Monday, March 9, 2009

Using What You Have

There was an article yesterday in the New York Times called "Generation OMG" about young people experiencing today's recession, comparing them to kids in 1951 who were then compared with kids who lived through the Great Depression.

I tend to be wary of making too much of theoretical distinctions among Generations Silent, Boomer, X, Y, and OMG (great name for it) but thought this was a very interesting topic nonetheless. These observations, by Robert S. McElvaine, a professor at Millsaps College (who has written several histories of the Depression) seem relevant to any comparison of kids today with those of the 30s:

The difference now, Professor McElvaine said, is that the buy-it-on-credit, how-many-colors-can-I-get-it-in consumer culture runs far deeper, including in the young.

“Our definition of cutting back is not nearly what it was for people in the ’30s,” he said. “Younger people have been targeted at least since the baby-boom generation was young in the 1950s to get them into the whole consumption-oriented way of life. It may take a little longer because we’re so infinitely removed from those waste not, want not values — we’ve never really practiced them.”

I know that part of the issue now is that boomers like me have taken such pleasure in buying stuff for our kids that maybe they wouldn't have even wanted for themselves. We have a surfeit of material possessions, and are trying to convince the kids – and ourselves – to use up what we have. Can we retool and update the practice of thrift?

One thing ingenious people do is create something new while using the fewest possible resources. They make the most of what they have: materials, talents, relationships, memories. It's interesting to see things made by people adept at retooling and reusing objects, stuff that might otherwise be rejected. It becomes a game to use what you have, making the most of both material and artistic or intellectual gifts.

I remember being intrigued by my grandmother's story of making new winter coats for her daughters out of one with worn cuffs and seams that had been her husband's. She talked about this in a lighthearted tone, with no sense of deprivation – as if it had been a challenging puzzle she took pride in completing.

Here is a pillow made by the Etsy mom of Lori Looms, from the jeans once worn by her toddler Savannah: a great example of retooling, of using what you have. It's "upcycled," not recycled, and costs $16.

There was another piece in the NYT yesterday called "Cushioning the Blow: What a $30 throw pillow taught me about economic collapse." The writer, Marc Fitten, describes why he decides not to buy a pillow (40% off!) at a going-out-of-business-sale at Expo Design Center in Atlanta.

One result of the economic downturn is that I would now always choose to either make my own pillow, or buy one from an artist at Etsy (or elsewhere) rather than ever seek one out on sale at a department store. There is added value in knowing that a purchase helps support a specific person who is spending as much time as possible with her artwork and her kid, coming up with an ingenious way to upcycle a pair of toddler jeans.


Patricia Hecker said...

Love it, great entry!
I hope this trend follows and the value of handmade vs. store/import surfaces and takes hold!

Most of my TattooDream boxes are made with wood that previously would have been waste. The rest are upcycled cigar boxes gifted new life.


elena said...

Thanks for visiting, Patricia...and for the very helpful Etsy workshop at the Waldron Arts Center. It was a pleasure to see your upcycled, evocative boxes, too.