disposable culture & our fear of commitment

recycled plastic bag bracelets

We live in a disposable culture. Our lives are like giant landfills. We’re surrounded by junk.

We pay 99 cents to download disposable music. We drive through “restaurants” making disposable food. We wear disposable clothes so we don’t ever have be without the latest trend. We create relationships – families even – that have disposable bonds. The entirety of our culture can be thrown away and bought anew.

“There’s a reason we say “put your money where your mouth is.” Where we put our resources – time, love, cash – on a daily basis creates, demonstrates and confirms our commitments.” — Kelly Diels

Kelly says, money = commitment. I couldn’t agree more. We can’t commit to quality, to things that last a lifetime. We can’t commit to things that nurture us instead of make us sick. We have a serious problem with commitment.

And so we have a serious problem with money: the way we earn it, the way we save it, the way we spend it.

There’s nothing wrong with stuff, with consuming. But when we treat out stuff like it has no value – because it doesn’t – that attitude creeps into other parts of our life. Our “commitment problem” doesn’t just reflect outwardly – we stop even committing to ourselves.

We don’t commit to our education, our creativity, our bodies, our psyches, our circumstances. We are constantly looking for the cheap way out.

Goods that do not nurture our homes, our lives, or our families are disposable. Food that does not nurture our bodies is disposable. Relationships that do not nurture our souls are disposable. We don’t have to commit to them. And we owe them nothing in return.

Deciding we’re going to commit to spending money on an art class or music lesson, a vine-ripened tomato picked from the farm in the next town over, a professional to service our business, or a piece of handmade clothing is not so much a commitment of money, it’s a commitment to yourself and to the rebuilding of our culture. It’s choice to consume something of real value that nurtures others as much as it nurtures you.

What are you committing to today? What have you decided is indispensable instead disposable?

{bracelets above are constructed from recycled plastics bags and are available at garbage of eden design}

42 thoughts on “disposable culture & our fear of commitment

  1. I agree with these sentiments, but I am also thankful that in Ireland the ‘disposeable culture’ is not as deeply embedded as elsewhere, partly due ( I have to say) to this country’s long delayed financial prosperity. If one good thing came from the years of making do, then I’m grateful. However the not comitting is another matter entirely and I’d say we’re as bad as anyone and it NOT GOOD.
    A few years ago I was drawn to the Permaculture ethos and I stand by the decision to follow it- it hold the way forward to me, comittment and use and reuse of an object until it finally wears out. It also seems to tie in with my Faith- God never meant any part of our lives to be disposeable- either people or His Earth.
    I’d like to share a link to this post on my blog if that was alright with you please? I think these issues need to be considered by ALL of us?

    1. I think you’re right – the worst of this is an American problem. We like new & shiny! But I also fear we’re exporting this to up & coming nations like India.

      Permaculture is new to me! I’m going to have to look into that further – THANK YOU!

      And please do share a link! I love seeing these conversation develop all over the web. Thanks again!

  2. In America, we are inundated with choices. When I have to make a purchase, I research it to death. I want it to last and I want to be able to spend my money frugally. I’m working very hard to save and not purchase things, because in the very end, you can’t take it with you and they aren’t going to throw your things in the hole with you. I sell what I don’t use any more or I freecycle it. I have drilled this same ethos into my teenage son growing up and I was fortunate that he wasn’t the type of kid that wanted everything, anything he laid his eyes on. Of course I wouldn’t allow it if he did, LOL. I save money to go on trips to pay for voice and piano and I’m saving money for my son to go to college. Material things don’t mean anything to me. And it’s hard to educate the masses the same thing, where they are flooded from infancy with images of the latest, greatest and gotta haves. We spiraled into a recession because we borrowed against our future to obtain the castle in the sky that is now being repossessed and foreclosed. Was that all worth it? Certainly not. Look at all the new reality shows about it, “Hoarders”, ect.. Wow, disturbing. Let’s get back to simple means, buy locally, buy worthy. You don’t need all the junk that is creating clutter in your home and your life. Putting money where you mouth is to support your family (not buying unnecessary things!), your community (buy local, buy quality!), your future (invest in betterment!). Stop talking about it and use your money to change your life and help others. It will be so much more satisfying.

    1. I think what you said about researching your choices is really key. You research your choice for *quality* so many research choices to make sure they get the best *deal* – often these two are mutually exclusive. This doesn’t have to be the case… We need to redefine “deals” so that quality is part of the equation.

    2. I think it’s interesting that you mention “hoarders” as something indicative of disposable culture and an obsession with materialism. I think that many hoarders are born not out of a culture of disposable, but the opposite. Many lived through scarcity traumas like the American Great Depression or wars abroad where they were taught that everything was valuable and scarce and nothing should be thrown away because it could have future use. Because of the other issues they have going on they take this culture to the extreme, saving even what is clearly refuse to almost everyone else because they can’t bear to be “wasteful.”

      My mother jokes that if you put 3 identical items on the table with no tags, the one I would want will always be the most expensive. When I was growing up she was extrememly frugal and always bought whatever was the cheapest and drilled into me that it was wasteful to purchase expensive things when you could get them cheaper. I hate this mentality, but I’ve noticed that it’s taken it’s toll especially when it comes to clothing. Of course cheap clothing looks cute in the store, but looks terrible on your body or falls apart so I have too many clothes and I’m trying to make sure I buy more expensive, but less. My new rule is If it doesn’t fit perfectly today (or I don’t know immediately that i can fix it), if I don’t love it 100% and can’t figure out 10 outfits I’d wear it with, I can’t buy it.

  3. I’m glad this was put into clear terms…This is precisely why I re-create. All my product was given new life from preserved materials, and I plan to do this forever. I bet if we (the human race) was told that there would never be a new manufactured thing again, we would all have more wealth, success, and in turn save the environment. There would be jobs lost, but it is up to these people to find a way to sustain themselves. Job loss doesn’t mean bad things…you can make money through other avenues. We didn’t always have Nike and H&M’s..etc…

    1. thanks, keira! yes – i didn’t touch of “recreation” as you put it at all but it’s certainly a perfect opposition to disposable culture.

  4. You are really making me think hard upon my visits to your blog. That is good thing but just different than most blogs that I visit today.

    This article is very well put – I wouldn’t have a thing to add. In some ways I am a contributor to this horrid phenomenon and in other ways I fight for the injustice of it all.

    Ok, it is too early to think and produce any relevant feedback but I love the new style of your blog and appreciate the fact that you actually make me think…

    1. thanks, brandi! i just adore making people think – mostly because i want to think WITH you. so i’m so glad that my writing gets your brain juices flowing.

  5. We don’t shop much, because, well, we don’t need much. We do our best to use what we have, buy what will last and repair what needs help – nothing tickles me more than when my neighbour girl comes over asking for a mend on a sweater or dress that she loves that her mother would have simply bought a new one of!
    Today’s commitment to what will last – I’m going out and buying extra long emt for a giant quilt – my biggest one yet! I’m counting on both the steel and the quilt lasting for a good long while.

  6. Tara, Keira and Tarabu’s combined words make me think about how my local network of buying includes those rare lovely people who REPAIR and find parts for small appliances,clocks,zippers, chair legs etc. I love my local fix it shop guy and he is the only one around for miles. (I have to go much farther to find a shoe repair person.) We can look for (or become?) one of these valuable people who work to keep us running smoothly while consuming less!

    1. REPAIR. now that is a “concept” (silly that that has been reduced to a concept, huh?) I haven’t explored but will definitely be thinking more about. such an excellent addition to the conversation, thank you!

  7. tara, putting your dollars towards what you truly believe in is not only an expression of a life lived passionately but is a huge political tool. consumer demand drives the manufacturing machine. if we all promise to refuse to use disposable plastic objects, source from local talent pools and support alternatives perhaps we can avert another (imminent) bp oil disaster.

    i’ve committed to stop buying korean-made laser cut metal components for testing my market (although the designer and her team are amazingly talented and i love them). and to building that compost structure that i’ve been putting off.

      1. sorry to bring politics creeping into your blog! i was thinking that higher level decision makers are no different than any business – the commitment drives the money’s placement which affects policy. but yes, the vote is paramount. xo, penelope

  8. I couldn’t agree more.

    Over the last few months my mission to become healthier and more earth friendly has opened my eyes to many things. I’m buying organic food, eco-friendly household items, used clothing, and organic personal items. These things cost a little more, but it’s worth it because the commitment I made to myself is paying off. I feel wonderful, on the inside and out, while making positive changing for the planet.

    My wish is for other people to adopt a mindset of reusing items, eating healthier foods, participating in things they are passionate about and overall being conscious of their impact.

    Literally throwing our lives away isn’t a sustainable option.

  9. fabulous post!

    My husband is German, and I’m American. We live primarily in Germany, where I do not find the excessive consumerism to the extent of the US at ALL. But in the US we are getting ridiculous. This lifestyle as a culture is not maintainable.

    Thank you for writing this – very well thought out!

  10. All I have to say is *wow*! Well written! I feel a bit overwhelmed when I think of all the spending choices I make and how to funnel all of that into healthy/good/nurturing things (not just for me, but for others and the planet), but I am going to start where I am and look towards progressing. I am happy that I am becoming more mindful and aware of the impacts of my purchases. The part I find pretty profound is how we can rebuild our culture and shape our society through our purchases (my mind gets blown on that one – I hope it catches on, too!).

    I guess I had more to say than wow, but WOW!

  11. I think you are brave to bring up people. That we create disposable families.

    I’m quite involved in anti-trafficking and this is literally true there. It is the world’s fastest growing crime, with 27 million enslaved worldwide. The very first book I read on this issue was “Disposable People”.

    I don’t get the music part, though? Why is it considered disposable?


    1. thanks, elizabeth. i don’t think all music is disposable – and, actually, it’s gotten somewhat better since the middle part of this (the last?) decade. the music i think is disposable is that kind that comes from pop stars who are created because they can be stars – and then are dropped for the next best thing.

      one hit wonders are the epitome of disposable culture – although that’s certainly not a new phenomenon – i think stars are CREATED to be one hit wonders now when they weren’t before.

  12. Disposable because were not committed to our ideals -because we are always wondering if something better is going to come along. The trust is also gone, we don’t trust others and we certainly don’t trust our own thoughts and opinions.

    We are told we can do anything we want, that we deserve everything we want but they omit the part about having to work hard for it. Its that disposable generation, reflected in our TV (reality – famous for no other reason than your famous!) in our clothes (wear it a few times and its out of fashion) how we speak (we can’t even be bothered to spell correctly any more!) Everyone wants it NOW!

    Thats why Handmade is wonderful, you know how much love and time and effort has been put into it. Its treasured and looked after and spoken about. I still love buying CD’s, I hate to download – I love being able to hold something in my hands; it has meaning (goes back to growing up with records and sitting and listening while reading the liner notes)

    Hopefully the tide is starting to turn and we will become more appreciative of the things we work for and want. I love that I have things of my mothers from before I was born and I really am looking forward to being able to show some of the treasured pieces I have now to my grandkids (somewhere way in the future!)

  13. Great post!

    This is something I’ve been thinking about heavily since I started my eco-friendly clothing line a few years back.

    Slowly, slowly, I have come to stop relying on meaningless stuff to fill up my life as much (and even though we know it doesn’t fill us up, we do it because it’s habit and it’s comfortable).

    And the accumulation of stuff is seriously bad for the environment, too, which I’m also very passionate about.

    I started a blog with these issues in mind.

    My personal dealings with overconsumption is still a work in progress, but I’m trying to focus on the things that deeply matter to me. To distinguish between the things that actually fill me up and the things that I know won’t lead to fulfillment. And to pay more attention to how I feel than to kind of stuff myself with temporary avoidance. So far I’m doing well, and am happier than I’ve ever been.

    I also think that, while handmade is still far more community-fostering and generally more ethical than the rest, we can still get caught in the same overconsumption as the rest of the marketplace. And that’s something to be wary of.

  14. Tara, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I couldn’t agree with you more. I live on the island of Cyprus and unfortunately I can see the same sort of thing happening here, especially with my generation, as well as the younger ones which have been spoilled rotten by a very rapid increase in tourism (and money) over the past 20 years I’ve been here, resulting in people not appreciating their own heritage and what their ancestors worked so hard for (family, life, clothes, land, money). The economic crisis is a big shock for everyone now who were used to spending money like there’s no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow, and if you don’t take care of your today then your tomorrow will be very gloomy.

  15. I’m on week two of a complete spending freeze. I decided I needed to push the reset button on my spending habits and it has been an insightful experiment. I’ve realized that having less to work with inspires my creativity. It makes me look at the things I have differently and with more respect. Once I can not simply replace an item I take care of the perfectly fine similar item I already have. I’m also cooking meals by getting creative with what is in our pantry and freezer and it is FUN! (Hmmmm, falafel mix, garbanzo beans & shallots…what can I make out of this?) I could go on and on…

  16. Great post –
    I grapple with these issues all the time – When I lived in Australia I was able to re-use, re-purpose, buy local produce and generally lead the lifestyle I aspired to as it was easy to make those choices – there were alternatives (not saying that Australia still does not have a huge way to go). But here in the UK it is quite different – it is a lot harder to find local produce, to find objects and furniture to re-use. Here so much stuff is just thrown away – you are considered a ‘skip rat’ if you try to salvage something from a skip that is about to go to landfill.
    The mentality is to buy new, often and then throw away as soon as you want. Out of sight – out of mind. It is frightening to think value – which should be an essential element of any relationship, transaction or exchange is being given up for nothing more than instant gratification, often with little, or no consideration beyond personal gain.

  17. I often think that the mentality associated with buying the latest and greatest of everything is largely driven by the attempt to otherwise fill holes in our lives or simply to try to “buy” our way into someone’s affections.

    Every Christmas, my husband tells many sad stories about how parents will come into his store to buy really expensive gaming systems and the games to go with it. When he tries to help the parents pick out games, more often than not, they have no idea what their kids are interested in. We’re talking things like what books they like, favorite activities, who their friends are, hobbies, music, extracurricular activities in school, sports, etc.
    He says it almost feels like the parents are trying to make up for their “non-parenting” in the previous 11 months.

    I definitely think you hit the nail on the head with “looking for the cheap way out”. In this instance, it feels like some parents are misled into believing that spending a lot of money is an adequate substitute for a commitment that was lacking in the first place.

  18. Home run, Tara! I’m committed to counting my blessings and cultivating what’s good in my life RIGHT NOW – my home, relationships with friends and family, and every customer and small business success I have – instead of getting caught up in what may be lacking. Basically I am going for a “less is more” approach to just about every aspect of my life – trying to fill my time, my surroundings, my closet etc. with things I love. Everyone has their own set of life “essentials.” Getting rid of all the non-essential stuff is kind of like weeding a huge garden – very satisfying!

  19. This is something that my husband and I talk a lot about. We’re both self-employed and since we don’t have reliable paychecks coming in we’ve become extremely careful with our spending. Recently we’ve taken a big leap and moved into a new shop space. We work in an old milk barn (on what used to be a dairy farm and is now a raspberry farm) and we live in our 30 ft. Airstream trailer. When we first got here, we were both looking for regular jobs to tide us over…and there weren’t any! (Unless you count lead paint scraper for $10/hr.) In this ever wierder economy, I think self-sufficiency is becoming a new measure of wealth. It’s sad to think of all the things that used to be made domestically, and because of greed and short-sightedness have been shipped out leaving ghost towns behind.

  20. Brilliant post! Describes exactly what I am so frustrated with in my life and our culture. I sometimes feel we are at the point of no return, but a post like this (and all the positive response) makes me believe we can still save ourselves! Thank You.

  21. Brilliant post! I couldn’t agree more strongly. I think this attitude is at the heart of what I consider to be the trend of soulless design (or lack of design) in people’s homes. People have forgotten how to be individual in the way they arrange and design their homes. Everyone shops at the same big box stores (Brick, Wal Mart, Zellers) and buys the same cheap furniture. Our society has gotten it into their heads that buying something newly manufactured is the indicator of status, or perhaps just the most convenient. I wish more people would embrace the beauty of old things…vintage, antique, even the humble garage sale find. All it takes is some creativity to use an old thing in a new way, to give a facelift to an old piece of furniture, to incorporate some soul and personality into our living spaces!

    Thanks for making people think twice today!

    Hope Ava

  22. Today I re-decided to commit to my marriage (I do that everyday) but also to commit to me and my personal journey. I haven’t had the best ride until I met my hubby, it’s time for Carrie to be tended too and encouraged to grow. I guess I’m not disposable…..

  23. I love this post! I recycle as much as I can and I freecycle other stuff. I frequent Craigslist too, to see or buy. The problem that I have is that my husband is a big time consumer and he has to always have the latest and greatest toys. If he actually acquires what he desires he’ll use it a few times then it becomes my responsibility to clean or care for. I love my husband dearly but his desire for instant gratification kills me sometimes. How might I go about changing his mind on some things (I say some things because we have to use baby steps to make something a habit, right?)

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