I received a copy of A Life Less Throwaway to review
My not-so-secret secret is that I really didn’t like Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
For one, Kondo begins the book with a personal anecdote about her strained, isolated home life, an environment that led her to find solace in organization. This is not, in my view, a healthy way to begin a project. Secondly, I was distressed by the lack of scientifically backed claims about what makes us consume and how to stop it. It’s all well and good to make a home tidier, but without knowing what leads us to become stuff addicts, we’re doomed to repeat the cycle.
And maybe most dangerous: at local thrift shops, we could actually trace the fad by the volume of donations we were receiving. Sadly, a lot of the larger thrift chains threw away overstock, so all of that perfectly useable stuff the local community was “tidying up” ended up in the landfill at the end of the purge.
I say all that to say this: Tara Button’s new book, A Life Less Throwaway, is the one book you should be reading on tidying up.
About A Life Less Throwaway
The book is an extension of Button’s passion project turned business, Buy Me Once, a website that brings users’ attention to products that are meant to last a lifetime. The premise of Buy Me Once and A Life Less Throwaway is that decades of planned obsolescence – a business model that intentionally reduces the lifespan of an item so that the consumer has to repurchase it prematurely – have actually fooled us into thinking that this is the way the world has to be. This is a massive waste of resources, burdens recycling and waste management systems, and reduces people to mere consumers. It is dehumanizing through and through.
Button, a former advertising writer, offers anecdotes, expertise, histories, and scientific studies to help the reader understand that she is part of a complex, deceptive consumerism machine. The only way to defeat it is to live and shop in ways that are counter-cultural.
What I Learned
In addition to the sections on the history and psychology of advertising, which I gobbled up with glee, Button offers a lot of practical advice on developing personal taste in a way that can endure decades of trend cycles. Unlike predominant capsule and minimalist wardrobe narratives, she advocates for knowing what makes our taste truly original, i.e. a classic for me might be a tweed bomber instead of a khaki trench.
But this advice doesn’t just apply to clothing: it also applies to household decor, appliances, and basically anything else you can think of. Know thyself.
Later on in the book, Button provides step-by-step instructions for building small, long-lasting wardrobes for the different contexts of your life – like work and weekend – and offers a massive directory on how to select lifetime goods, as well as how to care for those goods.
Button is a wonderful writer, with a style that is both conversational and authoritative. In fact, I read the entire book in one day. Her ideas are backed up by real world data and personal stories. And maybe most importantly, she gets that a project in changing our consumer habits must address the whole person as they live and breathe within a multi-faceted system. This is not just a fun project – this is a total transformation.