Opinion: Rejecting Consumerism With Stuffed Animal Sustainability

The author, Alma sophomore Bonnie Lord, fixes the arm of her favorite stuffed animal, Hobbes. Though Hobbes is well-worn, Lord takes better care of him than most other belongings (Photo illustration by Bonnie Lord).

Think of your most treasured childhood stuffed animal. Maybe a thinning sock monkey, a lumpy teddy bear or a misshapen raccoon – faded, dusty or even missing pieces.  Handmade, store-bought or passed down, they are our first friend – and one of the first things we own.

10 years ago on Valentine’s Day, my mom gave me my favorite stuffed animal. Hobbes is a cotton stuffed tiger, a perfect replica of the one from my favorite comics at the time, “Calvin and Hobbes.” 

He looks a little different today than he did when I was in fourth grade. I’ve sewn his arm back on, fixed several tiny holes around his seams and washed him several times. My mom would probably call him “well-loved.” And I whole-heartedly agree. 

But, Hobbes is much more than a symbol of my mother’s love – he is a symbol of sustainability.

What if we were to treat everything we own with the love and care we afford our stuffed animals? If we acted as if every piece of clothing, jewelry, book, tool, appliance or any other material object was a meaningful gift – irreplaceable and priceless?

The short answer? Our belongings would last longer, and we could potentially cut down on wasting durable goods. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines durable goods as “products with a lifetime of three years or more, although there are some exceptions.” 

Between 2016-2018, the EPA found that 37 million tons of durable goods in the US were landfilled – a number I find difficult to even comprehend. More sustainable use would put more distance between our objects and the landfill, and less strain on our pockets.

The long answer? It’s a lot more complicated than simply working with what we’ve got. 

The manufacturers of our goods don’t benefit from sustainability; rather, they benefit from our continuous and – arguably – unnecessary consumption of material goods. Thus, planned obsolescence – the idea that manufacturers purposefully limit the lifespans of their products – keeps us coming back for more. 

Whether it be by durability or social influence, we are forced to replace our goods before we should need to. 

If you have the money to buy something durable the first time, it will last you longer, waste less, and eventually save you money – but without that privilege, you’re stuck with what you can afford: the cheapest option, the one you will need to replace sooner and more often, costing you more over time. This is the framework of Sam Vimes’ “Boots Theory.”

Even worse, when we replace our slowing, unfashionable technology with a new device, we buy into the colonial tech supply chain sustaining genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So, armed with a distaste for capitalism and our favorite stuffed friend, how do we fight planned obsolescence?

As Pete Seeger said in his 2008 song, “If it can’t be reduced/ reused, repaired/ rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted/ then it should be/ restricted, redesigned/ or removed from production.”

Support local repair shops, take advantage of warranties, build the skills to make what you need, buy things that are handmade or used, hand things down and resist the urge to go “haul” things from Target that you already have. 

Rejecting consumerism is more than just appreciating what you have – it’s knowing when to stop. In a society that tells us that consumerism is therapy, a love language and a personality trait, overconsumption is hard to avoid.

If you’re like me, appreciating what you have can turn into feeling guilty for it. I have more stuffed animals than just Hobbes – I have shelves full at home. A few years ago, struck by a wave of consumerist shame, I found myself unceremoniously donating or throwing several of them away.

My life is, admittedly, less cluttered now. But they were my friends, gifts from loved ones, memories, companions. I regret getting rid of them. The balance between adding and subtracting is difficult – and I’m no expert.

But what I’ve found, as with any kind of lifestyle change, is that shame, guilt and rejection are not the tools of change we think they are. You can’t break yourself into sustainability – you have to love yourself into it. 

I know, that sounds pretty corny; and with everything we’ve talked about, it feels like it’s out of our hands. But if we focus our effort into appreciating and using what we have, rather than shaming ourselves for it, sustainability becomes less like a painful diet and more like an act of self-care. 

So hug your stuffed animals – patch them up, wash them carefully, take them with you to college as a 20 year old adult – no shame. 

I know that if I can help it, Hobbes will stay with me for the rest of my life, and hopefully, having learned a few lessons from him, I can make it so that consumerism does not.

About Bonnie Lord 40 Articles
Bonnie Lord is a sophomore from Alma, Michigan and is an environmental science major at Albion College. She investigates questions of infrastructure, water quality and the changing relationship the community of Albion navigates with the environment. She enjoys bird watching, reading, and dismantling the patriarchy. Contact Bonnie via email at BFL10@albion.edu

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