Chapter One-from 2015

2015 and all that “Stuff”, Can I Change?

I wonder if there is anyone else out there who thinks that an entire economy built around consumerism is not such a good thing?

This Christmas has got me to thinking about it. One of my granddaughters gave to charity in her family’s name instead of buying them “stuff” My son and his wife also did the same one year. I think that this is an admirable idea. I really wonder how much “stuff” we really need. I ponder it every time I open my clothes closet and can’t find room to hang up another shirt. (Mind you…it’s a rather small closet) I also wonder why I rent a 10 x 20 building by the month to hold “stuff” I haven’t looked at in months. Is there anything there I really need? Apparently not….

When I was a child, I would watch my Grandfather work in his “shop” and use his tools. “How long have you had that hammer?” I asked. “It was my Father’s” he answered. Tools passed down from generation to generation. I sometimes checked out Grandpa’s closet. Three or four pair over overalls, three or four shirts, a couple of Sunday outfits and a couple of jackets. He owned one of those metal “shoe last” things on which he would repair shoes when they would start to wear out. Put on new leather soles, and sew the uppers. Those folks knew how to make things last.

I am sure there may have been a few storage buildings back in the days when I was young. They were probably spare buildings which had been abandoned for their original purpose, and in which a manufacturer was storing things. People had attics at their homes to store the few things they needed only sporadically. We had one, and it contained our Christmas stuff, Mom’s canning supplies, and a few other sundry things which Dad knew would be needed at some time or another. There were no acres and acres of storage buildings neatly built on just about every empty lot in every town. There were no “storage wars” guys, who would go buy out the stuff from the storage buildings when people didn’t pay their rent. There were no huge flea markets in every town for people to take their spare stuff and sell it to other people. There were not dozens of “yard sales” every weekend during the warm months where people would sell of that stuff they got for Christmas which they “really” didn’t need.

The beginning of this out of control consumerism post World War II….basically from the 70’s on forward, has blossomed into the “make it or break it” cycle for the businesses where many people are employed. Sears and Roebuck has changed from a company whose catalog used to be full of needs, to one which is chocked full of wants. The only people who seem to be benefiting from this type of economy are the super rich people who own the factories who make “the stuff” This wasn’t such a bad thing during most of the years when I was growing up because most of the “stuff” factories were in the U.S.A. Now they are not. The rich people figured out they could make more money if they started making the stuff in other countries which paid people a lot less. Yet even after that, we continued to buy.

In addition to all this stuff people were buying, there was a lot of waste being created by the making, packaging, and marketing of the stuff. No longer did milk come in reusable bottles.

Plastic became the standard packaging. Things which previously came in “biodegradable” packaging, was suddenly packaged in non-biodegradable plastic. Cloth diapers evolved into plastic “throw away” diapers. 1.8% of all garbage in landfills are disposable diapers. From the 1920’s until the mid-1970’s garbage was thrown away in largely uncontrolled “garbage dumps” Basically big holes in the ground. Anything and everything was thrown into them. Chemicals of all kinds, which now are still leeching into the ground and affecting our water and other aspects of our environment. Almost 8,000 huge garbage dumps were in the U.S. until 1976 when Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This act solved a lot of the problems in our country and reduced the number of dumps, but has created a transportation issues for garbage, as it now has to travel from state to state to huge facilities. What do other countries such as China, Russia, Japan, and India do with their garbage? Most of it goes into the ocean. Google the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” It’s scary as hell. So from consumerism comes a threat to our environment. (All those little plastic army men…….)

In 2007, a lot of factors came together to create an economic crisis. Banks and bankers were lending people money, and giving people credit who they knew couldn’t pay it back. It didn’t matter your credit “score” you could get credit if you needed it. Housing prices went sky high. Stock markets were riding a wave. The financial crisis was caused by…and I quote from Wikipedia:

the crisis was the result of “high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.”

In other words, they gave people too much unguaranteed “imaginary” money in the form of credit and then couldn’t support it because some of them got too greedy and wanted to get rich instead perpetuating the “ghost” economy. There was a lot of financial “hanky panky” going on. The Government bailed them out. None of them have gone to jail. But, how short is our memory?

In the recent budget, which was passed by Congress and signed by the President there was a reversal of an important provision of the Dodd Frank Financial Reform Act, which will allow banks to do “loan swaps” which allows larger banks to spread around the money to numerous smaller banks which are insured by the FDIC. This allows the money they are gambling with (which is the money of the depositors…such as anyone who has stocks, bonds, IRA’s, etc.) to be covered by “government insurance” so that if an investment fails it will be the government (read…our tax money) who pays the bill for the failed investment. So, we go right back to giving Wall Street the power to do what they will as they had before the financial collapse in 2007.

This huge “house of cards” financial system of rampant consumerism is starting to be built again. It looks really big and flashy on the outside, but it’s empty on the inside and really, really easy to know over.

The stock market has climbed above 18,000 since the new budget was signed into law. This encourages people to contribute more money to Wall Street, or to leave their money there. In my opinion this is a giant lure. We are like fish in the water, and they throw out the lure and pull us in with the glitz and glitter of new “toys” new “stuff” We’ve been told that oil is in “short demand” since the 70’s, but suddenly they are pumping it like there’s no tomorrow. The Saudi’s apparently have a huge stockpile, and surprisingly the United States is right behind them due to new drilling areas being opened or reopened in the past several years. This makes it easier and more alluring to fill up the old car and drive down to the local mall and buy more stuff to store in storage buildings.

I hope that during this coming year, 2015, I can change my “consumerist” ways. I need to be more aware of the way waste is killing our environment. I certainly need to clean out my clothes closet and get rid of the stuff in my storage building. Recycling plastics is extremely important. Making do with things which I need and not things which I want, is going to have to be a must. I don’t know whether I can keep this “New Year’s Resolution” but I am going to try. Maybe next year at Christmas, give money to charity except for the kids…who still deserve a little stuff.

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