By Erica Sofrina, author of the book Small Changes, Dynamic Results! Feng Shui for the Western World.
I recently wrote about Tips for Downsizing your Living Space and it got me thinking about the History of Stuff. What made us the huge consumers that we have come to be in the United States?
The Story of Stuff is a powerful video about how we got here and what it is doing to our planet.
It talks about how my grandmother’s generation was committed to resourcefulness, stewardship and thrift. So what happened between then and now to bring us to this place of ultra consumerism which threatens the extinction of our planet?
It all started right after WWII. In order to jump-start the economy, President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers had to come up with a plan to get people to buy – and quickly! The guru and retail analyst of the day, Victor Legough, wrote in 1955:
“Our Enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”
So the era of “shopping as a spiritual practice” began! It was a message crafted by the government in cooperation and collaboration with the advertising media. The people bought it, and continue to do so to this day. The problem is that there are oodles more of us now than there were then, and it can’t continue if we are to have a planet at all.
These carefully crafted ads implied that shopping was the answer to happiness and that you were not okay if you didn’t have the latest and greatest gadget, appliance, car, fashions, etc. The goal was to make people feel badly about the stuff they did have, and badly about themselves if they didn’t have the new stuff. So they had to rush out and buy the new stuff, only for it to quickly go out of fashion so they had to buy more … You get the picture.
A new era in marketing was ushered in. Things were specifically made not to last. The product was made to fall apart right at the point where the consumer still had enough confidence in it to purchase another. It was called planned obsolescence.
The second new scheme was called perceived obsolescence. It was about re-designing the packaging of a product and adding a few more bells and whistles so that it was clear by looking at it whether or not a person had the latest and greatest object of desire (hello..Steve Jobs!) Quality went out the window and things were made to become obsolete within a carefully planned period of time, so that consumers would buy more.
Families were encouraged to move to the suburbs and buy a home, which then required them to have a car. Ushering in the new culture of multiple car homes and the ensuing pollution that follows. You then had to fill your spacious new home with all of the latest and greatest stuff. Every woman needed to have her own refrigerator, washer, dryer and vacuum cleaner, promising more leisure time for doing the things she loved.