Garbage Painting


I’m working on a fictional story that is partially a fairy tale and partially a dystopian sci-fi story. I’m not sure which way it will go as I continue working on it, but the premise is this:


People stop making things. Things start accumulating faster than ever. The earth gets buried alive in garbage.

I don’t think this idea is unique or new. In fact, anti-materialism has been a topic of interest for nonfiction authors for the past several years. It may be the theme of our century. A few books on the topic that have crossed my radar are:

Affluenza by Oliver James
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
Stuffocation by James Wallman

Note to self: These books were all written by men. Have any women written about this topic? Of course they must have. Homework assignment: Find books on this topic written by women. In what ways do they differ from the examples above? My guess is that women will be talking more about making things.


Wallman, in particular, believes that experiences will replace objects as the things we want to collect in our lives. This idea isn’t new either. I’ve read articles that say this in travel magazines several times over the past couple of years. (Maybe they were written by Wallman and I didn’t notice.)


I don’t think this is the answer. I think to replace our malaise, we need to come back to the activity of making things,  appreciating the quality of things that are made by hand, and realizing that to have one high quality object is much better than to have fifty cheap copies. I think making things is the cure for materialism because it infuses things with meaning and purpose, making each individually hand-crafted item valuable and irreplaceable.


Yes, we can live and look good with a small closet filled with hand-made clothes that don’t fall apart after ten washings.


Yes, we can be kept warm for our whole lives by the same blankets that our mothers or grandmothers made when we were children, and these blankets warm our hearts as well as our bones.


Yes, we can work less, make less money, and enjoy our lives more when we are not spending every moment figuring out how we will make enough money to spend on mass produced crap.


No, we don’t need new clothes and shoes and phones every season.


No, we don’t need to be slaves to the whims of fashion and technological innovation.


No, we don’t need to be so busy that we are never at peace or present with ourselves and our families and never have the time to understand the process of making something from scratch, whether it is a pair of socks, a loaf of bread, or a table.


I’m still thinking about all of this, and my story is not quite ready to be born, but I know it’s one that will eventually be filling the pages of my notebooks and probably, eventually, the pages of Stories In Stitches as well. It’s more about making what I call “a living and a life that I love” than it is about acquiring wealth and status symbols or trying to generate the (impossible) eternal financial growth that corporations consider the definition of success.


Can making things save the planet? Can the answer be so simple? I think so.


5 Responses to Buried Alive in Stuff
  1. Love this!! I do believe that materialism, and perhaps many of our other societal problems, would be solved if we handmade more of our stuff whether it be food or clothing. Just think of how different the holidays would be if all gifts received and given! All that hoopla would be gone and a more meaningful event (which is what it is meant to be) would take its place. I think of the enormous amount of gratification I get when I finish a pair of socks that my husband receives with a priceless smile and look in his eyes or when I set food on the table that is all grown in the garden and made with my own hands. You don’t get that same satisfaction or sense of worth from ordering junk at the drive up window or buying Walmart clothes. It would change everything!

  2. Yes, I completely agree with you. I’m doing my best to make all my sweaters instead of buying them. I went to a Thrift Store a couple of weeks ago with a friend and found a beautiful hand knit sweater with lots of vines and small bobbles on it. I’m pretty sure the yarn is Rowan’s Denim. This is even better than making it!! My Grandmother and Mother canned all our vegetables because they had gardens. Neither of them sewed or knitted. Sewing clothes for little daughters was not only economical but also gratifying to the soul. Those little girls are now mothers too but with full time jobs and small children of their own so there is no time to sew or knit or much of anything else. Alas, it’s a different time and different generation. I still think that the European countries have us all beat when it comes to recycle, reuse and renew!!

  3. What a great story, thanks for sharing. I used to sew all of my own clothes. I haven’t touched a sewing machine in years now, not even to mend something. It’s kind of sad. It’s wonderful to have a unique and custom wardrobe. I didn’t realize it so much when I was young. I enjoyed sewing, but when I got a job and had money and I worked in a clothing store, I just started buying everything there.

  4. Isn’t that an interesting concept? I wonder if we are saying we went overboard with the industrial revolution. I think so. Cheaper isn’t always better. Of course, I would not want those who are less fortunate and who have less money (sometimes that’s me) to do without basic necessities. But the whole idea that more is better and faster is better is really not healthy, I think.

  5. My mother used to make our clothes, and I have a quilt she made, and also some patchwork pillows she made, plus quilts and comforters my aunt and grandmother made. I love having things with pieces of the clothes I recognize from my childhood.

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