I remember the back to school feeling SO well. I actually was a huge geek and loved school, so I never had that sense of dread some people talk about. I also love autumn and the air becoming nice and crisp and cool again (I am not a fan of heatwaves – so, y’know, let’s try and fix climate change, people). Even in the *many* years since leaving education, I get a bit of a “turning over a new leaf” feeling at the beginning of the new academic year, and September resolutions have been made (and broken) over several years.
Anyway… I’m basically reminiscing here about stationery and how much I love it (thanks to my old friend @momorgan for pointing out my mortifying series of spelling mistakes in this post, now edited). The new school year was ALL about stationery. We got new exercise books for each subject at school, even if last year’s weren’t full. I always used to have a new pencil case, and sometimes a new fountain pen. Also often a new rucksack at the start of each school year – mainly because the previous year’s one had been poor quality and the strap had broken under the groaning weight of library books, cookery ingredients and maths homework.
But I’ve still got my Miffy pencil case from 1993. Which makes me think… I probably didn’t need a new one every year, did I? But the consumer machine teaches us that we Need All The New Stuff Every Year. The kids deserve a treat, their friends will all have new stuff, they don’t like Paw Patrol anymore. And the Back to School concept can also be used to sell stuff to adults – there’s a whole marketing strategy here. Buy a gym membership or get a new hairdo to celebrate the kids having gone back to school, buy a new laptop to get that “shiny pencil case feeling”, even though you’re 48 and you don’t like Paw Patrol either.
I keep coming back, over and over again, to the realisation that one of the only ways to turn the tide on climate change and plastic pollution is to stop buying stuff, to stop generating demand for the production of new things and the carbon footprint generated by their manufacture, and the pollution caused by their eventual disposal. So I have launched, with a new local friend of mine, a South East London branch of the Buy Nothing Project (it’s originally an American concept – we do not use their acronym!) Have a read – it’s an interesting concept – a hyper-local gift economy enabling people to give, share and ask for things they need, where members of the community can get to know each other and commit “myriad random acts of kindness”. Sounds great, yes? It is. It’s also a bit of a mind shift for people used to a “first come first served” model like that used in Freecycle and most Facebook selling groups. We are building momentum though and it’s amazing seeing gifts being given, needs being met and friendships developing.
We’ve done a “Back to school” event over the weekend and seen people sharing uniform, stationery, rucksacks and of course pencil cases. All of this is preventing us from having to buy new, reducing our environmental impact and building relationships in our community.
So… to finish off. I’m feeling bloody depressed about Brexit right now, and the state of democracy in this country – it feels like all I see is division everywhere. I’m oscillating from feeling powerless and trying not to think about it, to wanting to go and chain myself to something and finding ways to rage against the machine. But actually the EU is less important than planet as a whole, and we mustn’t lose sight of that. And I think there are ways we can radically shift our mindset about consumption and possessions, while also increasing social cohesion and a sense of belonging in our communities, which we clearly sorely need at the moment.
If you are interested in setting up a Buy Nothing group, give me a shout and I will send you the info. At the very least, check out Freecyle and second hand sites before you hit the shops, next time you need to buy something. Even a pencil case. I’m not giving you my Miffy one though.