It is true that we live in the age of stuff ; plastic stuff, paper stuff, cotton stuff, metal stuff : in western europe we have and waste so much that we are about to be engulfed in a Tsunami of stuff, that we can only cope with by shipping it to the ‘developing world’ as rubbish for those without stuff to sort through.
This stuff tsunami is, of course, a phenomenon of only the last 35 years. I grew up in a world without computers, wearing home made clothes : first by my mother, then by me, walking to school or going by bus, only ever having one Barbie (it was a Sindy in a blue swimming costume, which came from the back of a weetabix box)This isn’t it : I would have killed for a proper Sindy with a poncho and leggings! Mine had, as I say, a Swimming Costume, maybe a small nylon towel, and NOTHING ELSE.
Maybe my experience of the 1970’s is not how it was for everyone : because wasn’t it then that the western world really embarked on producing the mountain of plastic that is now actually threatening our survival as a species? In my family we were encouraged to want stuff that was wooden and/or brown, but I gather most kids of the time lived in a beautiful shiny synthetic world of plastic.
I think it was the arrival of Tesco’s in the early 1980’s that really encouraged us to start getting stroppy if shops didn’t automatically give us as many free plastic bags as we wanted. I remember going shopping as a child with my mother, with a string bag (it was the colour of fingernail dirt, rather than beautiful brights, as below)
and a green shield stamp book : the bakers, the greengrocers, the butchers, and even the tiny International Stores supermarket : they might give you a paper bag, but getting your stuff home was your own problem.
Children seem to be quite notable consumers and excreters of stuff : charming but useless bright coloured plastic toys collect around them almost from birth, and then within a few years are surplus to requirements. And the cliche is true : they really do seem to enjoy playing with boxes (and packing materials) much more than the toys they think they want.
It’s Clothes that cause me most sleepless peak oil nights : imagine every branch of Primark, Peacocks, Next, H&M, New Look, in every town, in every country, all piled up, like jumble sales with their cheap disposable clothes. Then imagine the impact of that on the earth that produces the cotton, and the bleach, and the dyes, and the labour of the people who make them, and the waste that doesn’t even get in to the shops. Then imagine what happens to all of it, within a few weeks when we’re bored of it, or its last season. Scary, and it can’t go on for ever.
Really, the best thing you can do for yourself and the planet, is buy vintage, or if you aren’t rich or live in Dalston, make your own. People used to do this, right up til the 1970’s : and here’s a couple of patterns to start you off :