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Story of Stuff: Now What?

A neat little 20-minute video has taken over the portion of the Web made up of people who care about making a difference and saving the planet. Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff" is an informative look at the stuff we use everyday, how it's made, how it's sold, and ultimately, how our use of it is hurting the planet we call home.

It's simple, sticky message has enamored a lot of people. The notion that half of all tax dollars pay for missiles and guns, the idea of obsoleteness being a form of scarcity, and how the government and big business might be in cahoots with one another made me sit up and pay attention.

Leonard traces the notions of production and consumption as she shows how a product is made from raw materials, leaving destroyed natural resources in its wake. The simple black and white drawings and her calm, persuasive voice leave you infuriated with your own consumption patterns when the film ends. You feel motivated to do something. You're ready to act. You're ready to stand up and fight against the consumerist tide that has become our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, you're not left with many options.

Like Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," a lot of information with a little action means very little changes. Education and awareness are step one. But, information without action and motivation without change only result in things staying the same.

Leonard has made a great film; I only wish she had spent as much time offering practical solutions as she did tracing the way things get made, bought and sold. I wish she had shown this world of people using laptops and iPods and couches and straws what to do with their newfound knowledge. In fact, she only spends the last minute of the film talking about another way, but she does post 10 ideas to make a difference on the Web site.

You don't really learn something if you can't teach someone else. A lot of people have seen "The Story of Stuff." I begin to wonder how many have shared not just an eye-opening video with someone else, but rather practical ways to curb our consumption. I wonder how many folks have not signed some sort of petition that could get lost on a desk in Washington, but rather made a conscious decision to spend 10% less this year, to move into a smaller house, or to go as long as possible in 2008 without buying something new.

Since "The Story of Stuff" leaves us in the lurch a bit, here are my five recommendations on how you can throw a proverbial wrench into the machine that is our economy of mass-produced goods:

  • Think before you buy anything: Do I need this? Do I have something else that can do the job just as well?
  • Watch packaging content. Chances are, you buy more packaging than product. Buy the alternative item if it uses less packaging.
  • Ask around to see if you can borrow the thing you wish to buy. Many things we purchase, like tools or dishes are quick fixes to a one-time void or seasonal need. Make friends with your neighbors and share.
  • Use Craig's List or Freecycle to lengthen the life cycle of stuff. As Leonard mentions, many things we think we want are things we don't really need. Most of the time, someone else's gently used item can become our new treasure.
  • Buy handmade from local artisans. Many handcrafted items don't generate as much waste during the production process, so by purchasing one of these items, the unseen part of the process (production) will produce far less trash and pollution.

Ultimately, changing economic trends means that we act with our dollars. This is often hard to do because it's so easy to buy things. And it's usually fun (until the credit card statement arrives). But, how we spend our money says a lot about who we are. Thus, taking the necessary steps to change how we shop will, in the end, change the kind of people we wish to become.

Sam DavidsonComment