Friday, November 9, 2007

The Consumer Generation

I turned on my computer this morning and found another story about a toy recall. A toddler swallowed a bead from an Aquadot craft kit
and began vomiting and lost consciousness. Apparently the chemical used to coat the beads causes the same reaction as the date-rape drug. Oh great, another recall just in time for the holidays.

Yesterday, my daughter and I were stuck behind a slow-moving flatbed truck carrying a humongous shed. You know the ones I mean, they're all over suburbia. They're the size of the average home 40 or 50 years ago. We watched amazed as the truck stopped outside one of these 6000sf McMansions with attached two level, three car garage. My daughter wondered what they could possibly need a shed for with that much space. I resisted the urge to launch into the George Carlin comedy routine about stuff but man, I realized what a prophet he was all those years.

Here are some scary facts:

Though Americans represent a small portion of the world's population, we produce over half its waste. In one day, we generate enough trash to fill the New Orleans Superdome twice. (

There are 6.86sq.ft of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus it is physically possible that every American could stand- all at the same time- under the total canopy of self-storage roofing. (

Average home sizes have grown by more than 50% since the early 1970s while the number of people in most households is shrinking. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 3/30/07)

Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of total economic activity. (Business Week 11/7/07)

Perhaps the cash register should replace the eagle as the symbol of our country.

The message, from above, after September 11th was to keep right on buying. That'll show those terrorist, you can't keep Americans from shopping. Patriotic shopping, what a concept. I guess FDR missed that one after Pearl Harbor. Could the civil war have been averted with a little more consumer spending? Who has time to make war when there's a sale?

Aquadots joins a staggering list of recalled toys. Going through the list I saw a connection. It's not just that most of these toys are manufactured in China but that they're all pretty much crap. They are a perfect symbol of our consumer gluttony. We purchase all manner of junk for our kids. Why do we buy it? Because it's brightly colored, it has cute characters, because we think we're supposed to and the number one reason (drum roll please)- IT'S CHEAP. It's so cheap that we can buy lots of wonderful crap for them. It doesn't matter that they have rooms filled with the exact same crap; we buy it because we can. For $100 you can fill a cart at WalMart. How great is that! It's not about substance but quantity. We're training our kids to take on the family business- shopping. Just go ahead and look at the amount of crap you have hidden in some dark place. Do you even remember why you needed to buy those Chia pets?

There's so much of this crap in our homes that we can't even contain it, it's spilling out. We're buying shed's to store it. We're paying rent for air-conditioned storage spaces in a country that lacks affordable housing. We have houses for our stuff but not our people. Our homes are bigger and bigger and we have to buy more things to fill it up. When it starts to get out of control we purchase container systems, when that doesn't work we move to a bigger home (at least we did before we realized that we couldn't really afford those big homes and now they're being foreclosed).

Here's my solution: STOP BUYING CRAP WE DON'T NEED!! I know it's radical and can be considered unpatriotic but revolution has to start somewhere. It's time to take a stand. Some of you might be hyperventilating at the prospect, after all , the season of gluttony is fast approaching. But we'll take baby steps. Let's start with a day first, then go for a week. Those of you who feel strong may be able to go a whole month.

Hey, like you, I'm a product of our times. I start feeling a slight ache, dull pain in my head and a tickle in my throat when I haven't purchased something in a while. There are things in my house that I can only justify by claiming a momentary lapse of sanity. I haven't reached the point of the storage shed or climate-controlled space yet but I do spend my free time scanning books and magazine in a quest for that perfect container that will make all the stuff disappear. I'll be the first to admit I'll need some support; come join me.

Perhaps we'll end global warming, work ourselves out of debt. Maybe we'll spend more time with our family and friends. Maybe we'll find peace on earth.

Everyone repeat after me: STOP BUYING CRAP!

Write on!

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