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Musing on consuming

By Brian Holden - posted Friday, 2 July 2010

I will call the child “Liz”. There were so many brightly coloured boxes on the loungeroom floor on Christmas morning, that Liz felt overwhelmed. Amongst all of this was a doll’s house bigger than the one she received the previous Christmas and which, a month ago, had to be put out into a council collection as it had been left out in the rain one night. That had all been forgotten as Liz’s life moved forward into new possessions.

Maybe a third of what is there on the floor will be in a landfill by next Christmas - and another third by the following Christmas. At the expense of quality, a high proportion of the production costs goes into attractive packaging. But, that is only part of the reason for the early trip to the tip. The careless treatment of the toys is the other part. When we can afford a replacement, or don’t need it in the first place, then it is “easy come, easy go”.

Relatives and friends shower children with gifts out of a fear that those children will feel deprived when other children they know are showered with gifts - and they are not. I suspect that the number of gifts our children receive may be having an undesirable long-term effect on their sense of values.


Children do not appreciate the wrongs of excessive consumption. The great and wonderful global economy has led us by the nose into its trap. If parents must buy the toys, then you as a relative or friend should always give the child a book.

Other ways we have been led into the consumption trap

My dad saved for a year to buy his first power tool. It was a half-inch drill. The brand was Wolf, and stamped on its base was “Made in England”. Those three words informed the owner that this was manufactured equal to the best. This was something which could be passed onto the next generation.

Today an electric drill made in China can be bought for three hours pay of the average worker. I made a comment to the shop assistant in the huge hardware store; “How can this tool be any good”. His reply was; “If it lasts a year, it has paid for itself. If it breaks down before that, we will exchange”. That implies that a series of replacements can break down with me simply exchanging them again and again.

Fierce competition is driving the rush to get the stuff onto shop shelves. The policy is to make enough profit to cover the returns under warranty. The final quality control used to be at the factory. Now it is in the home. The time wasted in exchanging dud products and the frustration does not appear on the balance sheets. The manufacturer also makes an allowance in his statistics for the many customers who will not bother to return the item, but simply toss it out. This is what the free-marketers define as “healthy competition”.

I will go back over six decades. My local shopping centre had a radio repair shop. No radio was ever thrown away, and their repair was satisfying hands-on work for a man with basic schooling. Near the radio shop was the haberdashery to supply materials for the homemaker to knit and stitch the family’s garments. In a back street was a joinery. That was where you took broken furniture for repair. The workshop provided men with skilled and interesting work. Every suburb had similar shops - and almost all have gone.

The loss of craft-type skills in our society has to be a serious retrograde step. We send video-audio, computers and their peripherals, domestic appliances, garments, furniture, toys and many other types of manufactured goods into landfill. An appliance or piece of furniture needs only to look outdated to be condemned to landfill.


I was browsing in a bike shop and casually asked the shopkeeper if there was anything in that shop made in Australia. His reply was that there was not even a nut and washer. The loss of manufacturing know-how in our society has to be another retrograde step. It could even be dangerous.

It takes strength to resist buying cheap. I am on the weak side. In a men’s shop I bought five casual shirts at $12 each which, again, were made in China. At that price, stitching a tear or scrubbing out a paint stain would probably not be worth the effort. I could throw it away as there is a replacement already waiting in my wardrobe.

Those who pay the real price for a shirt and a doll’s house

From my TV-delivered education I learned that in 2008, exceptionally heavy snowfalls in China closed down the railways during the Lunar New Year. Workers in the garment factory who were from the country could not take their annual five days leave back home, but spent that time confined to the factory’s dormitory. Parents who only see their children once a year, now had to miss that year. That’s a little of the heartache behind $12 shirts.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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