Sixteen years of Treehouse talk

Sixteen years of Treehouse talk

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It: Between the Bookends

I just finished reading Fashionopolis, by Dana Thomas, a look at the not-so-great history of the fashion industry, its current problems, and some bright lights of both old and new technologies that could make a difference to the future of our planet. In the book, one of the people interviewed referred to production issues as "bookends": that is, the twin problems of where things such as fabrics come from and how they're processed; and where they eventually end up. If you're involved in that industry, or a similar one (as a company owner, as a designer, whatever), you have to address both those questions. Where are your materials coming from? Are they wastefully produced, or sourced in a way that hurts people or the planet? And will they eventually languish in a landfill or pollute the oceans? As consumers, where do we fit into that picture? How responsible are we for keeping things responsible? Should every pair of socks, pack of markers, and jar of coffee inspire another round of shame?

I'm not going to write about clothes this week (stay tuned for that later). But I have one thought that might be useful during a time when a) we might not be buying a lot of new things, for whatever reasons, and b) we might also not be disposing of things quite as fast. I'm not assuming anything: this might not be your experience at all. If your time is very much not your own right now (say if you're trying to work from home and take care of kids or other people at the same time, or if you're working outside the home and still have to juggle things like childcare and laundry amidst other worries), you are now thoroughly sick of hearing how this is the time to be "cozy," clean out your closets, and read all the books you haven't had time for. You might feel like the harassed mother in Ramona and Her Father whose hopes of getting treated to a burger out are suddenly downgraded to what's in the fridge: leftover cauliflower and last weekend's roast. Not much scope for creativity there (although I've always thought she might have been able to make a pretty good soup with the cauliflower). If so, please just work on getting through it, and I hope things go smoother soon. And use whatever tools you can to help: slow cooker or instant pot, grocery deliveries, a special bag of quiet toys for conference calls...

But for some of us, this is a chance to focus not on the bookend questions (though they're important), but on the midlife existence of the stuff we already have.

We might be short on certain supplies. We may not be able to get everything we want, much less to go anywhere we want to get it. We may be using an older thing that we had hoped to replace. However, most of us have. Did you ever do the old two-pennies-for-every-light-bulb fundraiser at church or at school? The point of that wasn't just to raise pennies, but to remind us: by and large, we have. You know the gratitude drill, I don't have to spell it out.

To use Marie Kondo's inner-life-of-things philosophy, this is the time to wake up the lonely, neglected pieces of our material world already in our homes: the things we've already sourced (so that cost has already been paid), and those that, in the dump-it-all-off world that existed even a month ago, might have already been on their way to oblivion. But as my thrift-store-volunteer t-shirt says, you can't throw it away: there is no away. And at this point you can't even take whatever it is to the thrift store: ours, at least, is closed for the duration.

So leave the bookends aside for the time being, and concentrate on what's on the shelf or otherwise already in your life, especially things that could help somebody else. Although I draw the line at virus amigurumi, there is definitely a use in some areas for donations of homemade face masks, if you have a sewing machine, elastic, and suitable fabric. And this should be obvious, but the need for all the other sorts of loving-others crafts and giving hasn't ended: preemies still need hats, kids in crisis still need teddies, people in care homes still need lap robes. In my area, the Mennonite Central Committee Material Resources group packs overseas relief and school kits in home-sewn drawstring bags (instructions are on their website). At this time, they're only working with previously-donated items, but sooner or later they're going to be back in business and needing more. I assume it's the same with the other places that ask for handmade items.

Some people are sending homemade cards and calligraphy by mail. Photographers are taking family pictures from across the street. Any care you can show by mail (when it can get through) is welcome.

And that's as far as I can go, because I don't know what's between your bookends. But whatever you can find: give it a chance.

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