they had more spare time than they knew what to do with (like we do now), they did it because cloth was expensive enough to make it worth their while to save those little, bitty scraps. They didn't have refrigeration or plumbing or central heating or AC or automobiles. I'm certain that if they had had any idea of what sort of a life we have now, it would have seemed soemthing like paradise to them. They probably bemoaned the high prices of things and wished that the commmon, necessary items were more affordable.

Now look what happened: stuff is cheap. I can go to the dollar a bag sale at the thrift store and get a whole shopping bag full of clothes for a buck, less than 15 minutes or work-time even if i'm only making minimum wage. By comparison, Abe Lincoln worked for days splitting fence rails just to get a pair or two of breeches made for him. We throw socks away the moment they wear a little thin- if my coworkers caught me darning socks, I think they'd probably either take up a collection to buy me new ones or start plying me with handfuls of the things. Blankets are so cheap that people take those old quilts granny made by hand and use them for dog beds. Patches aren't often seen on clothing, even for poor children, and the status quo seems to be that you should buy your kid and entire new set of clothes just for school, every year. We are deluged with stuff. We buy all sorts of stuff we don't need, not only for ourselves but for other people. We throw things away that are still perfectly good simply because we're tired of them or because all that stuff is going to accumulate and drown us out of our own homes if we don't!

In a way I can see how this is good. But, look what's happened to the quality of the goods. If a person's only going to wear their jeans for a year, and they have 6-10 pairs of pants total, just how durable do those jeans need to be? How much are they willing to pay? The lowest price is what the consumer seems to want (hello, Wallyworld), and so the workmanship and standards of quality have gone down. Stuff doesn't last anymore the way it used to, and a lot of people don't expect it to. After all, when it gets old or too familiar, they'll just throw it away.

This results in a constant flow of goods through the household. We're assaulted day and night with ads insisting that because it's available and affordable, we should get it, right NOW. We *deserve* it. If we can't afford it, buy it anyway, and work out the details of that messy business later on. This trend is surprisingly pervasive and difficult to resist. The "gatherer" part of the hunter-gatherer is hard wired into us. And if, like me, you loathe throwing things away, it can become a problem, because that's like erecting a dam so that stuff comes in at a steady pace but only trickles out very slowly. Irritatingly enough, much of the stuff is cheap or tiresome or faddish, manufactured with the understanding that it'll be thrown away, soon. In other words, I have a lot of low quality stuff, and I think most of us do.

The solution: to pay more and really invest in long-wearing, high quality item that is truly needed and won't be going out of style or falling apart right off the bat. To buy things that we truly and deeply like and can live with for a long, long time. To purchase consciously, deliberately, and with thought, not spontaneously. And then, of course, to take really good care of those things. They cost more because they're worth more, so unless you're rich, you probably won't have a houseful overflowing from the attic and basement and stairs and under the beds and out of the closets.

Long story short, this is why I'm buying a pair of White's boots. My feet are killing me from wearing cheap shoes at work. Cheap shoes are all I've ever had. I ruin them in an amazingly short span of time. I cleaned house today, and I must have at least 5-6 pairs of cheap shoes, none of which I want to wear to work and all of which are going to cause my feet varying degrees of pain. It seems sort of scandalous for me to buy these expensive, handmade boots, but they should last me for years. If they wear out, the store can rebuild them. And also, I won't need to keep 4-5 backup pairs (held in reserve for when the others wear out) of shoes around the house. I can have just one pair and maybe a pair of sandals or dress shoes (like I'd ever need those anyway, heh!).

I'd like to follow this general principle in buying for most of what we get, ideally.

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