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Where do our old things go?

Not outer space, that’s for sure

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When a person is identified as someone who is materialistic, people tend to perceive this trait with a negative connotation. Even the dictionary agrees that being materialistic is bad. ‘Materialism’ is defined by Merriam-Webster as having an emphasis on material goods rather than cultural, spiritual or intellectual values. They are seen as people who value their objects and possessions over other things in life.

However, many people fail to understand that being materialistic does pay off in the long run. The assumption is that materialistic people want more and more things, but I view the trait of materialism in a different way. They are people who love the objects they own to such an extent that they take very good care of them.

Their possessions are being constantly maintained in order for them to live longer, therefore require fewer replacements. Technically, being materialistic is eco-friendly and wallet-friendly. You throw less away, because your things are loved and well-preserved.

Take mobile phones for example. It's quite rare nowadays that person with an average income would possess a piece of technological hardware that is over 18 months old. The device tends to typically be used for one to two years and later discarded once an improved version is out in the market.

Some companies purposely integrate planned obsolescence in their design in order to create the demand for customers to continue buying the new (slightly ‘improved’) product that replaces the current one. In essence the mobile phone we currently own eventually becomes obsolete, even though it is fully functioning and perfectly useful. These objects end up in our bedside tables and are eventually thrown away, contribute to the growth of landfill garbage piles all over the world.

Planned obsolescence

The life cycle of any kind of product today is moving at warp speed. The reason for this shortened lifespan is because companies create commodities that simply don’t last. Furthermore, the economy (and capitalism) thrives on the creation of products that don’t last. Buy it, break it, buy it again. And so the vicious circle continues. Nowadays toasters, hairdryers, water dispensers, computers and many more need to be replaced more regularly than they used to 10 years ago. The things we own are easily consumable, expendable or simply ‘go out of fashion’.

A recent conversation with a friend of mine left me mystified. ‘I’ve had these shoes for over 10 years’ he said as he pointed down at his feet. ‘When I was in my twenties, I started buying things that I knew would last a very long time.’ The shoes looked brand new. So did his watch. ‘My watch is 11 years old’ he answers my unasked question when he saw my eyes linger on his wrist. These pieces looked timeless and classic. He could have bought them just yesterday. I can’t even remember something in my closet that’s older than three years. I’m in my mid- to-late twenties and I still buy dumb, trendy things that don’t last long. They are worn a few times and kept in the back of my closet for the next two years. When I have my bi-yearly clothing cleanse, I honestly ask myself whether I would wear them again. The answer was usually always ‘no’.

Realistically speaking, unless we are like my wiser-beyond-his-very-young-years friend, we will continue replacing our items, whether it’s cell phones, handbags, cars or laptops.

Our desires to replace our objects and devices with the newest pieces also allows large corporations to continue integrating a planned obsolescence in their future strategies. We buy cheap pieces, rather than invest in one high quality item that will last forever. All I’m saying is that we need to be aware that we are continuing to personally subsidise capitalism, as well as expand our homes with things we absolutely don’t need.

The result is: Throwing away our old things and consequentially ruining the environment while we’re at it. Where do you think all of our old things go? Not outer space, that’s for sure.

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