What do I really know of the objects I possess? The more I reflect on this question more meanings emerge from it. Each of which leads to new and more refined questions. When finding answers, a properly phrased question is half of the work. As I discover the answers, I begin to understand that for most of the objects I possess there can be...
It has been a long time since the vast majority of people made everything they needed themselves. Technology was supposed to enhance their abilities and make it easier, but instead, somewhere along the way technology and automation was consolidated into factories and bent to the purpose of mass production.
What are the identities of the objects I possess? I cannot reliably enumerate them from memory alone. I really need to construct a list of these possessions and in doing so the results prove surprising. There is an excess in the amount of material “stuff” that I have, a number of needlessly duplicated items. Usually these are simple and inexpensive ones for which there is some necessity. Unfortunately, the unnecessary duplication of these objects contributes to and culminates in a lack of what I intuit would be essential items.
What is the value of each of these objects in my possession? I have needed money to purchase most of these objects and it would take even more money to replace them; what are these objects actually worth? In other words, they depreciate in value. If I could even sell them, what could I get in return and what is the resulting deficit?
Where do these objects come from? The production model that prevails today is one of centralized mass production. The raw materials objects are made of are shipped around the world to be refined. These refined feedstocks are shipped again to production facilities where objects are mass produced. They are packaged and shipped again to distribution centers. From there, they are shipped again to stores and warehouses. Then, I commute to stores or order online and in this way they are shipped again to my home.
Where do they go after I dispose of them? I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away. It gets picked up and deposited in a landfill on the outskirts of my city. I’ve also recycled a lot of stuff which is also picked up and sent off to be sorted and processed at centralized recycling plants. Both of these methods are a kind of throwing away. Technically I’ve paid for the packaging that gets thrown out, and I’ve already paid for the materials used in the construction of the worn out objects I’ve thrown away. How could I instead use those materials myself? It’s not enough for me anymore to simply acquire then throw things away when I’m finished with them and let “society” worry about the construction and disposal of these things. When I’m done with something, it may appear that the lifetime of that something is “over”, but when I get rid of it, the lifetime of those materials continue. These materials might last longer than I will. The energy and resources that went into the construction of those materials are not accessible to me, but why should those materials be lost as well?
What are these objects actually made of? Could the materials they are made of be sourced locally by myself or synthesized as a byproduct in the refinement of other materials and feedstocks? There are a great many different chemical compounds in many of my objects, are they even necessary or are they there to increase the object’s shelf life prior to purchase? Are they appropriate to the purpose of the object or simply an aesthetic nuance? Are these materials depletable resources or regenerative ones? It turns out that a great many things in my possession are made of the same sort of “stuff”.
What is the process for the construction of these objects? Is it really so difficult or could I be capable of doing it myself given the necessary tools and feedstocks? Are there instructions I could download, or if I had certain machines could those automate the process? I understand that I won’t be able to make everything I need. Not at first. I will need to continue buying things. If I prioritize what I buy, however, over time I could erode the need to continue buying things by purchasing the means of production first. If my community comes to this same mindset, perhaps then the force multiplier of our combined efforts might lead to an even greater capacity for making things.
Finally, of all the objects in my possession: which of them are essential and which are not serving a purpose? Can I identify with the objects in my possession as sacred objects or are they disposable quick-fixes I’ve amassed through the unsustainable mentality that I am someone who is just passing through? Are these essential and sacred objects actually creating an abundance of well-being for me, or are they serving some other purpose?
After I’ve defined well-being and that definition is well-defined then what is left is to look at my personal space as an ecosystem of objects. I need to make it a priority to identify those objects which are essential in the production of well-being. Everything else is nonessential excess and may be hindering my ability to produce well-being in abundance. Certain kinds of excess may be good for my chosen purpose, but that kind of excess should be mindfully accumulated. I’m interested in a process through which I can design my personal space as an ecosystem. The steps taken to identify these essential objects are simply steps in this design process and not the manifestation of some desire to live a radically minimalist lifestyle.
Applying mindfulness limits my consumption to what I actually need, what I authentically want. It is a protocol that scrutinizes the purpose and materials used in the construction of my personal space, applying a robust selection criteria. I recognize the capacity in myself to make things and what I need are the feedstocks and the tools to follow directions and make things. To structure my consumption now such that in the near future my only consumption will be the feedstocks or materials I cannot create myself. These feedstocks are not used in the creation of just one thing, but represent the possibility of creating many things.
The society I am in is a product of the Industrial Revolution. The historical development of this revolution is long and detailed. Yet at the beginning, material goods were produced by hand in homes or other facilities. The owners of these facilities began assembling automation technology to increase production. Over time, virtually everything made the transition to being mass produced in centralized facilities along with a slew of new things never seen before in the marketplace. Economically, there are a lot of reasons why this model of production makes good sense. But for certain material goods there are a lot of reasons why it doesn’t, and the economic reasons may not be as impactful in light of new technologies and social developments.
Throughout the Industrial Revolution and during this era of mechanized labor something of the old way has remained. A cottage industry is one where manufacturing takes place at home. It hasn’t thrived, but has survived out of necessity or the interest of makers. Economies of scale and purchasing power put it at a great disadvantage to established centralized mass production. Historically it appears to have been largely responsible for specialized production such as sewing or crafts, putting out trinkets and items of what could be considered lesser import. But it is easy to forget that technology continues to be developed. Today, in the information age, it is easy to forget the industrial revolution is not complete.
Revolution is a word that comes from the latin revolvere, to roll back. It is an instance of revolving and coming back to where it began. The open sharing of knowledge and platforms for collaboration via the Internet have transformed the old cottage industry into the new, lean micro-factory. The mass production of electronic components and the mass refinement of basic feedstocks has made it possible for items of great import to be developed at home. As these technologies and ideas enter the mainstream the real revolution begins to take place, completing the cycle of the industrial revolution without the hyper-specialization and allocation of massive resources for the mass production of one thing. Instead, there is a generalization of manufacturing ability through modern tools and control systems and the ability to download designs and construct products with these tools from basic feedstocks as easily as printing a document.
Creating things yourself is not nearly as difficult as it appears to be. If you look into the possibilities and the work of others for inspiration. Their instructions are online and freely available. Connect with the community of makers online and embrace a new origin for your material possessions.