Stuff.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

There are nomadic tribes who pity those who possess large amounts, as they need to expend more time and energy to transport them.  He who owns least is considered free. Linda Cockburn – Living the Good Life

Take an item of clothing, or any manufactured item, and hold it in your hands.  Have a good look at it.  Feel the textures, notice the details.  What is it made out of?  Where did these things come from?  Who grew the plants, or extracted the minerals from the earth that became this item?  How did they do this?  How and where was it manufactured? Who made it?  How did it get to you?  What process of packaging, transporting, marketing, wholesaling, and retailing has it been through?  And what’s the story of the money that paid for this item?  Where did that go?  What will happen to this item when you’re done with it?

Try this next time you sit down to dinner: before you start eating, tell the story of the meal.  Go through all of the above questions for every ingredient.  You’ll probably discover that your dinner has led a much more well-travelled and adventurous life than you ever have.

Looking at all the Things in our lives in this way can change the way we relate to possessions and food.  We start to realise that our decisions have a direct impact on a large number of people and places, both near and far.  We become aware of our dependence on the global infrastructure of commerce to provide for even our most basic needs.

There is an alternative to this exploitative and depressing way of being, and of course it is heaps easier and more fun.  When you make, find, fix and grow things that have character rather than buy soulless mass-produced disposable Things from far away, it’s you who has the adventures, and you write your own story of your Stuff.

A lot of the stuff that we think we need, we really don’t, and probably would be happier without.  I know that I already have everything I could ever want.

Lots of the stuff you use regularly around the house can be got for free if you know where to look and who to ask. Household goods, like furniture, electrical appliances, clothes, sporting equipment, building materials, books…

Hard rubbish collection day (which I have renamed Neighbourhood Resource Exchange Day) is a great source of useful stuff.  I really enjoy seeing people walking around their neighbourhoods, looking at what is on offer, talking to each other about how to fix or use the things on the street.  And I like that people put things out not just because they are too big to fit in a wheelie bin, but because they are things that other people might have a use for.  On one day of wombling in Brighton I gathered tree loppers, flippers, frame of a café umbrella, fabric of another café umbrella (and made a complete umbrella out of the two), several chairs, framed paintings, side table, rug, textbook about the water cycle, stuffed toy alligator, pepper grinder, electric kettle, a sofa which was stolen later that evening from our front verandah, meditation stool, broom, transparent lid of a storage box for making a mini-greenhouse to raise seedlings, a wire trolley for storing fruit and veg, two bike helmets, candles, salad bowl, laundry basket, bowls and plates, sewing machine, pillow, doona, doormat, compost bin, cupboard, sketchbook, plastic pots, star picket, shade cloth, mirror, curtains, pinboard, watering can, and all the parts needed for making a composting toilet.

Dumpsters behind department stores, op-shops and pawnbrokers can yield all manner of useful and not so useful things.  Often these things are perfectly functional, or slightly damaged in a way that is easy to fix.  Op shops get far more donations than they can make use of, and large quantities of clothes and other household items are thrown out.

Op shops and clothing donation bins are also treated as dumping grounds.  To leave anything outside of a shop or donation bin is illegal dumping, so by taking anything from these illegal “donations” you are cleaning up litter.

Government departments frequently dispose of furniture, computers, office equipment and carpets because they have a budget to spend within the financial year, so will replace items that don’t need replacing purely so they can spend the money that has been allocated.  Universities, schools, councils and other large organizations may also do this.  Personal contact with someone who works in one of these places would be the most effective way to get your hands on this stuff.

Check building sites, demolition sites and town dumps for building materials.  40% of waste sent to landfill comes from the construction industry.  Timber, irrigation pipe, insulation, windows and doors, cables, paint and other such miscellany can be found.

Being able to fix things and improvise, to make new things from old, is a useful skill for anyone wanting to live free of The System, and for anyone really.  It’s an opportunity to be creative, and discover abilities you didn’t know you had.

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