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Opinion: The magic that changes the life of doing

Illustration by Melinda Josie

Benjamin Leszcz is a partner of Whitman Emorson, a design studio in Toronto. He previously worked as a writer and magazine editor.

Several years ago, while living in London, England, my wife met Prince Charles at an event associated with the Prince's Foundation, where she worked. He returned with two observations: first, the Prince of Wales used two fingers – forefinger and center – when he pointed. Secondly, Charles's suit had visible signs of repair. A Google search fails to substantiate the double-barreled gesture, but the inclination to the Prince's patch is well documented. Last year, journalist Marion Hume discovered a cardboard box containing over 30 years of cuttings and materials left over from the Prince's seeds, hidden in a corner in his tailor Savile Row, Anderson & Sheppard. "I have always believed in trying to keep as many clothes and shoes as possible for as long as possible … through patches and repairs", has say Mrs. Hume. "In this way, I tend to be fashionable every 25 years."

As it happens, double-breasted jackets are quite fashionable. But the most important is Charles's sartorial philosophy, which could no longer be stamped. The prince derives from a tradition of admirable frugality, the queen reuses gift pack – but its inclination to repair rather than replace, to wear its clothes until they wear out, is an antidote suitable for our times more and more disposable. Most modern consumers are not that resourceful: the average Canadian buy 70 new pieces of clothing every year, about 60 of which end up in a landfill. (Second-hand shops just sell one out of four pieces of donated clothes). According to an Englishman she studies, the average article of women's clothing is worn seven times before being discarded.

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Prince Charles's habit is to have his clothes adjusted and wear them until they are consumed.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Our inflated consumer culture extends far beyond clothing. Every year, Canadian adults spend around $ 9,000 for packaged consumer goods – about twice as much as 25 years ago. We replace our smartphones every 25 months. We exchange televisions like toothbrushes. We are looking for instant pots, gloves for removing pet hair and cushions for the thermal bath when we are at dinner, when we drive and when we are drunk. Making purchases is not only convenient; It is inevitable. The gloss and the new are rarely more than a click and a day away.

Not surprisingly, we are drowning in things. Although the average Canadian home doubles in size compared to the past generation – and the size of the family is reduced – the auto storage industry is booming, with almost 3,000 facilities filled nationally. And that's just what we keep: landfills are overflowing. China has stopped taking much of our recycling. Africa is I decline our used clothes. And the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one and a half times the size of the Ontario – and growing. Worse, we're spending money we don't have: the average Canadian has about $ 30,000 of non-mortgage debt. Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed the best: "Things are in the saddle and ride humanity".

We are increasingly desperate for a way out. For many, salvation came through Marie Kondo, author of Life-changing magic to tidy up. Ms. Kondo's KonMari method focuses on a now famous question: does this spark me for me? Otherwise, it must be discarded. Others have found emancipation through figures such as Leo Babauta, Dave Bruno and Tammy Strobel, the declared minimalists who own 50, 100 and 72 things, respectively.

The cleaning guru Marie Kondo has made sure that people all over the world ask themselves if their things aroused joy, and discarded if they didn't.

Seth Wenig / The Associated Press

It is easy to understand the attractiveness of these alternative ideologies of consumerism, which both reflect the same fundamental truth: all this stuff does not make us happy. Minimalism is simple but extreme; KonMari has a wider appeal, promising a more satisfying relationship with things once we get rid of the inventory that produces non-joy. But KonMari asks both of them too much about our things, and not enough. When Prince Charles opens his closet, he certainly does not ask if his beautiful double-breasted suit exudes joy. Instead, he asks: "Does this beautiful double-breasted suit satisfy my need today, which is to wear a nice double-breasted while pointing my subjects with two fingers?" It is a profoundly simple question, the spirit of which has been completely lost today. In asking this question, Charles states his position as an unlikely champion for the forgotten virtue of doing.

Fare is a profoundly pragmatic philosophy. It means asking our stuff the only question we should ever ask them: "Can you satisfy your intended use for me?" The answer – if we can be honest, and resist a moment of discomfort, discomfort or boredom – is, extraordinarily often yes Doing is taming the reflex to discard, replace or update; it's about using things well and using them until they are exhausted. Taken literally, it simply means doing something – making it do what it should do.

If Marie Kondo delights in discarding, doing the do is tormenting him, admitting that we probably shouldn't have bought that thing in the first place. Instead of thanking our outgoing goods for their meager service, for Mrs. Kondo, doing things means warning ourselves to be so carefree in the first place. Leaving something costs us, ecologically and cosmically; it they should sting. And it should teach us to think more carefully about the real value of things.

As Juliet Schor writes Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth"We don't need to be less materialistic, as the standard formulation would have, but even more." By becoming more materialistic, in this deeper sense, we can radically reorient our relationship with things. In this way, not only can we mitigate the high cost of mindless consumption, saving money and damaging the planet, but we could also end up much happier.

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The Black Friday sales shopping bags are loaded into a car in Lee, Massachusetts, in 2018.

Ben Garver / The Berkshire Eagle / The Associated Press

To have it done, in times of scarcity, is simple: if our weekly sugar ration is 200 grams, then we manage. In the context of abundance, it is complicated. How do we set limits when more or new ones are easily accessible?

The challenge, of course, is that doing things is contrary to human nature. As products of evolution, we are prepared to look for novelty, variety and excess; now, let's hunt for business, not mastodons. Also Adam Smith, the ancestor of homo economicus – that perfectly rational consumer, looking for utility of classical economy – wrote in The theory of moral feelings in 1759 that "frivolous objects … (are) often the secret motive of the most serious and important activities".

In other words, being frivolous means being human. Aspiring to pure pragmatism – possessing only necessities – is misleading. "The fundamental question about what is essential and what is not is a mobile goal, at least since the fifteenth century," says Frank Trentmann, author of Empire of things: how we have become a world of consumers. "Every generation complains that lower orders are suddenly wanting things that their parents or grandparents didn't have." Have them accommodate for this type of hedonic adaptation; allows a wide-ranging materialism, as long as it is meditated, critical and honest.

For me, doing is an aspiration; I often can't. I succeeded, however, with my previous television, a first-generation flat-screen TV series. Friends made fun of me, but at a time when we were happily watching three-inch screens, I thought my 12-year-old Olevia was adequate. (My company recently replaced its TV room, I took the cast-off home and gave Olevia to a friend.) It was a small but significant victory, especially for appliances, which tend to visit briefly our landfill homes.

As a parent, in a time when toy manufacturers have extended their commercials to 22-minute episodes, temptation is everywhere. Still, I am a supporter of the cardboard toy theory (the box – and later, the unboxing – triumphs over the content). I almost never buy toys. When my children ask, I say, "We don't really buy things like that." (My eldest is 5 years old, wish me luck.)

My wife refused my camp for our children to wear bags of potato until the age of 12, presumably because most potato bags today are made of paper. However, we opt for hand-down or second-hand where possible. And we complete with fast fashion, looking for clothes that last, at least, until they cease to adapt to anyone in our home.

For a column of the 2017 New York Times, writer Ann Patchett wrote a one-year experiment dedicated to giving up various types of purchases.

Handout / The Canadian Press

For adults, however, our relationship with clothing is perhaps the most unsettling. The writer Ann Patchett, in her fantastic New York Times column to give up shopping for a year, he says he interviewed Tom Hanks in front of a large audience: "Previously, I would have believed that such an occasion required a new dress and I lost two days of my life looking for one. , Tom Hanks had never seen any of my clothes, nor had people in the audience. I went into my closet, chose something suitable for the weather, and put it in my suitcase.

Forgetting the shopping, Ms Patchett has embraced the spirit of doing things. If he had hung that dress on a nail that night, he could have done it at an even higher level. Getting the most out of things often requires investment and the repair economy can be difficult: it might be cheaper to buy a new sweater, made in Bangladesh, than to pay a Canadian tailor to fix an old one. Ideally, we should fix it ourselves – a basic repertoire of do-it-yourself repair skills is a wonderful way to do it – but in both cases, it's a profound value in reviving it. It doesn't matter that a repaired garment is fully functional; it is often improved, imbued with a touch of imperfection without effort.

The clothing worn can be an indicator of status in its own right, as it is for The bonfire of vanities"Sherman McCoy. Tom Wolfe describes" the worn-out but formidable British macabre dinghy that resembles the fashion of the Boston Cracked Shoe look. (The look refers to a historic style, among the patricians of New England, from wear aged shoes with care but dramatically.) For some elites, therefore, doing is familiar as a style if not an ethos. The Official preppy manual advises, "Never replace anything until you have exhausted all possibilities for repair, restoration or rehabilitation. No matter what it is, they do not do it as well as before." The key to a making-do revolution, of course, would be for the style of sweeping the country. "I have always thought that there may be a time when the way to distinguish yourself and the state of the signal is precisely to move away from this increasing acceleration of consumption," says Trentmann. "To stand out because you drive an old car."

Until that day, getting a mileage from our things should at least generate a sense of pride and domination. This is a more difficult proposition with electronics, appliances and automobiles, for which technology has largely made any kind of repair impossible. However, doing do means making an effort to preserve or repair, and spending more than just economies could justify.

The corollary is that doing things means avoiding products that are not worth repairing in the first place. The problem of durability worries Dieter Rams, the designer of the most iconic products of the mid-century of Braun. Mr. Ram's mantra is "less, but better" and in his recent documentary on his career, he lashes out against "reckless design and carefree consumption". For Mr. Rams, it is up to the designers to create products that last over time. (It is a cruel irony that Apple, whose product design owes so much to Mr. Rams, has become a model of incorporated obsolescence).

Byron and Dexter Peart, who have made their name as a fashion accessories designer, are following Mr. Rams with Goodee, an online marketplace of ethical production house items. The Goodee products "are designed to be used every day and passed down for generations", say the twin brothers. "For products to be essential, they must be rigorously designed and built to last, both in terms of quality production and timeless aesthetics."

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An Aquanaut Luce "Misty Blue" 5067 watch from the Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe, whose motto is "You've never owned a Patek Philippe. You're simply taking it into care for the next generation."

Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

Many fashion brands attract customers with the promise of lasting essentials, from the luxury house Bottega Veneta (former creative director, Tomas Maier: "I want to own a dress") to the Cuyana women's clothing line ("Welcome to a smaller number than best things "). The luxury watches also do it: "You have never owned a Patek Philippe. You simply take care of the next generation." (Although my $ 50 Timex continues to tick.) Obviously, for people with vehicles, places like Anderson and Shepard, or the Shoemaker Church, they perform miraculous repairs as a matter of course. Roche Bobois and Stickley make furniture that retains their value – if they don't like it. Making do can mean embracing luxury, transforming our conception of historical relics from relics of the past to ambitions for the future. But it also means attending more accessible brands such as LL Bean, Filson, Barbour, Patagonia, Arc & teryx and North Face, which repair all their assets, and some of which repurchase, renew and resell worn out garments. Even more accessible is Uniqlo, whose unadorned designs escape trends (and whose $ 30 oxford fabric shirts are my favorite uniform). In the Atlantic this year, Gillian B. White he wrote, "In a disposable fashion, a Uniqlo garment, made with substantial materials and cut in a timeless style, may seem like an investment." It's an exaggeration – my shirts, at least, are constantly depreciating – but it emphasizes the role of design in reshaping consumption.

Another key to doing is scratching our acquisitive itch in creative ways. Thanks to my children, I became responsive to the Toronto public library, where I can indulge my impulse to buy books that I think I will read. (Typically from the third renewal, my deluded literary ambitions dissipate). Following Rent the track, are starting dozens of clothing rental services, from mass brands like Express to local startups like STMNT, which was founded by a couple of graduates of Western University. Even IKEA is launching a rental program in 30 countries. shopping, like tattoos, they are permanent decisions based on temporary feelings; renting or borrowing is often a better answer.

A woman is holding a phone that shows a location in the Rent the Runway list box. The online service allows subscribers to rent designer clothes and accessories.

Handout / Reuters

While we are increasingly dismayed by our unlimited consumption, positive alternatives abound. But too often alternative consumption methods simply become additional modes of consumption. Looking for less, better, sometimes we end up with more, more. Of course, Mr. Rams is right: the disposable is a design problem. But more than that, it's a psychological problem. Doing has a social purpose, but it is a deeply personal project.

In the final pages of Life-changing magic to tidy up"Ms. Kondo writes:" I cannot think of greater happiness in life than being surrounded only by the things I love. "It is a powerful statement, entirely on-brand for Mrs. Kondo. It is also a sad one. reflection of how distracted our stuff makes us from the things that actually make us happy: a sense of belonging, of community, of purpose, time with family and friends, great books, long meals, we all know this, and yet: we live in an unprecedented epidemic of loneliness, living friendships through Instagram, consuming culture through Netflix, and walking alone through our neighborhoods, AirPods, our faces illuminated by Amazon's no-frills mobile shopping experience. and not dismantled, and with nothing to tell us who we are, we shop, we shop and we buy, filling our carts when we really want to fill our lives.

Laurie Santos, who created the most popular Yale University course, Psychology and the Good Life, often says, "Our insights on what to do to be happy are wrong." This simple truth is at the heart of doing things, which reminds us emphatically that our things will never make us happy. Our things are a healthy, normal, inevitable part of life, but in the end they are just things. By asking them only what they can give us – not love, or joy, or a sense of purpose or connection – we are much more likely to get it. This does not guarantee happiness, but clarifies the way, highlighting an essential and unmissable truth: the stuff of life is not stuff at all.

Illustration by Melinda Josie

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