Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Story of Stuff: Read It and Change

To sample, click the book cover...
That's the bottom line.  If you invest your time and strict attention in this content-rich but conversationally written tome, you can't help but act in ways kinder to people, to the planet, and to your stuff as well.  Not a bad investment of your reading time, eh?

AND, Ms. Leonard aced out Citizen You to grab the coveted Golden Sticky Award for the most "news you can use"-packed book of the 2011 thus far. The winning #? 48 stickies!

Why you'd want to read it:
* You watched the short online video "The Story of Stuff", got hooked, got curious, or got skeptical:  You want more background info. so you can feel convinced enough to shift your views a bit or to take action at home or in your community.

* You'd like to create a study group in your neighborhood, town, or family to start increasing your well-being while adjusting your "stuff", and you're looking for a book to get conversations and action started.

* You're pretty skeptical about claims that our consumption - particularly in the U.S. - has any appreciable impact on our world or our children's future.  You're open to a compelling argument with plenty of footnotes to up credibility, and you're OK with the fact that Leonard's shaping her case by carefully by choosing not only what she puts in, but also what she leaves out and how she spins each and every piece of information.

* You're entirely convinced that our consumption - particularly in the U.S. - has an appreciable impact on our world and our children's future.

* You didn't know that corporations (at least in the U.S.) have all of the rights but few of the responsibilities of human beings, and that their chief legal responsibility is to make money for their shareholders (all other considerations take a back seat).  You'd like to know much more about how those facts affect your own personal health and happiness.  (FYI: Another place to start your exploration of corporations is the free online video The Corporation...)

* You're a professor or teacher who's creating an introductory unit or course on sustainability and the triple bottom line (well-being for humans & communities, positive impact on the environment, and economic well-being for the business enterprise) and want a readable yet information-rich foundation text.

* You write a book blog focused on taking positive action with each tome under your dome, and you're looking for a good read that's also action-rich.  :-)  And to that point...

My actions
1. Get rid of aluminum and PVC in my home - all #3 plastic food & household-related containers, plastic wrap, vinyl products of all sorts - and stop purchasing them. (These are Leonard's top two suggestions, so I'm taking them. Plus, they align with my three-month de-stuffing of my house anyway so I don't have to count them as new actions, right?)
2. Re-create the list of questions I used to keep in my wallet and pull out to ask myself before every purchase.  (Do I really need this? Could I borrow it instead? Does it harm other beings in any way? Does it harm me in any way? Can it be repaired? Reused? Recycled? Is it made locally?)  Then use it.

Just the Gist
Title: The Story of Stuff
Author: Annie Leonard
Genre(s): Non-Fiction
Year Published: 2010
Pages: 267 (with small print) plus 33 pages of end notes
Book's Website: http://storyofstuff.com/ (I recommend watching the 20 minute film there first.)
Overall rating: ****

I must say that - after years of research and work on this topic - I'm predisposed to agree with Leonard's case. That said, I must also note that this book is pretty relentlessly frightening and upsetting, and I found myself less and less inclined to pick it up again with every chapter, not because of the writing - which moved along smoothly - but because the content left me overwhelmed.  SO, I've concocted a few ideas on how to keep yourself engaged and calm while you keep reading.

For those ideas plus links to purchase your copy of The Story of Stuff:

The Book: A few pointers before you pick it up.

1. Best to read this in chapters, with sticky-notes and a highlighter at hand.  There is an enormous amount of content here, and practical ideas for us as action-readers are interspersed with background information, so you'll invest your first-read time wisely by making note of your own "aha moments" and favorite next-steps. And a corollary tip:

2.  Take your time, and take breaks.  Although Annie Leonard's tone here is conversational and her stance is that we not only must but CAN change the course our human (corporate) actions have put us on, the content is - as one might guess - relentlessly depressing and one might often feel overwhelmed and powerless while reading this book.  So...

3. Best to talk it through with a local friend, bookblog-pal, or small group, and to focus on what you can do right now and what new questions or concepts from The Story of Stuff you might hold in your heart & mind to help you shift your own personal trajectory.

4. Give yourself permission to skip around a bit.  Yes, the main five chapters follow the same narrative order as the video, but if you ground yourself in that engaging short film, you can move around in the book fairly freely and still receive Leonard's many messages clearly.

To get The Story of Stuff, click either of the links below. (I'm not affiliated w/either site, just offering options. And, in fact, Leonard cites research from Treehugger magazine that if you bike, walk, or take public transit for no more than 8 miles each way, shopping locally is better for the environment.  Otherwise, bundling book orders and shopping online using ground shipping is probably best for the planet, although of course not as beneficial to the local community and economy.  Who knew?)

MFB with less stuff,


Laura said...

I love the ideas for who can best use the book! I agree, the content was overwhelming ... I needed an abbreviated version



Stephanie M. Hasty said...

love your reasons for...nice and helpful! :)

Jackie said...

Even just reading that first action step about PVC and aluminum made me feel a little anxious, so I think I'm not yet in the right space for this book! I do like the list of questions for purchasing, though, and I do have serious decluttering ambitions for this year, so maybe once I've tackled some of the worst areas in my house, I'll feel more able to jump on board this train.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Laura & Stephanie: I aim to help!
Jackie: I agree that The Story of Stuff can be daunting, but I was already one month into a three month de-clutter of my home when I read it, so I'd fired up my 'letting go' muscles long before I attempted any of its suggestions. The PVC & aluminum purge wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, with the exception of PVC piping in our home. Even Leonard admits that repiping may not be financially feasible for most folks, so I don't feel too terrible about not taking that extreme action.
Perhaps all of us who read this book - or see this film - could form our own little cyber support group to keep moving toward a healthier lifestyle where our stuff is concerned!
I'd be happy to host it here, or to create and moderate a ning or blog to do so.

Brenda Youngerman said...

First let me say thanks for stopping be my blog - I appreciate it!
Second I see you are taking her words to heart and taking action on them - my hat is off to you! I guess we all do what we can in our own small ways. I heartily applaud this book and the overconsumption that she points out and yes indeed it takes one person to make a village - but I hardly believe that the single man who set himself afire in Tunisia believed that his single action would lead to such unrest in all of the middle east! Bravo to him by the way!

I surely hope this book does good - and you were right in your surmisal of my review - I shall and do look at everything a bit differently now.

See you on the web!

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