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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Forests of money

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When I was a little girl, my parents liked to remind me that money doesn’t grow on trees. You can’t pluck dollar bills from tree branches. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that money doesn’t grow on trees; it is trees. There are forests of money, but they aren’t an infinite resource. For some reason, we still choose to cut them down and take and take and take from them. Just like children, we think they’ll never run out. If we want our children to walk amongst the trees, we can’t continue to see them as a commodity.

  We buy so much stuff. We buy things because they’re on sale and just too good of a deal to pass up. We buy things because we want to keep up with trends and want a distraction from life. We buy just for the sake of buying, and it ends up in piles under beds and in boxes inside of closets. We forget about these piles, and the cycle of consumption continues. I grew up in a house where shopping wasn’t considered a hobby. Sure, my mom and I would go school shopping and to after Christmas sales, but these were special occasions. I had cute clothes, but I wore them until they were small or stained. I wore my jeans until they ripped. It was just how I was raised. My parents took my brother and I to Costa Rica instead of Disneyland, and roadtripping to National Parks and hiking were many of our family vacations. My dad hates buying clothes and has the same worn-out, fifteen-year-old Birkenstocks that he wears everywhere. It took my mom ten years to get rid of her ancient sweater collection.

However, there were times growing up that I wished my parents were more into buying stuff. As stupid as this sounds now, as a teenager I sometimes felt out of place among my peers, who bought clothing by season, and not by year. I would occasionally secretly throw out clothing that definitely was still wearable, something that now makes me cringe. I still catch myself doing this sometimes, and try my best to stop the instinct that, as in the words of Brave New World, “Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.” In a culture of consumerism, I was influenced by the advertisements smiling on TV, even though I pretended I wasn’t. Heck, I still am.

It wasn’t until I got older that I realized my parents were instilling in me a value for experiences and memories, not stuff. They wanted me to realize that stuff doesn’t grow on trees and magically end up at a store; there is a supply chain that touches everyone’s lives in each piece of clothing that is carefully displayed at store windows. There are people who spend their lives growing and harvesting the sugar that ends up in little paper packets at coffee shops. There are people who spend their lives stuck in dirty, dangerous factories working for a dollar a day, who don’t have any better options. Even though these situations don’t directly affect most Americans, we will face the consequences before too long. Whether it be the flooding of coastal areas, trash covering our homes, or us looking up at starless skies, if we do not act now and understand that this system affects us as well, we will pay the price. Even now, the fact that there are people suffering because we want to buy as many fifteen dollar jeans as we want should make us feel angry. We should care about people, even if they aren’t our neighbors.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to be less detrimental to the environment. Now, I want to be clear that I like stuff…I think it’s part of human nature. I like pretty things, and I do get excited when I find the perfect pair of jeans. I do buy things that I don’t need; I bought some earrings today just because I really liked them. I know that capitalism isn’t going away, and that the market system is central to our society. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, because making, selling, and buying things is how society has always functioned and how civilizations have formed throughout history. However, we’ve moved past capitalism. We’ve entered a time of socially-accepted hedonism. No one needs ten pairs of jeans or twenty pairs of shoes, no matter what marketers tell us.

I think the best way to confront this problem is to be conscious of how much we buy and what companies we support. I fully acknowledge that having the time to think this way is incredibly privileged, but that makes it all the more important that I use my access to education on social justice to make ethical decisions. I try to buy things that are local or used, and limit the amount I buy. If I find something that is more expensive, I buy it with the mindset that I will keep it for more than a few years. Instead of throwing out tons of clothes that are no longer “fashionable,” I buy pieces that will never go out of style. Not paying attention to trends not only makes it easier to buy less, but it’s also fun and confidence building finding your own personal style. Shopping at thrift shops lets me find unique pieces that big name stores like Target just don’t have. They also often feel like multiple stores in one, where you can buy a peasant skirt and a suit coat at the same time. Rather than compulsively buying, I only buy something when I love it. I own three pairs of jeans I love, not ten…and to be honest, it makes getting dressed in the morning so much easier. I now often set my alarm for fifteen minutes before the start of class. As a college student, this is also a way of saving money. Buying a plain t-shirt for five dollars makes so much more sense than buying it for twenty. Capitalism isn’t going away, but there are ways we can say no to the system and make it change. Sure, it will never be perfect, but as people with the privilege to spend time debating these questions, it’s our responsibility to live out our values.

We try to fill our hearts with stuff, but it never works. That’s why fashion is a billion dollar industry; we buy more to fill the void, but it never sticks. Our bodies reject it. I want future generations to live in a world where they know what clean air tastes like. I want them to walk through a forest and hear the birds sing and smell the falling leaves. I want this forest to be wild and free, not rows upon rows of the same trees, waiting to be cut down and turned into money.


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