Slow Consumption

Utne Reader, a magazine started in Minnesota more than 20 years ago, is a digest of independent ideas and alternative culture, drawn from alternative and independent press.

In the March /April issue of Utne, I read an article titled Slow Consumption: Heirloom Design.  

It says: “we need to start making stuff that lasts … make those products not only durable, but also repairable and upgradable.”

I agree wholeheartedly. And I think slow consumption requires more than making products that are durable, repairable and upgradable, it requires a cultural change and mind shift.

In our modern throwaway society where it’s often easier, cheaper and more convenient to buy something new than getting something repaired, there is not much incentive for slow consumption.

The mass production of cheap goods and the material abundance have created new generations that are hand challenged.

In our parent’s generation, most people were handymen or handywomen, out of necessity of life. They could do with less, could make so much from scratch, and repair household items.

My parents in China did a lot of things themselves. My mother made all my clothes while I was growing up, from underwear to winter jackets, from hats to shoes. My father made a lot of things, from big ticket items of all our furniture that could last more than a life time to small items such as keys. He did/repaired/fixed everything from electricity and plumbing to bicycles, pots, shoes, etc. My parents didn’t buy much, not only because they didn’t have a lot of money, but also because they could make and repair stuff themselves.

Even if you were not as handy as my parents, you could easily find someone in the neighborhood to fix things for you.

Now it’s a different story with my generation. I am not nearly as handy as my parents. It’s so much easier and cheap to buy a sweater than to knit one myself, and I don’t have time and skill to make and fix things. Without necessity of life, without incentives, over time we have lost the mental and physical ability to be handy. So people throw away stuff at the first sign of malfunction.

Then there are people who throw away stuff that is perfectly fine, just because they want something newer, better, bigger, fancier. So we are still not going to totally solve the problem of fast consumption by making stuff last longer, because some people get rid of stuff long before it breaks.

We have to change our thinking before we change our behaviors. We have to care enough about the effects of our lifestyle on the environment and future generations before we change our lifestyle.