In Defence of Stuff

Bolt Clutter photo

We recently pondered, of all we accumulate in a modern life, what 'stuff' is really important? We suggested that a life lived with less clutter might be more fulfilling and less strain on natural resources. But there is an interesting flip side to this notion. That it could also be argued that one can be equally ‘green’ by actually amassing heaps of stuff. Let me elaborate.Firstly, we should note that there is plenty of clutter and excess ‘stuff’ that we are better off without. The shoeboxes of tax receipts from a dozen years ago. That chest of unwanted gifts that you don’t have the heart to move along, on the unlikely chance one of the gift givers ever asks about them. The exercise machine that hasn't shaped a deltoid for more years than you can remember. These are all the sort of stuff that your life is most likely better off without.

However, there is indeed very useful stuff that is worth gathering. My dad comes to mind as an example of a strategic hoarder of functional stuff. His sheds have always been bursting at the seams with boxes of this, and lengths of that. But I must admit that most of it does get used at some time or another.

No matter the project he always disappear into the apparent chaos, to quickly emerge with just the right material and appropriate tool for the task at hand. He never seems to go to the hardware store. In a jar or a tub will be that odd screw, bolt, wire, wood, pipe or whatever, that will perfectly suit the need.

And most of the stuff he has collected has been scavenged from garage sales, kerbside clean-outs, the landfill, or other such repositories of unwanted detritus. From this melange I have seen him fabricate a trailer from an old car, a wheel barrow from a metal billboard sign, an electric bench saw from a washing machine, a work bench from a shed door, etc.

My Dad grew up in an era where money was tight and materials were sparsely distributed. You made do with what you had, until you could afford better. Which was probably going to be a long time off. You didn’t waste anything. The offcuts of one project became the makings of another.

I think, by and large, we have lost that degree of resourcefulness, that frugalness, that understanding of the value of manufactured goods.

IKEA shop warehouse photo

The Limits of No Limits
In an age of cheap transport fuels we have been blessed with an abundance of materials at our fingertips. If we need something we simply hop in our car and go off and buy it. The sheer vastness of a Costco, WalMart or IKEA lulls us into the notion that there is so much stuff in the world that it will always be there to satisfy our wants. Even as the seemingly endless forests of the amazon rapidly dwindle, and as massive oilfield reserves dry up, we still cling to this unreality of limitless reources.

The earth is largely a fixed size, so it stands to reason that the resources on this tiny ball suspended in space are also finite.

Learning to value each and every screw, nut and bolt will be crucial to our future well being.

‘Stuff’ took a lot of carbon emission generating energy to extract, make and deliver. If we want to live more lightly on this planet, maybe we should choose our stuff wisely and look after it carefully. Reduce and Reuse.

Images: Warren McLaren collection
More Un Stuff Resources
Toy Libraries - a Product Service System (PSS)
Clothing Libraries: Another Product Service System
Tool Libraries: The Sharpest Tack in the Shed

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