The New Materialism

From time to time I ponder my own dichotomy of being, on the one hand a very unmaterial person and, on the other, a craftsman trying to sell things to other people. Over time I’ve realised that there is a difference between ‘having stuff’ and ‘having too much stuff’ – you’ll have to find your own place where you feel comfortable on that scale.

Steve Tomlin - cherry spoonsWhat kind of stuff you have matters too, how much you value and gain enjoyment from the things you own and how much of it is disposable tat which simply passes through your life without leaving any trace.

At shows I often talk to visitors about the ‘price per pleasure’ principle – a handmade wooden spoon for £35 seems expensive unless you consider that you’ll use it every day. For that first year, the additional sensory enjoyment of using that spoon instead of the mass-produced alternative costs you 9.5p. The spoon will of course last much longer, getting better and better with time and use but that’s all free.

Recently I came across the New Materialism, a movement aiming to create a new relationship with things. There’s an interesting booklet which you can buy or read online for free which discusses in more depth the pleasures of owning, making and mending. Here is their manifesto, which they encourage you to adapt, expand and make your own:

Manifesto for the new materialism

1. Liking ‘stuff’ is okay, healthy even – we can learn to love and find pleasure in the material world

2. Wherever practical and possible develop lasting relationships with things by having and making nothing that is designed to last less than 10 years

3. Get to know things – before you acquire something, find out at least 3 things about it

4. Love stuff – mend, maintain and re-use things until it is no longer possible, then recycle them

5. Get active – only acquire something new if you are also learning a new, useful skill

6. Share – look at all your things, think about what your friends might need or could benefit from, and share at least one thing a week

And an invitation by the authors:

In the run up to Christmas each year a ‘Buy Nothing Day’ is held. We would like to go one step further in reform of the month that has come to be synonymous with the old materialism. We would like to see the four weeks before Christmas become a ‘Make, Mend and Share Month.’ If this happens, we think there is a strong chance that we might arrive at Christmas Day feeling happier, more sociable, and considerably less in debt.

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About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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15 Responses to The New Materialism

  1. robin wood says:

    brilliant love it. I struggle with the same dichotomy, what am I doing making more stuff in a world that has too much stuff already? but the things we make really are part of the solution not the problem. If we can convince people to buy into the new materialism we are making a difference. It is about conscientious rather than conspicuous consumption.

    • michele1951 says:

      I think it comes down to the fact that the ‘stuff’ you guys make so skilfully is worth owning and can last a lifetime . . . unlike most of the tat on the High Street!

  2. terrielea says:

    I enjoy your blog. I’ve been thinking along these lines myself lately. The consumerism kind of materialism causes people to trade their lives for temporal, disposable and sometimes value-less things. They trade most of their waking hours, their energy, their relationships (even their families), and their health to “earn” the money to buy the “things” they think they want. Sometimes it seems to be a ravenous, insatiable beast that drives them.

    But a person can enjoy, treasure and even love material things because of where they came from, who made them with their own hands, who gifted them to us, or what they connect us to. I am learning that lately.

    I recently bought a scythe. I ordered it and had it shipped to me from Canada. The weather hasn’t been very good, so I haven’t even used it yet. But in some odd way, I already feel connected to it, and know we will be pals for a long time.

    Bless you from Texas.

  3. Agreed. Very well said. The things we create have values that exist beyond anything consumer culture can define. A handmade anything has a story, and a beautiful, rich one at that. I love that idea of price per pleasure. That’s something that comes up a lot in my work beyond handcraft—facilitating a worldview where each regenerative/responsible action is an investment made over longer periods of time than an instant gratification, outsourced, cheap-aspossible-at-all-costs economv model can ever touch—that actually benefits all parties… Not to mention all of the potential livelihoods it presents; people working close to the land, with little possessions, producing objects of timeless value… That’s another reason I plant trees. One time investment. Generational returns…

  4. glamuroasa says:

    Reblogged this on solgeea and commented:
    Wonderful idea, love it!

  5. pfollansbee says:

    Steve – nice find, thanks for pointing us to it. I think their manifesto would be even better if it included something about making stuff instead of acquiring only…but at least they get the re-use & mend bits in there…I don’t know about the UK but over here in the States, December is often crazy, materialistically speaking. Nice spoons too.

  6. DougDoesLife says:

    Excellent. I’ll be reading their material tonight…

  7. Ford Hallam says:

    This reminds me of Ruskins idea of only having things in your home you know to be useful And beautiful.

  8. Giles Watts says:

    Hi Steve – This is a really nicely written post: interesting and clear. Being a new kid to spoon carving, the first thing i notice is how long it takes to make a spoon, how much skill needs developing – including aesthetic judgment as well as functional manufacturing. So, over time i have realised how much one puts into each handmade spoon.
    Contrast this with opening a draw and having an array of metal spoons. They are low cost and useful. But in making and creating a wooden spoon, I have come to realise that we take the manufacture and having metal spoons for granted, and subsequently mass manufactured things become devalued. (Need I mention our relation to other things for example mobile phones).
    So I wholeheartedly agree – learn, make, share and repair. It’s an antidote to devaluation and a tonic for creativity and seeing the worth in things.

  9. Interesting post. I will be reading more

  10. Rolf Buwert says:

    I fully agree. My house, van, garage and workshops are so full of ‘stuff’ and I know it is bad for me. The toxicity of materialism has a good grip on me, and I am striving to detox. Through contact with all you good guys I am on the path to recovery, but it is a tough road. The power of the materialistic world is strong but I use my little shop to spread the word. Bizarrely I often say to customers “do you really need this” and loose a few sales , but there are customers who take on-board the fact that my imported products are 1. sustainable and hand made 2. helping poor craft workers in developing countries work their way out of poverty 3. fairly traded, therefore the workers can live through legitimate trade rather through growing crops for the drugs trade. They have then learned three facts about the item. I then gain more sales than I loose, and the customer feels more satisfied about the material transaction.

  11. Kate says:

    I like the principle, but I really can’t go along with at least 2 clauses in the manifesto.
    eg, clause 2: some of the best, finest and most useful of my possessions are be the disposable ones I make, as long as they are not made of plastic (which causes environmental catastrophe at both ends of its life). Far better than any stuff, even the handmade nice stuff, is the knowledge to make it, and the freedom to discard it, so you don’t have to carry things with you through life after they have ceased to be useful. A hazel-pole tent (bender) I can live in as my house might only last a couple of years, and lots of my musical instruments can be made, played and discarded, as their lifespan is short. I often make tools just for a one-off job, or furniture from materials that won’t keep (like straw), I make clothes, but even the toughest clothes will not last ten years when you live and work outside doing real physical stuff. I suppose I could have 10 times the amount of clothing I need so that the wear and tear would be artificially spread across 10 years to satisfy this manifesto’s limitations, but isn’t this supposed to be a movement for having less stuff, not more?

    So I would suggest that instead of the arbitrary 10 year rule, making things out of readily available and biodegradable materials is a better thing to aspire to. Knowledge to make things weighs nothing, costs nothing, does no damage to the environment, and lasts for a lifetime. How long the things last is immaterial, for the making of them is what gives us purpose.

    Also, I would substitute clause 3 with something far more specific, like this: “before you acquire any new (to you) item, find out what it is made of, where all those materials come from, how they have been mined/processed and by whom and if you still think you need it, then get it second-hand or directly from one of those people where possible.” Worded as it currently is, there is no incentive on the potential consumer to find out anything about the real cost and provenance of an item.
    Unfortunately, the New Materialists are not available to contact, so I can’t suggest this directly to them, which is a shame, as it’s a good idea in principle, but the details perhaps need a bit more thought and precision in their wording to catch on.

    • Steve Tomlin says:

      Hi Kate,
      I agree with many of the points you make and, like with any philosophy, it’s not set in stone. The authors encourage you to adapt their ideas.
      We are lucky to have the skills and materials available to make some of the things we need; our countryside would not withstand the impact of its universal use though – it too is a limited material resource.

  12. Ash says:

    This makes good reading particularly at this time. Will download the manifesto tonight.

  13. Ian says:

    I like it. To me, as we discussed before one of your courses, fixing is almost better than making. Refurbishing an old bike and seeing it work well again is a splendid feeling.

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