One of the trends that I have noticed in myself and society in general is a disposable mindset: we have disposable storage containers, plastic bags, and cheap replacements for things that wear out. We get a new disposable plastic shopping bag every time we go to the store (unless we have the foresight to bring our own reusable bag) and I wonder often: how long can we sustain this? How long can we continue to use and throw away as if it is the normal and expected way of things?
History shows us that a disposable mindset is a relatively new thing. Our grandparents (or maybe great-grandparents) knew how to sew patches on their clothes, to darn socks, to re-use things that still had a function beyond filling our garbage cans. Part of this is because they understand shortage in a way that most of us do not, they lived through the great depression. The poor in our modern lifestyle look much differently than the poor did back then (that is a study in economics that is fascinating but not where I’m going with this).
Why were these skills lost as if they have no current value? It all goes back to the industrial revolution. In the mid-nineteenth century, there was a shift from clothing that was tailored to each person to a standard sizes that were made in mass and marketed to the general public. Most people were willing to sacrifice and have a poor fit in exchange for few more dollars in their pocket, and the modern fashion industry was born. By the early 1900’s, the clothes market had become the third largest industry in America. Previously left to small scale tailors that worked with an established customer base and relied on skill and understanding of the clients needs, by the mid 1900’s finding a tailor had become all but impossible. An entire trade was wiped out be the emergence of cheap, standardized, industrialized, goods.
Enough of history though, my intention with this post was to make you think: do I live with a disposable mindset? How can we collectively change this?
Honest question: do I give the latest electronics as a gift? If yes, then that would be disposable. A few years back I received a kindle for Christmas and I absolutely loved it. I just pulled it out of a storage box last week, it doesn’t charge, the screen is scratched, and it no longer could sync with Amazon (why I threw it in storage to begin with). 8 years ago, when I first got it, it had been the new great thing. Now, it is really only good as a toy for my kids and then will end up in the garbage. Things that quickly are outdated (technology) but a newer and better model are essentially disposable.
My husband and I have talked about this often and have decided we want to give our children gifts that will become treasured family heirlooms. We have gotten them real bows, tools, instruments, etc. in the last few years instead of toys or electronics because we want to invest in their legacy, give them a solid foundation of quality to build on. We don’t want to teach them that you use something until you’re tired of it and then you throw it away, which is often what happened with the piles of plastic toys that we used to buy for Christmas and birthdays. Within a few months, those toys were at Goodwill. I’m not waging a war on toys or gift giving here, by the way, just wanting to promote thoughtfulness and intentionality.
One thing we have learned in this endeavor to be intentional about our gift giving is that we tend to treasure and cherish the things we make so much more than the things we buy. And giving a handmade gift feels so much more meaningful! Granted, it has been a learning curve to get to the point of making things worth giving, but we’re finally there.
What about you? What do you think of the idea of a disposable mindset, and how do you see it effecting our culture? What are steps you think you can take to be more intentional and less disposable?