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GREENINGS: Confronting consumption (Spring 2019)

April 23rd, 2019 · No Comments

What does the emergence of Marie Kondo mean?

By Terri Chu

Few celebrities have given me hope about the fate of the planet quite like Marie Kondo has. We literally created a mega celebrity out of a woman who teaches you how to throw stuff away. Did coffee just come out your nose? Stop to think about this. A person who teaches you to throw things away is a social media superstar making millions from Youtube, Instagram, and books. 

Can we say FIRST WORLD PROBLEM? “Help! I have so much stuff I need to pay someone to help me throw it away!” 

We need to make a choice between over-consumption and survival. It shouldn’t be so hard.

My hope for humanity doesn’t so much lie in her existence, but rather in the response to her sudden fame. At least according to my social media feed, people are questioning why they need so much stuff in the first place. There hasn’t been nearly as much introspection about the resources, greenhouse gases emitted, and plastic packaging that went into those goods, but the fact that people are now wondering what the point of shopping for sport is… well that’s a welcome shift. 

As consumers start rejecting the “buy buy buy” lifestyle that has been sold to us the last half century, policy makers will need to adjust for a low employment, low carbon economy. This is OK! We obviously produce far more than we need and isn’t the point of automation to give us free time to pursue sports, literature, the arts? Maybe we can finally relax and get to know our neighbours? 

Adapting to climate change means we have to change our ways. We don’t need “stuff”. We don’t need to be constantly busy. Yes, this will all hurt current metrics of success, but that is OK, we just need to create new metrics. 

It means we have to fundamentally change how we measure success in our lives. When people are no longer buying things they don’t need, retail will inevitably suffer, GDP will decrease, and no doubt jobs will be lost.  Though jobs can and will be created in other areas, manufacturing, retail, and supply chain jobs will need to be transitioned. 

It is hard to understate the role that Universal Basic Income will have to play in a low carbon economy. Low carbon also means lower consumption, lowering waste, and lowering the number of hours in the work week. Not having to work should be a blessing, not a death sentence. 

Politicians need to be ahead of this curve and start preparing for alternate metrics that they can boast about. We also need to value work differently. If monetary value was assigned the same for a stay at home parent cleaning the bathroom the same way it is assigned for a professional cleaner, the GDP wouldn’t fall at all. If we valued washing a spoon the same way we valued buying a piece of single use plastic and throwing it away, we wouldn’t  have this problem in the first place. 

The sexist nature of how we value work plays into environmentalism as well. Work like cleaning and child minding have never been valued in an economy committed to buying trinkets and disposables. Every disposable diaper I buy contributes to GDP and goes on to measure my economic contribution. 

We are so addicted to consumption that we need to pay people to help us throw stuff away. Our standard of living will shift when we kick our consumption-based lifestyles to the curb, but we’ll thrive in a whole new way. We need to make a choice between over-consumption and survival. It shouldn’t be so hard. 

Marie Kondo does great work, but the need for her speaks volumes about what we’ve become. It’s ugly, it’s pointless, and it’s devastating to the planet. It’s time to listen to Kondo’s deeper message, and to find the things in life that truly spark joy – and ditch the rest.


Tags: Annex · Columns · Life · Opinion