The New Materialism: better, not more

Photo credit:   nigel@hornchurch

November 26, 2012 // By: Andrew Simms

Today marks international Buy Nothing Day. Begun in 1992 in Mexico to protest against over-consumption it became an annual diary fixture in North America where, this year, inescapably it is being dubbed 'Occupy Xmas.' Britain is exhorted by its organisers to, ‘lock up your wallets and purses, cut up your credit cards and dump the love of your life – shopping.’ That will work for some, especially those whose wallets and credit cards are already empty or overextended.

But, it leaves two problems. The track record of appeals to abstinence, like persuading teenagers not to have sex, is that unless you find an equally attractive alternative, they fail. Even the preachers fall by the wayside. Secondly, one of the few things that most economists currently agree on is that the economy lacks demand – that’s spending to you and me.

So, is it possible to both save the economy and build a better relationship with the world of, ‘stuff.’

We argue, yes, in our new pamphlet The New Materialism: How our relationship with the material world can change for the better, published to coincide with Buy Nothing Day, if you embrace ‘stuff’ in a different way. Instead of rejecting the material world, which ‘hair shirt’ environmentalists are often accused of (ironically so, as they spend their days trying to protect it), the new materialism represents a more deeply pleasurable and respectful relationship to the material things that surround us. Having more stuff stopped making people in Britain happier decades ago.

The new materialism is about an economy of better, not more. It is rich in the good quality work created by providing useful services, making things that last and can be repaired many times before being recycled, allowing us to share better the surplus of stuff we already have.

It is emerging now in things ranging from furniture, to tools, cars, fridges, clothes and food. 'Repair, reduce, re-use, recycle' long a mantra of green economists, could be the basis of a new economic model that performs the neat trick of boosting demand without necessarily increasing consumption. In the mainstream the DIY store, B&Q, for example, is rethinking its whole business model around leasing rather than selling to do just that.

The four weeks before Christmas could become a ‘Make, Mend and Share Month,’ instead of a ritual descent into consumer debt. As a testimony to making things that last, there is a clock at Wells Cathedral that, lovingly maintained and wound by hand, was kept working continuously for 600 years.

The new materialism and the short manifesto we’ve written as a work-in-progress to accompany it point towards a working relationship with the material world that can last, happily, for much longer still.

A Manifesto for the New Materialism:

1. Liking ‘stuff’ is okay, healthy even – we can learn to love and find pleasure in the material world;

2. Wherever practical and possible develop lasting relationships with things by having and making nothing that is designed to last less than 10 years;

3. Get to know things - before you acquire something, find out at least 3 things about it;

4. Love stuff - mend, maintain and re-use things until it is no longer possible, then recycle them;

5. Get active - only acquire something new if you are also learning a new, useful skill;

6. Share - look at all your things, think about what your friends might need or could benefit from, and share at least one thing a week.

The New Materialism: better, not more

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