Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mom was right, again.

So I've been thinking lately that mom just had it right. Or if I think about the specific dates, her mom had it right. Has anyone seen The Story of Stuff? Watch it. And then again. And then show your spouse, your kids, their teachers, and your relatives. And then watch it again a year later when you've slipped back into 'ruin-the-world-itis', aka: consumerism.

Annie goes through the materials economy system, through extraction, production, consumption, and disposal, pointing out the flaws, limits, excess, chemicals, human-rights issues and environmental issues along the way. Our earth can't handle this abuse and humans can't either.

"The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago. Ask your grandma; in her day stewardship, and resourcefulness, and thrift were valued. So how did this happen? Well, it didn't just happen. It was designed. Shortly after WWII, these guys [the government and the corporation] were figuring out how to ramp up the economy. Retailing analyst Victor LeBeau articulated the solution that's become the norm for the whole system [the materials economy system]. He said, '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 consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.' "
- The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

Does this mesh with how you feel? I know I certainly have to fight against my consumerist actions, they've been ingrained to the point of becoming instinctual. Shopping makes me feel happy when I'm blue and blue when I'm broke. I'm proud and excited when I acquire new 'things', and I'm embarrassed of my stuff that's old. So their plan worked, 50 years later, consumption is our way of life.

Annie goes on to describe the two ways we are sold on this consumerist cycle, why we drank the juice. There's planned obsolescence, where the company figures out how to make the product last just long enough to break as quickly as possible while managing to not jeopardize the consumers trust. But perceived obsolescence is the one that really gets us.

"Perceived obsolescence is the one that convinces us to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful. How do they do that? Well they change the way the stuff looks. So if you bought your stuff a couple of years ago, everyone can tell that you haven't contributed to this arrow recently [referring to the 'golden' arrow of consumption] and since the way we demonstrate our value is contributing to this arrow, it can be embarrassing." - The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

Now this evening I ran into a conversation over on Babycenter, called "Working Moms; Are they shortchanging their kids?" Wow. Did this article ever start a cat-fight. Between the working moms and the stay-at-homes of course, today's epic battle. To sum it up, Dr. Laura Schlessinger has written a book titled In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, and argues that all moms should stay at home. I find this statement faulty in that it's all-encompassing, obviously the single moms would have a tough time with this one. However, my opinion has began to lean in this direction lately too. I've worked full-time, I'm educated and career-orientated, but my family needs me home!

"She says that while women may find it financially difficult to stay at home - particularly in these tough economic times - it’s just a matter of setting priorities and making it happen." -

And the working mom readers panicked - stating that their kids are happy and whole, and they need their money and their stuff! (Sound familiar?) While other readers, the stay-at-homes generally, stated things like we've sacrificed a big home, but yeah, we're pretty happy!

I particularily liked this post (by Meribel), mostly because I identify closely with her (not that I had a six-figure income by any means, but the work vs. stay-at-home personal struggle bit):

"Sensationalism sells books…I’m less concerned with what Dr. Laura has to say than I am about the nasty comments some have made here. I NEVER thought that I’d be a SAHM [stay-at-home mom]; I worked hard for my MBA, had a six-figure income, and was positioned for a rapid ascent to senior management and even more money. When I had my son six months ago, though, I found that I simply couldn’t entrust him to someone else’s care (and I had the luxury of even making that choice because my husband has a good income). I am not a female slave, a robot, lazy, or any of other other slurs I’ve read here because I stay home. I thought my 90-hour workweeks were rough; I’ve found that being on-call and engaged all day, every day, is significantly harder. Sometimes I miss the financial and psychological benefits of work; but we’re all making trade-offs. Don’t judge mine, and I won’t judge yours."

And this one (by Nicole), because it reminded me of the consumerist way of life we're in...

"Let’s face it ladies, now-a-days the world is set up for working mommies. There are breast pumps, next-best-to-breast bottles and formula, nannies, au pairs, home day care, center day care, picture mobiles, and voice recording toy cell phones… -anything and everything to make your baby thrive away from his/her mommy. We teach our daughters in order to be a valuable member of society she needs to get that undergrad, graduate or doctorate degree before she ties herself down and gets hitched with a baby. Then, why on earth shouldn’t she have it all? The job and the family.

The world is not set up for working mommies. American culture is raising little girls to tie her sense of value to her degree or her income, or all those material things that ‘make you happy.’ Cost of living has skyrocketed: cost of homes, food, gas, utilities, taxes, etc. and many women feel like they don’t have a choice, or frankly, don’t want the choice."

Over the past 7 years of motherhood/adulthood, I've been slowly but surely maturing and changing into an earth-conscious and health-conscious mother. Loving these little people this much (more than yourself one could argue) just made me realize these are critical issues and you can't just accept what you're told should be your way of life. Not only do we have to nurture them, we have to nurture the world they live in. So in the name of keeping contaminates from my children, my mother has watched me first learn to breastfeed, like she did. Then get rid of my plastic spatulas in favor of bamboo, like her old wooden ones. Then my teflon coated frying pan in favor of stainless steel, like her hand-me-downs from her mom. Then my plastic bowls and cups for glass. Plastic grocery bags for cloth. One of our largest sacrifices in the great back-to-basics? The microwave. It zaps the nutrients, puts god-knows-what into the air and the people standing nearby, and acts as a crutch for meals not planned. You know the meals I'm talking about, the ones that never end up as the whole and healthful meals we aspire to. Pizza pockets anyone? Recently we've been moving towards the Paleo (caveman) diet - vegetables, lean meat, nuts, and fruits for dessert. I try to use vinager instead of Mr. Clean, and grab the dye-free, scent-free, decent for the environment laundry detergent. Tempted to run for an antibiotic? Let's try the naturopathic store first. New baby clothes and furniture? No thanks, I'll wash the gently used, hopefully the flame-retardent douse has long since wore off. I'm learning to re-upholster, using the good bones of old chairs that would be thrown to the curb otherwise. Old wooden furniture? I'll take it. Would love to not have chemicals seeping out of the presswood variety. When I need to get rid of something? Word of mouth, Kijiji, or Freecycle can find someone who can use it, it doesn't need to be part of a landfill. Bit by bit, I have 'healthified' our lives and hopefully our environment. By doing exactly what my grammie did. And you know what? ALL of these things... save money. Seriously.

However, like in Grammie's time, none of these things are convenient or easy. I'm not saying I don't have my washing machine running often, or that the Shout stain remover isn't an important part of my arsenal (can't find a natural concoction to match it, but figure the environmental impact is less than buying new clothes?). I'm also not saying that my facebook status is always "happy, happy robot-mom vacumming". In fact I'm pretty sure yesterday it read something like "I miss my 9-5, it was so much easier!". What I'm saying is that our moms had it right, and I think what is required to save our earth and our littles is going to be hard and not convenient. We need to take a step backwards, in time, take some cues from our resourceful, thrifty moms, be there for our kids, and get out of this consumerist cycle.

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