the origins of stuff…

We like stuff.

We want it in bulk, and we want it cheap.

We let it define us, and make us feel bad if we don’t have enough.

We like stuff… a lot.

I have spent the past month assessing just how much I like stuff and how much I’m willing to spend on it. I’ve contemplated what it does to the environment, how it affects what I think about myself, and where it’s all going to go when I’m done with it. I haven’t, until just recently, thought about where it all comes from.

This past week I started reading a great book: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang (thanks Vince!)

The book describes what our gluttonous demand for stuff has done to Chinese society. Our want for lots of stuff at bargain prices has helped create an immense population of migrant workers (some 130 million) who flee their peasant roots into cities like Dongguan to work in the factories that make our stuff. The cities are dirty and chaotic; the factories corrupt and deplorable. Workers get paid measly pennies an hour and work far too many hours. This is nothing new. However, what makes Chang’s book particularly effective is how deeply personal it is. The facts are delivered through the stories of young girls, some barely 16-year-olds who voluntarily leave everything they know to work in these factories, in hopes of a better life. The picture isn’t entirely grim, their stories are ripe with determination and adventure… but I can’t help but walk away feeling a little… well… guilty. All of this because we want more stuff?

Then there is Fast Food Nation. Leaving aside all other issues, the movie does an amazing job of depicting the stories and struggles that go into making our stuff. It’s hard not to feel incredibly guilty when you watch the tales of the Mexican migrant workers who risk their lives, and various body parts, to work the “C shift” packing meat for a major fast food chain. It’s shocking.

When you start to think about stuff in it’s entirety – not just how much it costs you, but also what where it comes from, where it will go when you’re done with it, and who was affected in the making of it – it starts to lose it’s appeal… very quickly.

That’s all she wrote…. thanks for stopping by!

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