The lovely Bron from Heartfelt Living posted a status update about stuff which caused a bit of a Facebook brawl earlier this week:
I’m all for decluttering. I’ve just donated another garbage bag full of clothes and turfed a bunch more worn out rags into the bin. If I’m not using it, I’m delighted to be rid of it and the less ‘stuff’ I can live without the better.
But what if everyone decided to live more simply and have less stuff?
Fewer cosmetics, toys, clothes, cooking appliances (Thermomix, I’m looking at you), books, cushions, CDs, laptops, tablets, phones, shoes, magazines, ornaments, pictures, throw rugs, designer cubby houses and bikes?
What if we got rid of all the non essentials? What would happen then?
Um, well I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but actually:
The world as we know it would fall apart.
To take a rather pertinent example: businesses that make stuff employ people to make more stuff. They then pay other people to market, sell and ship the stuff.
The people who market the stuff pay for ads in magazines, on radio, TV and the internet to tell people to buy the stuff.
The money they pay to the magazines, radios, TV and websites to host the ads for the stuff funds the writers, publishers and distributors to create articles and our favourite TV shows.
The businesses that make the stuff will only continue to make, market, sell and ship stuff if people continue to buy stuff.
If people stop buying stuff then businesses stop making stuff and then they’re not businesses anymore. They’re bankruptcies and liquidations and unemployed staff. Unemployed staff, incidentally, can’t afford to buy much stuff at all.
And so it kind of goes round in circles in a downward spiral. We call that a recession. If it goes on for long enough we call it a depression.
All because people stop buying stuff.
So really, unless we keep buying stuff, we’re all, well, stuffed.
That’s kind of how capitalism works.
P.S. The good news: There are some economics-minded people who are starting to try to figure out how we might be able to have an economy that does have less stuff and doesn’t result in us all starving to death. The article Life in a ‘degrowth economy’ and why you might actually enjoy it is a good start if you’re interested.
P.P.S. If you’re REALLY interested in how buying and selling stuff makes the world go round, but you don’t happen to have a Masters in Econo-speak, try this book from a guy who will explain it to you in terms of why your coffee costs so much: The Undercover Economist.