Picture a Day May 4, 2011 - Stuff and More! We Specialize in Stuff!

Stuff. We all have it, we might think we have too much (or at least the other people in our household have too much) and at the same time there’s always something else we want (ooh, look!) The poet William Wordsworth wrote “the world is too much with us” and more recently the B-52’s extolled the virtues of “that good stuff”. For those of us concerned about the environment, material goods can be a source of a lot of internal conflict and guilt. The world economy runs on the production and consumption of goods, but those goods are turning into waste increasingly quickly.

For the past few months, I’ve been following “The Story of Stuff”, a website and blog from Annie Leonard and The Story of Stuff Project. It offers short movies and posts centered on teaching people about the environmental impact of producing “stuff” – electronics, cosmetics, soft drinks and other consumer goods. It supports various campaigns to get companies to stop nefarious activities, such as use of ocean-polluting plastic microbeads in personal care products. What I found most unusual and refreshing, though, was its emphasis on ideas like “Buy Less, Live More”. Rather than inducing guilt on the part of us “Stuff-Lovers”, the website offers positive reinforcement tries and pathways to action.

Maybe we need a conversation about stuff here in Needham. The free shop at the RTS is a great start, especially if you remember that giving is better than receiving. Still, we need to go beyond shedding stuff and look at sharing stuff. I’m sure we all have things that are useful, but we only need occasionally. (The faucet wrench I just bought is a perfect example.) How would we organize a network to share things? If I borrow your post-hole digger or sewing machine, will I become a more connected citizen and better neighbor? I wish I had a brilliant answer to this question, but I don’t. Please share your ideas and thoughts on the subject.

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