Story Of Stuff Pinpoints the Problems With Possessions (Book Review)


We're overloaded with STUFF every day! But it doesn't have to be this way. Photo by istolethetv via Flickr Creative Commons

The viral video phenomenon The Story of Stuff has made a big impact on audiences worldwide. Since its release in 2007, it's been viewed over 10 million times, showing we're as fascinated by learning about our Stuff as we are with the items themselves. The short movie with its fun and idea-clarifying animations lays out how stuff is made, distributed and discarded - the take-make-waste cycled as creator Annie Leonard calls it. It sums up our processes and problems in a smart, tidy package that has been a source of controversy as well as an educational tool for teachers. However, there's a lot that can't be included in a 20-minute video, which lead Leonard to create her own piece of Stuff - a new book that crams in an incredible amount of information about our consumer-centric society. Released today, it's The Story of Stuff: How our obsession with stuff is trashing the planet, our communities,and our health - and a vision for change.
Image via Amazon
Making Stuff to Talk About Stuff?
There were two thoughts that immediately crossed my mind when I received the copy of the book in the mail.

1) Why did the maker of Story of Stuff create a piece of Stuff to talk about how we need to make and consume less Stuff...especially when there's already an online video?

2) This thing is heavy!

Turns out the answer to #1 explains the observation of #2. First, The Story of Stuff book contains a wealth of information that just couldn't be crammed into the video. The book is over 300 pages of information about how we currently pull materials from the earth, process it, distribute it, waste it...and how this is causing an incredible number of problems for people and our planet. Not only that, but it also works hard to outline ways we can change from our wasteful practices into a society that values our stuff - the Less is More society as we like to call it around here - that makes, consumes, and reuses our stuff in a non-toxic, cradle-to-cradle fashion.

Story of Stuff Needs More Than A Video To Tell Its Tale
After realizing the extent to which The Story of Stuff video and concept was being used for educational purposes, Leonard understood that a book was simply necessary. We do, after all, still need and love books in classroom settings.

In The Story of Stuff book, Leonard not only details facts about US materials consumption, the toxics found in everything we own, and the incredible amount of unnecessary waste we create through poor manufacturing processes and the mentality of disposability, but she also details out her own personal experiences gathered during her 20 years of exploring the systems of Stuff.


The Book Is The Video, Only Way, Way Better
The lovable animations from the video make their way into the book and make what could feel like dense reading into something more approachable. For instance, throughout the book, there are little icons that point out information - a sign with a curved arrow to indicate Leonard is presenting a viable alternative to a problematic behavior, like the use of new greener chemicals for a typically toxic process, and a stick figure holding a sign of hope to indicate information about progress being made in the area being discussed, such as better recycling methods for once-dumped products. However, drawings are simply a bonus because Leonard's voice, like that in the video, keeps the information understandable and digestible. While a reader is opening up a hefty volume of information, practically any audience can soak up the information with ease. And that is key to delivering this important message.

The Story of Stuff Sends A Positive Message -- We Can Fix This!
The Story of Stuff is not a depressing lecture about everything we're doing wrong. Rather, it is an optimistic book that, while indeed outlining everything we're doing wrong, it shows that this is a fixable problem, that manufacturing and consumption as we know it is not a must-follow path but that there are many potential paths for us to take that don't require relinquishing Stuff altogether, but rather adjusting our thinking around it.

The Story of Stuff is expanding not only in book from but also through the release of more specific videos. The first one has already come out - The Story of Cap and Trade - and, like a stick banging on a hornets nest, it's stirred up controversy and videos countering the information held in Leonard's video.

Other videos due out include the story behind electronics and cosmetics, among others.

The book comes out today, and can be purchased for $26.00. And while it is a little ironic to have a book about Stuff, it was created with the environment in mind. The creators used electronic copyediting, 100% post-consumer recycled paper, soy-based ink, and non-toxic binding and jacketing materials. In addition, it will soon be available in audio book form, read by Annie Leonard, and published on an MP3 CD that will reduce the number of discs and packaging used.

For a refresher - here's the video The Story of Stuff, and you can read a great piece by Leonard published today on Huffington Post Green entitled, "The Story of Stuff: Externalized Costs and the $4.99 Radio."

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More on The Story of Stuff
Story of Stuff Goes Mainstream, Called "Anti-Capitalist"
Bioneers 2009 - Annie Leonard Bringing Out More Stories of More Stuff
The Story Of Stuff (From Makers of the Meatrix)

Tags: Books | Consumerism | Waste | Zero Waste

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