Life

The American obsession with newness is suffocating us

We are taught that if it ain't broke, buy a new one anyway, and if it is broken, definitely throw it out.

I have this beautiful hand-me-down jacket from the early eighties that my mother got when she went to Argentina to cover a story for NBC. It’s an incredible soft brown suede jacket like none I’ve ever seen, but the zipper is broken and one of the sleeves is ripped along the seam. It’s been broken and ripped for five years now and I haven’t gotten it fixed. I certainly don’t know how to fix it myself. Honestly, I’ve considered just giving it away instead of going through the hassle of schleping it to a tailor and having it repaired.

What an awful instinct. I would rather throw away a gorgeous one-of-a-kind jacket that fits me perfectly, because it’s in bad shape, than take it to get repaired.

But this reaction to a defective item is all too common today. And, as a child of modern American culture, it’s not surprising that I would rather just chuck and replace than take the time to care for a possession.

We, in America, have created and bought into a throw-away culture. Instead of problem-shooting or repairing long-lasting items, we discard them and purchase new ones. This generation, as hard-working, flexible, and adaptive as we have become, has a very different relationship with things than our parents and grandparents did.

I grew up with antiques in my home and the expectation that a each generation would also pass on their favored and-prized possessions on to their own children and grandchildren. Things were acquired with thought and care, for the most part. When appliances broke or clothes tore or became stained, they were repaired and cleaned, not thrown away and replaced. My grandmother’s silk dresses that she gave to me for fancy occasions still hold together, but that dress I bought for $30 recently is already unraveling in two places and is out of fashion, pushed to the back of the closet with other things I bought out of boredom or vague intrigue. Marketing is now an enormous industry that tells us we need to spend our money as frequently as possible on affordable things with very short shelf lives.

Looking around my house, I started to ask myself, “Have I purchased anything yet in my home that I would want my child to have or my nieces or nephews to inherit?” I’m in my late twenties and the answer is a resounding no. I have some lovely furniture from my parents and in-laws, and my husband refinished some second-hand furniture, but I’m not sure I have actually bought anything I would be proud to pass on to another and be confident that the value was more than purely sentimental.

I regret this truth. Our fast fashion world and our culture of rapidly cycling trends makes it easy and desirable to rid our homes of the old and bring in the new. We are called consumers now, because that’s what we do continually: consume. We chew things up and spit them out, because we can. And because we’re told to.

Not only are we told to buy more and more often, we are also more able to today than ever before. Or at least we are told that we are. I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve gotten from banks offering me a credit card, and my credit score is far from perfect. If I hadn’t been cautioned about the dangers of credit lines, I would be in some major debt right now. But many Americans fall into the trap of trying to keep up with the trends and continually purchase, throwing away the old and buying new things that will quickly lose their value, both to us and to the economy.

What if you committed to avoiding the fast fashion industry? What if you refrained from impulse, trend-based purchases and decided to only buy quality products every now and then? How about learning to fix something instead of chucking it, or at least taking it to a professional who can?

I’ve made a commitment to do exactly this, and I’m already finding myself creating a personal style that is far more reflective of my priorities than what I was finding at fast fashion outlets. By choosing to care for the quality items I already own and refraining from buying the cute and trendy things that will look out of style in a few months, I will not only invest in more timeless items, but can also do my wallet a big favor. I think of it as asset investment. By reflecting on the art, accessories, and furniture from my grandmothers and how much I still value them today, I can gauge how much I will value that table or that bracelet in twenty or forty years. Yes, I have to take the time to bring that jacket to the tailor and yes, I have to buy some silver polish and other product care items, but I am choosing not to conform to the hottest fleeting style, no matter how much it’s being pitched to me left and right. Plus, you can learn to improve or fix anything on YouTube these days, right?