Throwaway culture is one of the more frustrating aspects of consumerism. It’s wasteful of resources and obviously bad for the environment, but it serves us badly too. We have to replace things more often than we like, or find that items are substandard. “Our whole houses, our whole lives, have become stuffed full of things that let us down” says Tara Button, and she’s out to do something about it.
Tara Button is the founder of BuyMeOnce.com, a website that seeks out and champions long lasting products with lifetime guarantees or best-in-class durability. It’s all about buying reliable things that we value and look after, rather than cheaper options that we use and throw away. She has now written up her experiences as a manifesto for cultivating a more rewarding materialism, A Life Less Throwaway: The lost art of buying for life.
The book is about shopping, but it’s also a really good overview of consumerism and how we ended up with a throwaway culture. It’s no accident – disposability and planned obsolescence were deliberately introduced as a way of selling us more stuff. There’s a similar logic to the shortening of fashion seasons, making clothes out of date quicker and encouraging people to change what they wear.
Button admits that she has been a victim of consumerism herself, and even an advocate of it. She used to work as an advertising executive, and it gives her a credible insider perspective as well as a sense of humility about the topic. The book blends her own experiences with history, original research, and ideas and observations for buying better.
A Life Less Throwaway is not written from a faith perspective, but it has many insights that we can transfer across. Do we buy out of a sense of inadequacy, or because we want to impress others? What should we be building our identity on instead? How can we nurture a healthy materialism that values and respects what we own as a gift and not a burden? How can we say no to the endless more of consumerism, and find joy in enough?
One of the best responses to consumerism is to buy much more purposefully. How we spend our money, and what resources we consume, are a matter of stewardship and therefore of discipleship. We can do better than ‘mindless consumption’, and Button offers a wealth of wisdom on planning purchases, saying no to impulse buying, and finding long lasting products.
The book is also very funny. If you’ve got a friend or family member who doesn’t normally read books on the environment or consumerism, this might be a good way in for them.