There are many cool things about being an adult. When I was a teenager, I looked forward to getting older - not old old, not mouths to feed and arthritis, but old enough to be the Lucky Owner of Many Things. Things such as freedom, independent living, a sense of authority and, above all else, MONEY. So maybe this means I'm not old just yet? Joking aside, I soon learnt that all Adult Things come with Responsibility, money included. As a teenager, money was not readily available, and the more things you could buy with your cash, the better. Cheap and cheerful items screamed at me through shop windows or computer screens like freshly-glazed doughnuts, and a shopping spree itself was likewise considered a treat. I used to get ready on a Saturday morning, spritzing myself with Victoria's Secret body spray, eyebrows an absolute calamity, homework done for the weekend, and waltz over to the West End, friends in tow, a full day of consumerist camaraderie ahead of us. Nowadays I sit in my pyjamas at my laptop, sixteen tabs open on my Internet browser, and things simply come to me. It's magic!
Lots of people have joked about their random lockdown purchases, and it is funny to an extent (I snort every time I glance at the wigs on top of my wardrobe) but at the same time, it makes me realise just how ingrained this mentality of acquisition is. We purchase things out of sheer boredom. We treat ourselves to make ourselves feel better. It's hard to imagine an existence without the constant buying and disposal - we grow, our bank accounts grow, our storage cupboards grow, our bank accounts shrink, our storage cupboards shrink. I'm sure, dear reader, you have moved house once or twice in your lifetime. Isn't it crazy to sit and look around at all those boxes and realise that everything is yours? I sometimes listen to the Adulting podcast by Oenone, and recently I tuned in to her chat with Aja Barber, a really cool writer who talks a lot about sustainable fashion amongst other interesting things. Aja talked a bit about how she came to be interested in sustainable fashion, and it stemmed from a few different events, including how she was treated as a kid for wearing certain clothes and working in a charity shop when she was a little older. It struck her just how many garments were being recycled across the town, let alone the US, let alone the world. We hope to think that all of these clothes will get rehoused, but... ...what happens when they don't? WHERE DOES THE STUFF GO?!
The latter question is one that I've been thinking about a lot, and it makes me shudder. I've always been intrigued and frankly frightened about junk drifting off into the unknown. I used to pick up litter at a leisure centre, and I always got so mad when my colleagues shoved LITERAL UNOPENED BOTTLES OF WATER into the bin as if it meant nothing. I wondered if they realised what they were doing. I think it was mostly due to them wanting to get the job done as quickly as possible. But it scared the crap out of me, that level of nonchalance. Most of the time we don't think about what happens to the rubbish after we put it in the bin; it's gone, and that's that. But that isn't that. It just isn't our problem any more. Key word: problem. I think we all know this. I think we all know that there's an issue with the excessive amount of stuff that we acquire and dispose of, and I think we all understand how practically impossible it is to point fingers when we are all part of a system, and it's incredibly difficult to break free from that system. This is why I'm suspicious when I talk to people who say that they're content with everything they have (maybe I'm actually just jealous...tell me your secret!) The truth is, I don't think we can ever be content, and it's almost futile to attempt to be. Though I can sit here in my super tidy room, happy with my bookshelves and all the clothes in my wardrobe that I do genuinely like and wear, if my house burnt down tomorrow best believe I'd be in floods of tears. Because I love my stuff! I do! I love my family and my job and my friends and the world around me but I LOVE MY STUFF TOO! What a pickle.
Investing in good quality things - whether that's stuff, a career or relationships - takes time and effort. This is perhaps what deters a lot of people. Quick is easy. Have you ever been put off buying something because of how expensive it is? I have. But then I could probably look back at all the cheaper purchases I'd made, add up the costs and the total would no doubt be a lot larger than what I'd usually consider expensive. Cheap labour and big profit is one of the scariest things out there, in my opinion. Exploitation of the many for the few is a grim thing, and though some people are (seemingly) blind to it, the majority of us know exactly what's going on. Trying to infiltrate it is easier said than done. I feel that big companies have a lot to answer for - and it's THEIR responsibility to change things at the end of the day. Consumers are faced with difficult choices. Many consumers are privileged, and may have slightly more 'power', but a lot of people are simply making ends meet, and it's an extra burden to think about the wider community and population when you are faced with the burden of keeping yourself healthy and happy. We all hold different values, are influenced by those around us, and big companies play on our wants, needs and insecurities - in their eyes it's a win-win situation, because we get what we want and so do they. Except that we never truly get what we want, because we're never satisfied. And I guess neither are they. If we don't have any power, then what can we do? I guess the most important thing is to examine our relationship with acquisition and disposal. When you acquire something, are you curious about the origins? If we apply the same logic to e.g. a job or a relationship, we tend to reflect on what has come before, the process prior to acquisition. Maybe it's worth doing the same for material things. We tend to hold a very carefree attitude, ordinarily, with regard to stuff. Let's dig a little deeper. Where does it end up? And how can we invest in things that will last longer, that can be used again and again? Is it a case of putting in a little more time and energy? Probably.
I think I'm getting a little more cynical as I age...or maybe just realistic. Capitalism is, I think, here to stay. But maybe we can stop it from creeping into the crevices. I noticed recently that Instagram now has a whole 'Shop' section. Reader, I was fuming when I first noticed it. I remember when the marketplace was introduced to Facebook years ago. I just don't understand why it's necessary. I know there are a lot of businesses on Instagram, and it's great that people are able to gain a following and further increase their sales through social media, but a whole section dedicated to buying on a platform that I initially signed up to because I like looking at pictures is just a step too far, in my opinion. Which brings me to another thought. Maybe not everything has to be commercialised. When YouTubers make it big, they suddenly start selling merchandise. Some write books. Others team up with brands. This is a way for them to make money, but you know what? They could live comfortably on the monetisation of their videos alone. So why all of these other ventures? Do we need to exploit every single thing to make a bit of cash? Maybe some things could exist and not need to be commercialised. That is okay, too.
Frankly, I'm getting bored of it all. You would think that excess choice is fantastic and life-changing, but realistically it just makes me more anxious, because suddenly there are innumerable options and oftentimes I'd rather just have two. Because a) I'm really not bothered to trawl through a thousand identical slogan tees and b) I've got better things to do with my time. Which brings me to my final thought. Excess choice = duplicity. Usually when a trend surfaces, multiple companies jump on it and suddenly you see the same products everywhere. Now, I'm not stupid - I know that companies have to compete with each other to survive (there are companies that definitely do not need to exist but #noshadefromme.) Sometimes, though, we have to ask the question: does the world need it? This goes for us and how we live our lives. Does the world need it? Does anyone need it? Or is there enough? Is there enough? That's the sort of mentality I'm trying to adopt now. When I was younger I couldn't wait to be the Lucky Owner of Many Things. But as the Notorious B.I.G said, "mo money mo problems."