Inspired by a recent poster’s suggestion that the everyday phrase ‘collect them all,’ “gave them the shivers,” I explore these three words which embody the thoughtlessly-excessive mindset cultivated by brands and perpetuated by the folk that buy them.
Following the Industrial Revolution, costs of production fell with more efficient methods of manufacture, and the advent of cheaper, lower-skilled labour. By the time of the Great Depression, over-supply had been a significant problem facing society and the birth of the throwaway age was born. To use that produced, we would have seasons of fashion, such that even if the car or skirt still performed its function, it would be discarded as owners wanted something newer. Keeping up with the Joneses in full swing, product quality began to dip to encourage rapid consumption and replacement.
Collect them all is the legacy of this movement. Rolling off the tongue easily, accompanied (in my head at least) by Tony the Tiger’s enthusiastic tones, it enters through the back door of the mind – without the slower-thinking frontal lobe having the opportunity to assess the toxic consequences its acceptance entails.
From attempting (and never quite managing) to collect them all in my younger days, I’m attuned to the onerous obligation undertaken by the would-be collector. How many times have I wasted money and attentional energy in buying a packet of stickers or box of cereal in the aim of getting something new? Not too many more than the number of times I felt a crushing disappointment (remember, I was young!) in unpacking a(nother) duplicate. At what point do you realise the expenditure of additional resources is an exercise in futility?
Often when people find themselves in debt – and I’ve been there, I assure you – it is the little day to day purchases that take their toll. Tiny, repeated, bad habits of over-expenditure and unthinking consumption, day in, day out, produce mountains over time. We can shift them, but it is never easy.
Advertising’s tripartite phrase is the industrial capitalist’s utopia, encouraging us to buy things we don’t need, things we probably already have – under the illusion that we’ll use them all up and it will be okay. It makes sense; there’s no additional cost, right? In reality, our minds are so programmed to chase materialist novelty that a new thing comes along, persuading us to part with our hard-earned cash and relegating our part collections to needle-in-a-haystack-flea-market-tat, if not the bin, let alone a stressful I’m-going-to-complete-that-one-day-display positioned alongside all the others. We end up with more than we can use, adding to a culture of excess, and, doubtless where novelties from food purchases arise, the obesity problem.
The choices thus far have been shown to affect us as purchasers, and us alone. There is a wider impact, that on the environment. 99% of the things we use involve the production of waste: effluent from factories, harmful pesticides and landfill, in varying ratios. As an advocate for minimising waste responsibly, the amount of resources caught up in frivolous, unnecessary purchases is scarcely imaginable. And even if it is recyclable, because of the manufacturing waste and the transportation pollution, recycling will never be better than not using resources in meaningless ways in the first place.
The movement is long underway – if you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of it – to extract maximum value from our resources, to determine expenditures which will maximise joy, purpose, or both. Increasingly these arrive in the form of experiences. It is my hope that over time ideas such as ‘collect them all’ will be relegated to the scrap yard, first as unnecessary, and, finally in their resting place as parodies of an archaic system in which consumption appeared compulsory.