This was Margaret’s idea, I just muscled in on it. She was visiting from the USA and happened to mention that she wanted to write a book called “Stuff You Don’t Need” and I jumped at it immediately.
“Oh yes! Like wet wipe warmers you mean?”
“Exactly,” said Margaret. “And bath bombs, and products that “perfume” your vagina.”
“Yessss!” I cried. We ran through a lengthy list of products and gadgets and even medical procedures that we think of as unnecessary, wasteful, and environmentally destructive.
“And what about bloody tumble driers?” I cried.
Margaret said “Ah,” and looked a bit doubtful. Then she said she got quite a bit of use out of her tumble drier, mainly because she has a lot of visitors.
I was slightly shocked. Of the two of us, Margaret has always been the greater eco-warrior. Tumble driers are energy users on a grand scale, aren’t they? At least, I think… More research needed, Keane! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The subtlety of advertising
Steve Jobs, the legendary CEO of Apple Corp., didn’t hold with asking the public what they wanted. He held that the public don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Did we know we needed an iPhone? No, we didn’t, because we didn’t know what an iPhone might be. And can we live without ours now? I rest my case, Your Honour.
Big corporations know this. They’ve foisted product after product on a gullible public which that same public now thinks it can’t do without. Big corporations learned from and built on the work of a genius called Edward Bernays who happened to be Freud’s nephew.
Briefly, Bernays was a journalist who worked for the US Government in the field of propaganda during WW1 and just couldn’t stop when the war ended He is credited with inventing PR. In fact, he coined the phrase “Public Relations” to disguise the fact that it was actually propaganda.
His great achievement (if you can call it that) was to understand that it is possible to “control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it.” In other words, he showed that is possible to manipulate people and change their habits by appealing to the unconscious.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”
Scary. We are constantly at the mercy of marketing manipulation. You really have to be vigilant to block the constant barrage of suggestion, nonsense, advertising and lazy journalism that recycles corporate PR and disguises it as news or even fact. It besieges us daily and persuades us to empty our wallets in pursuit of a cleaner, fuller, happier, more hygienic life. But oh my God, some of the stuff we are persuaded to buy is RUBBISH! And that’s where we come in.
More about us
This blog is a conversation between two very old friends with strong ideas. We don’t always agree and we’ll tell you when we don’t. We live in very different climates so our needs and habits are to an extent dictated by that – Margaret is in warm Palo Alto, just south of San Francisco, and I am in chilly, always windy Oxfordshire. This book will reflect that.
Somewhere along the way, it got re-named. “Stuff You Don’t Need” didn’t have quite the damning quality of “Shit You Don’t Need”. That could be down to either of us – we grew up in Portsmouth and were exposed to the language of sailors from early childhood. And we all have “stuff” we don’t need – a tea set that belonged to Granny, a chipped vase from that holiday in Spain, a brand new sweater that just called out to you from the shop window – and we’re entitled to keep it if we want it. No hair shirts here.
We are, however, going to try to persuade you not to waste your money on a whole load of unnecessary and often dangerous stuff so you can spend it on wine and theatre and Alton Towers instead: things that make life fun, in other words.
Our credentials are excellent, in case you’re wondering. Margaret is a Physician Associate and knows her stuff. And she has a Master’s Degree in Law. I am vocal and opinionated and flunked out of a music degree 437 years ago. What more do you need?
So if reading our blog persuades you never to buy a vaginal spray or a foot spa again, our time will be well spent.
Why bother with this? Surely everyone, by now, has had the email informing them that climate change is threatening to kill all of us. The dangerous concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is higher than at any point in 800,000 years, thanks to us humans. Droughts, floods, fires, starvation and thirst, disease and brutal mass migration will affect us all, every single one of us, and all of us simply have to play our part in putting a stop to this madness.
We can do it! But we have to put on the brakes and stop our utterly decadent consumerism. Sadly, it appears we are addicted to buying stuff. It’s thrilling, it’s beautiful, it makes us feel so good. And loved, awwww. Fixing things, re-purposing them, caring for and maintaining things, recycling even – it’s bloody inconvenient. It’s so much easier to throw stuff out and buy something new.
But, really, we are going to have to change. It’s as simple as that.
The Things We Buy
So … shit you don’t need. We wanted to take a look at some of the things we buy (or buy into) without thinking, without questioning whether we need them. It’s a strange phenomenon of our modern society. We have so much stuff and are on a crazy treadmill of just getting more. And then we have multitudinous books telling us how to get rid of our possessions. I’ve read Elaine St James’s books on simplifying your life (baulking at putting memorabilia in a box in the attic and just throwing it out one year later if I couldn’t remember what I’d put in it). I read Marie Kondo’s very odd book on the life changing magic of tidying up (and even tried thanking my socks for their service.)
But then I succumb to advertisements that make me feel like a failure if I don’t flush out my nasal passages or artificially freshen my air or buy doughnuts by the dozen. We splash out on labour-saving programmable devices that turn on the air conditioner or change the channel all the while spending money on activity trackers that tell you if you are living a sedentary or active life (so helpful), or how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, or if you’ve slept well.
Save your cash!
Although ultimately it’s the environment that we must save, this book is also an attempt to point out some ways to stop wasting hard-earned money. All my life I’ve worked with people who struggle to get by financially, and it breaks my heart to see hard-earned money wasted. No one needs bottled water if they live in a municipality that monitors tap water properly. Or cotton buds. Or exfoliants. Or baby walkers. And there are ways to be beach-body-ready without worrisome muscle bulkers like creatine, steroids and diet pills.
The medical profession is to blame almost as much as Madison Avenue and the advertising industry. But it’s not entirely our fault. We aren’t given enough time to talk to you about drying between your toes and only touching your face to pray. We would like you to eat your orange juice (that is not a typo), and put your socks on first to avoid getting jock itch. Yes, it is ok to go out in the rain, and getting wet won’t give you a cold. No, the flu shot doesn’t give you the flu. We perform unnecessary tests out of a misguided and erroneous abundance of caution; we give antibiotics when they are not needed because a patient asks for them and we don’t have the time, patience, or will to discuss reasons not to. Our failure of imagination (and time) stops us from coming up with better ideas for healthy living than saccharine, laxatives, and colonic irrigation.
Some parts of our bodies get just too much attention. We are encouraged to scrape wax out of our ear canals and skin cells off our limbs, squirt liquid into our vaginas, rinse our sinuses, and shoot coffee grounds into our rectums. We will tell you why none of this is a good idea.
I’m a 40-year vegetarian and raised strong, healthy kids without any meat or fish. All the same I will try not to rant about the dire health and environmental perils of producing and eating meat, nor will I accuse those carnivores among you of being climate change deniers! The stuff is, however, shit you don’t need. (Talk to me).
It’s not just about shopping
As we go on, we will cover more shit you don’t need, emotional and philosophical stuff not found in the shopping aisle or the internet. All the times you say to yourself “I don’t need this shit” might include relationship angst, road rage, devastatingly bad electoral choices, and quarrels with our neighbours. There are many things in life we don’t need, in addition to the painful and obvious ones like death and taxes, although nuisances such as nationalism, patriotism, isolationism, and the population explosion might be a bit harder to get rid of. Get this, though, there is a perfectly healthy way not to have menstrual periods every single damn month, ya!
We might even add a section called Shit you DO need, which will include weeds, lube (for everything dearie) and, in my case, almond croissants.
This site would never have got off the ground without the support, encouragement, humour, and strange way with words of Dillie. If it takes off, Dillie, I’ll take the credit for the original idea. You know what I’ll do if it doesn’t.