Wear What You Own Down to the Bone
From clothes to vapes to water bottles, today’s consumer practices are dictated by over-consumption of cheap, low-quality, and essentially disposable products. Scroll through any social media and you will see people gleefully showing off their massive Shein hauls, their new Ikea products, and a plethora of other displays of what purchasing power is now used to buy: cheap, low-quality products. It’s a worldwide oniomania pandemic.
Of course, this offer of affordable commodities has a use, most notably in responding to the demands of today’s inegalitarian society, where quality has become a luxury for many. But this offer has, in turn, created a problematic phenomenon of people who have the resources to afford quality preferring to invest in cheap goods, to then replace them constantly: it seems as if a large part of humanity is now engaged in an orgy of overconsumption, chasing short-term satisfaction through retail-therapy, where one derives satisfaction from owning a lot (even to use twice and then get rid of), and not owning quality.
It is evident that in the past century, the price of goods has fallen drastically, allowing for more people to have access to more, and for a democratation of comfort. The issue is that in our common mentality, it has remained a goal to own in excess, as if the codes of wealth from centuries past had remained, even with the democratisation of access to goods: consumption today is no longer based on necessity, but on excess.
This widespread oniomania is a troubling phenomenon, particularly visible within fashion: between 2000 and 2022 alone, the industry’s production has been doubled and its total value reached USD 1.3 trillion, with an estimated USD 500 billion in value lost every year due to under-use of clothing (Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
Today’s endless cycle of consumption, dictated by impulse-buying, a small amount of use, and the unavoidable chucking of the product and replacing of it, is detrimental in many ways. Environmentally, it creates tremendous pollution in a world where we should all limit it to the best of our ability; on a humanitarian level, it promotes exploitative labour in developing countries; economically, it ends up more expensive in cost-per-use for the consumer. An additional and undeniable negative aspect is sentimental: it kills the joy of seeing our products age.
What these times forget is the philosophical satisfaction found in erosion, in decomposition, in deterioration. There’s a comfort in stepping into your well broken-into boots, throwing on your crusty—often smelly—waxed jacket, putting on your pair of holed-through sneakers, sipping coffee from your ten-year-old cup, writing with your beaten-up fountain pen from middle school, or showing your books into your half-broken backpack. You know these products, you love these products, and you get to see them age and decay. You feel like you get your money’s worth, because the thousand miles you walked in those boots, the rain your jacket has protected you from, the experiences you had in those sneakers, the caffeine that that coffee cup allowed you to ingest, the boring essays you’ve written with that pen, and the commutes your bag has accompanied you on, are worth so much more than just their practical use. It’s both beautiful to see your products age, patina, and fall apart, but it’s also more environmentally, socially, and economically conscious.
This push for more sustainable consumption can be placed within the greater movement of striving for a simpler, softer, and slower life. This ‘slow living’ philosophy can be likened to a form of neo-romanticism, in its rejection of the practices of today, as a means of combating our times—and their over-productive and destructive workings—in the same way that romanticism responded to the 19th century’s dehumanising dynamics of urbanisation and industrialisation: it is a search for humanness in a world whose evolution seems to threaten it. Whereas the romantics were obsessed with the idea of nature taking back control from mankind, slowly turning its architecture and accomplishments into ruins, this slower consumption strives to make time take back control over us and our consumption. Just like romanticism, it isn’t a backwards-looking doctrine, but more of a search for another way forward, a more organic road to progress.
This leads to a conclusion, that a slower, more responsible, and more ethical mode of consumption is what we, as humans in the 21st century, need to strive for. Let’s replace the consumerist retail-therapy, where owning more brings you joy, with better consumption, where owning longer brings you fulfilment.