One of the giveaway signs that we’re about to go on a long trip is the upswing in the amount of stuff being delivered to our house. In the past 5 days we have taken delivery of two kindles, two cameras, two external hard drives, two pairs of trail running shoes, one netbook, one voice recorder, two mini vaporizer bottles (so we can take a few spritzes of our favourite perfumes with us as a treat), and three new pieces of luggage.
This morning The Other Dr Scales and I sat among the debris of opened packaging and admitted that we both feel a little bit odd. On the whole, we don’t think of ourselves as big consumers of stuff. When a couple of younger family members arrived to stay with us last Christmas, one of the first things they said was “your TV is small” (you remember those old-school, non-flatscreen TVs. We have one of those, a hand-me-down from my parents). And for more than a year now I’ve been on an unofficial boycott of stuff made in China. For me, the deluge of cheap things that fill our shops and homes is a symptom of our throwaway society. Stuff is cheap, we mostly have no idea where it comes from, and because it’s so cheap we throw it away when it all-too-soon breaks.
When there’s a choice, I prefer to buy things made locally, or in the UK, and by people who are treated and paid well, and I like things that will last a long time. So for example, my anti-China stance gets a few chuckles when people see our telephone – a beautiful, reconditioned original 1960s British phone that I adore even though it sometimes doesn’t quite dial mobile phone numbers and we can’t do telephone banking because it makes clicks instead of beeps (yes it has one of those turny dials).
But for many of the things we decided to take on this trip, there was no choice. We both love to read and were sucked in by the idea of buying an e-book loaded up with more books than we could possibly get through in 2 months. But Kindles are made in China.
I’ve decided to take up running to try and keep fit while I’m away from the gym. In preparation I decided to replace my ancient battered trainers with a new pair with lots of bounce and I couldn’t find a pair that weren’t made in China.
I’m happy that my new Ortblieb messenger bag (which will keep dust and water off my recording kit) was made in Germany. And I bought a beautiful, hand-made case for my Kindle from Beetrootshed on Etsy (green, with a screen print bicycle).
Not that any of that lets me off the hook or makes me any less of a consumer. I have a lot more stuff than I did a week ago and it feels especially strange to be loading up on consumer goods just before traveling to some very poor countries. I can only hope that it will all last us a long time, do the job we want it to do and that even when we decide we’ve finished using any of it we’ll be able to pass it on to someone else.
Because, I can’t kid myself that I’m not a consumer. We all are, just in different ways.