Current Trends


Oh yes America we have another one, another supposedly thriving woman and her family that boasts not having bought anything new in almost 6 years and is blogging to teach others how to be non-consumers, creating a place for people to share creative ideas on how to use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. Besides the whole point of the consumer advocacy group, locally or nationally, being to warn consumers about possible frauds, scams and unsafe products out there on shelves people are potentially buying, from sun screen to bacteria laced food, and not entice, coerce or convince people they need to buy more things, the name is somewhat misleading. Because, outside of her compact challenge where she bought nothing for one year, she isn’t really not buying anything, despite her claim she doesn’t buy a lot of things anymore, she really is trying to teach people a different, better way to consume products than to believe the hype, follow advertising and support unsafe overseas labor conditions. Although here is one person willing to concede the non-consumer advocate sounds a whole lot catchier than putting the former phrase on a banner and is willing to let semantics go in favor of other larger sticking points with the latest take on the minimalist lifestyle; first and foremost mindsets being put forth that are in many ways just as dangerous as the consumerism specific social circles are so quick to demonize while advocating for bigger picture solutions that allow people to have their things, live in the 21st century and make sure our children’s children have a decent world to grow up in.

 One huge hurdle not accounted for is practicality, replaced with an automatic assumption others can be like her, work part time, make good money in spite of that factoring in her husband’s income, have access to thrift stores, refurbishing centers, all the popular green initiatives found in Oregon and actually possess the time to engage in even one of the things that make up this woman’s 21st century eco-friendly existence; to begin with, Katy Wolk- Stanley puts entirely too much stock in thrift stores. Or rather assuming her local thrift stores are indicative of those across the nation. Most people’s thrift store experience involves looking over others’ discarded junk they didn’t know what else to do with so they dropped it there. In addition to the strange ceramics, the doll head jar, gargoyle art posted on her own website under good will/questionable will and a snazzy comment about an item, come the things that are just crap, broken, clothing that is stained, ripped or thread bare. Plus some items consumers have been warned against buying second hand, used for health reasons; top among them, mattresses and cloth furniture. The former can harbor everything from high levels of allergens to urine, blood, fecal matter even bed bugs; further mattress refurbishing facilities have been known to take filler materials saturated in any of the above simply put new covering over it and sell it to the unsuspecting customer. Cloth chairs and couches hold the same risk in addition to being hard to sit on owing to warn out springs and have a tendency to smell. After that there are just some categories of goods you can’t wear out, make do and do not lend themselves to refurbishing; everything from used cars to electronics come with the caution people got rid of it for a reason. And while there are some protections for used cars, one with a constantly squeaking alternator belt requiring replacement yearly at cost of roughly $150, leaving you stranded with no power in your vehicle if you don’t tend to it continually costs both money and hassle, no matter how cheap the sticker. One with an electrical problem causing the anti-theft alarm to sound randomly in the middle of the night is more than an aggravating nuisance it’s likely to get you cited for noise violations and land you in court; a vehicle with electrical or electronic brain problems causing battery rundown, stalling in the streets exc. isn’t the reliable transportation you need and presents a safety hazard. However, electronics is the biggest example of this truth; an average laptop will last you about 5 years. Anything over that elapsed time and your operating system is so out of date you lose compatibility with other things on the market like web browsers which will no longer load the newest version diminishing, possibly halting, your web experience altogether. Refurbishing would be the next best thing right, not necessarily; you honestly don’t want the legal trouble that can suddenly be heaped upon you inheriting someone else’s child pornography. Leaving off worst case scenarios, traded in computers could have viruses, mother board issues, worn out internal hardware any number of things that end up adding to the cost and consternation surrounding that frugal PC.             

Next not everyone can be DIY kings and queens; whether you mean to redecorate or remodel, pay less for a home so you can fix it up over time; for some DIY is a waste of money because all they end up doing is making a mess, if that entails putting together a bookcase, creating a new lampshade, sanding furniture, repainting a chair, it’s better left to the professionals than to certain individuals. Living in an urban area can seriously curb your ability to paint this, varnish that owning to little or no yard/outdoor space; furnishings that won’t fit on the fire escape, chances you’ll annoy your neighbors making them always inhale the smell of paint, shellac and so forth. Nor can everyone buy a fixer upper, either because they don’t have the plethora of skills it will take to renovate the space to something as basic as inhabitable or instinctively know the lengthy process of obtaining building permits, potential for bug infestations or unseen plumbing, electrical, structural issues costing thousands upon thousands to remedy. Older homes like the ones the Wolk- Stanley family purchased can be difficult to heat, cool no matter how much insulation you put into them, narrower hallways and doorframes make for crowding issues the larger your family happens to be and can come back to bite you in your latter years when walkers, wheelchairs and scooters can’t maneuver in said spaces, your bathroom becomes a place likely to cause falls and hip replacements. Others would question what the Wolk- Stanley family have done in raising their children in a constant DIY zone, waiting and waiting and waiting for the right thing to turn up at thrift store X before getting a coffee table, desk, bookcase. You can’t keep possessions, little or a lot, organized if you lack the shelving, storage containers to do so thus creating the stress this strategy is touted to lessen or avoid. This is particularly important when you consider persons just starting out who need everything; yes a thrift store is a great place to look, to start but some things you need now when dealing with the above situation. Furniture is also usually a 10 to 20 year investment and people who like new looks every few years go the used route anyway. Similarly repair and replacement are less and less possible these days; going beyond persons not knowing how to darn socks, sew on a button, who don’t own, forget know how to operate an iron or sewing machine, they no longer make replacement parts for microwaves, TV repair is limited to the new, digital models roughly 2007 and beyond, most individuals don’t know how to repair their coffee pot, never mind don’t want to. The last thing most wives want is anyone fueling their husband’s ideas everything can be fixed with duck tape, crazy glue.

Functionality flaws exist in the smaller things people are advised to do, be it by experts or die hard environmentalists, the less makes you happier believers too; aside from the pure fact most people work 40 hours a week and must economize their time, would rather spend time relaxing or being with family than hunting thrift stores, doing DIY projects, are having trouble paying the mortgage due to a loss of job, paying their rent because of same or the fact they work multiple minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, a hard question needing to be asked about these measures is are they really helping the environment, are they really helping make people appreciate what they have, causing you to raise better kids, making you happier or are they just another obsession, in more cases than not, doing more harm than good? There is a significantly higher chance you are in fact increasing your carbon foot print continually going to the thrift store, dollar store, going to battery haven, refilling printer cartridges, disposing of paint cans and computer parts. For people who can’t afford a vehicle or who have disabilities that pretty much limit them to public/specialized transportation and likely a fixed income of social security, they do not have the cash to take the bus all over the place to find things they need in second hand shops vs. a superstore where you can theoretically get everything you need in a single location. It makes no sense for you to go to the library and check out a book for 3 weeks paying $4 round trip on public transportation, pay another $4 to return it, if you already know it’s something you will like and will want to read several times, i.e. the latest installment of a book series, when you can get it in paperback for about the same price. A cost factor that increases should you not finish it can’t renew it because it is a popular title also reserved by others. The non-consumer advocate also boasts having removed all one time use products from her home replacing paper towels, Kleenex with old rags, eliminating disposable feminine hygiene products replacing them with a menstrual cup; now from all indications she genuinely prefers this method over traditional products meaning it was not gotten solely to fit her green lifestyle, her children are well beyond diapers, but some things are made disposable for a reason. Again we come back to the issue of sanitary; rags and sponges are magnets for germs never mind the mess associated with cleaning spills with a rag that now has to be spread somewhere to dry rather than throwing that paper towel in the trash, never mind the gross factor of keeping and laundering those hankies, cloth diapers, not if you ever want dad to change it; speaking of which, you may save the environment in one aspect but aid in its destruction in another by wasting more water and energy doing the extra laundry associated with your choice. Not all of us have neighbors and a neighborhood to hold swap parties for items we would like to have or try out such as video games possibly due to the age range of children around you, your average person does not want to be someone always asking to borrow items or constantly being asked to lend items period; one of non-consumer tip of consider swapping clothes with friends if you are a fashionista doesn’t work if you are totally a different size. Our non-consumer advocate seems to be on a diet crusade as well as a food packaging elimination crusade but in her zero waste week challenge along with the routine, for her, things she does to avoid processed foods and thus food packaging this family eats things that would have my friends vegetable crazy kids throwing it on the floor or the walls.  

Personally I, and most people shopping Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and Ikea, buy my things retail for several solid reasons, aside from the things warned to be unsafe and unsanitary bought otherwise, not the least on the minds of the buying public is it can be cheaper than the local bookstore, clothing shop precisely because they are a small business and have to make payroll and other expenses based on what they sell. Superstore, box store wins out over thrift store options based on we want the things we buy to age well; a drawback of thrift store pajamas is it doesn’t matter that you paid less for them if in a dozen wears they are shredded. The problem, even with strong fabrics like denim, if they are already raggedy when you get them, they won’t last; you might as well fork over the $20 for a pair at Wal-Mart, Target or the slightly higher JC Penny. It doesn’t matter what a discount we got on that video game, DVD if we play it twice and it skips, no longer functions. Buying electronics retail from a store equivalent to Best Buy gives something else we take for granted; perhaps non-consumer folks assume the “drastically” reduced price compensates for, a standard warranty, standard return policies coupled with protection agreements guaranteeing, among other things, a clear way to get it serviced should it need repair. Relatedly Target Wal-Mart and Costco is not Nordstrom’s, The Gap, Banana Republic, Foot Locker stores charging gigantic prices for a logo on merchandise; they are places designed for the average person, family to do their shopping at reasonable prices. The bottom line is people buy $50 jeans and $150 shoes because they can, and the ones who can’t, don’t. Individuals, families may prefer above listed cheap retail places, those like them because they consistently carry the sizes you need vs. the guess work on thrift store racks. Variety can often be a driving factor too; it does no good that the dollar store has oven mitts, pot holders, knick knacks if none of it goes with the décor you already have, if you have to be concerned about lead paint in the cheap toys and then there is the list of things you should never buy from the dollar store owing to inferior manufacturing causing a danger to you and yours. Christmas lights for instance made in China or a country you can’t pronounce can lead to electrical fires. Dollar stores are also more frequently out of items than box stores, you encounter less consistency of will they have it when I need it. To be addressed as well is Wolk- Stanley’s false assertion going to Target, Ikea and the like equals instant gratification; anyone who routinely shops these stores knows merchandise can disappear from week to week, stores stop selling item X after store remodels, organizations. Regular shoppers have developed the grab it while they have it habit, because it won’t be there otherwise or the price will have increased. I choose on a personal level to not use thrift stores and buy retail at the places Wolk Stanley bashes because I can afford to and so that people who have to can meet their needs in thrift stores; like extreme couponing I find pushing her lifestyle to this extreme compulsive and somehow cheating the system to make, keep a buck.

Mindset too becomes a huge issue; top on that list why would you live this way if you don’t have to? Number two, it’s one thing to do this for yourself, your husband, forcing your children to live like that as a matter of preference, because it makes you happier takes it to a whole new level in a bad way.  Ms. Wolk- Stanley openly states she found more time to spend with her family when she de-cluttered her home and was able to keep it cleaner in less time as a result; this begs the question was it a case of too much stuff or poor organization? She could also achieve the same goal by giving her children chores that teach responsibility as well as how to do things they will have to do later in life. She recounts her own childhood of only having one pair of school shoes bought at JC Penny and coats from rummage sales but their family traveling to Europe; she seems to have followed this example allowing her sons to travel to Japan several times. She recounts a major oops in her money saving, environmental quest revolving around a birthday gift for her oldest son, a computer program; they were apparently out of the $350 Mac version so she told her 17 year old about the gift and went on with life. Months later she finally went back after being badgered by her son relentlessly for wanting the gift he was told would be his, it had gone up $100, focusing on the added money spent and a warning against procrastination; in another instance she was executing a reorganization of the same son’s room and going through books and items from his childhood calling him up to approve the choices, give him a say in what was happening so he wouldn’t become a hoarder later in life, said in a joking tone of course. All of which spells big red flag to any psychologists reading that except to say nothing of any parent who’s dealt with kids younger than her own. A woman surviving on welfare then the good will of family members still had the good sense to know her children needed two pairs of functional shoes at a time; she did the same thing with coats making sure she had two winter coats, fall jackets and windbreakers for each child. If Wolk Stanley’s parents could afford shoes at JC Penny then why not coats too? Psychologically Wolk Stanley seems to have her own issues and is quickly passing them on to her kids, because not only does always renting video games, movies, books from the library give them a sense that nothing is ever theirs; they are old enough to know by now they don’t live this way because they are poor but because mom insists on it. Her kids may be ok with it because it’s only been 6 years, however, a child raised that way all their life is going to look around and wonder why can’t I have anything new, is going to become very jealous and resent not being able to have things from Wal-Mart and Target which is just wrong when it is not a necessity. Both of which could lead to hoarding, debt problems and creating people who need name brand things because they could never have anything of perceived value growing up. 

She obviously hasn’t pondered the question of what material things complete the circle of communicating love and care, because gifts given on special occasions do complete a circle, along with the non-tangible, non-material things parents give attention, boundaries and values; maybe traveling isn’t a big thing, maybe the $50 jeans send a message you understand your child, the thing with buying stuffed animals, bionicles, Lego is feeding your child’s interests, exposing them to new things, letting them become who they are. Yet when your response to baby shower requests for items prior to birth of second child is I don’t know, I really don’t need anything, you know you have a problem, chiefly because you haven’t thought of what always getting their brother’s hand me downs and left overs will do to them; when your responses to people asking at Christmas what do you want, what do the kids want and your statement is I don’t like this make an order Christmas giving/shopping, you have fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of their asking not to mention been incredibly rude owing to your obsession with a lifestyle. People ask because they want to know what you’re hoping from them, trying to configure their budgets, want ideas so they don’t have to wrack their brain over and over or not get you anything. The problem with the birthday gift for her son is the potential negative message it sent, that you cared more about preserving the lifestyle than you do about my birthday; what you couldn’t plan ahead so I could have my gift on my birthday? Often things bought represent more than just an episode of retail therapy, the need to fill your life, your space with more stuff, trying to compensate for a lack of fulfillment in other areas of life, but are symbols of having been successful hints the expensive car simultaneously representing one hobby or interest held by a person. Some want that nice car, others want that monster flat screen, still more it’s home décor, some are video game aficionados, DVD enthusiasts, book lovers, nerds who like action figures, Star Trek bobble heads. Grabbing that morning latte isn’t always about the latte it’s the people you interact with while getting it, the ease and comfort level one of the rewards for working 40 hours a week at a job.         

At the same time most consumers are not to be taken wrong there are places where invoking the non-consumer lifestyle can be both beneficial to what you want and go lighter on your wallet while you’re at it. Adjusting your budget and paying attention to where you put your money can give you more money to put on priorities. Children’s clothes, shoes are great to buy used because they have been worn usually no more than a dozen times before they were outgrown translating into plenty of wear left for another child; lend and learn and toy rental places can be perfect for younger children who lose interest, change interest in toys quickly as long as you buy the ones of highest interest for birthday or Christmas. Bringing on a solid buying formula for kids, unless it is a special occasion enforce the idea your kids aren’t going to get things unless it is birthday or Christmas; then buy items that line up with both your budget and your values. Renting vs. buying is always a good place to start whether it’s books, DVD’s or video games; outside of books though consider adding on demand to your existing cable service, Netflix to get recent titles sooner, a game rental website that will have the latest games available quickly; buy only the ones you will watch, play or read regularly. Changing cellphone plans, taking advantage of full discounts, using a Track Phone, Go phone, Straight Talk pay as you go or flat fee, no contract phone adds up to real savings, bundling or un-bundling your cable phone and internet services. You can still buy retail cheaply first by sticking to Target, Wal-Mart exc., by looking at clearance racks, bargain bins, dollar offers, that way you get the quality found in above store vs. exclusively dollar stores without paying more. Knowing when is the best time to buy seasonal items can save you money and give you clothes and other needs without the thrift store reek; buying clothing in the off season means getting it at a far lesser price buying summer shorts as they are putting out fall inventory, buying winter things as they make room for summer. Coupled with comparison shopping between stores, between in store and online, knowing when to buy big ticket electronics can ensure you get the best deal for what you purchase. Skills all not learned in the Wolk-Stanley household in favor of learning how and where to get Nike shoes for $6; in other words Katy Wolk Stanley is teaching her sons how to be cheapskates, causing them to never really know what a reasonable price for something is.                      

Lastly in the don’t be so quick to believe the non-consumer nonsense being shoved at you either by the non-consumer advocate or environmental zealots is the bigger picture environmentally, starting with solving our consumption needs is not that simple; there are drawbacks to producing every glass, aluminum, plastic or steel container. Rather than switching to all glass containers and fighting breakage, having a panic attack over the amount of food packaging you use, waste time sorting recycling into paper, plastic, cans excreta, ad infinitum, wouldn’t it be better to have a nationwide recycling program where everyone’s trash was sorted recyclables recycled, batteries, paints and other materials properly disposed of, creating jobs? Better than banning the plastic bag, peddling reusable drink containers that look like the paper ones at Starbucks, lamenting the ocean garbage swaths, A- go clean those up, as it creates jobs, and B take increased measures to make sure all that plastic doesn’t end up in ocean by recycling it via instituting the described national program. Instead of forcing people to think too long and too much about their trash by sounding the alarm about the limited space in landfills, aside from the recycling center sorting recyclables and disposing of high risk disposables, coordinating with local good will to keep pianos and toys, pots and pans out of the landfill. Not to mention making it easier for people to dispose of their stuff old freezers, car tires exc. by having local facilities that do nothing but collect said items; you call they pick it up for say a simple $5 fee, keeping waterways all, clean minus volunteer efforts, again creating jobs. Tackling the non-consumer advocate’s perception of the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh solidifying her resolve to buy used clothing; for one, the owner in that country is going to jail for violating their law, endangering works. Two, the other big issue is building codes, something we don’t control for here and yes lets wreck their economy too because we want to boycott cheap clothing. A better way to fight this is to campaign for living wages to every job so people can afford to buy American, not teach people how to scam the economic system. For these reasons the non-consumer advocate gets an F from this amateur consumer advocate.