More Musings on the Story of Stuff – Branding & Marketing

As I said yesterday, I’m currently reading this book:

Today, in the chapter on distribution I struck upon something horrifying. I guess I sort of knew this already, but seeing it in black and white is even more shocking. I’m sure we all know that most companies out there don’t actually make the stuff they sell, but they buy it in and have unknown manufacturers make it for them. We’ve seen this so much in the clothing industry where brands like H&M and Primark have clothes made up in India and take no responsibility for the working practices of those in their supply chain. This is all part of these companies plans to cut costs, basically by abdicating responsibility.

This efficiency driven, cost-cutting is pervasive. Companies don’t make the stuff they sell, they simply brand it. Apple don’t make computers, but they sure as heck have created a brand that people crave. H&M don’t make clothes, Nike doesn’t make trainers. They all simply buy the garments and items from producers, or the parts to assemble them and often not even from the same factory, but from multiple producers. It’s quite possible that one factory churns out the exact same product for multiple retailers.

So really, let’s face it – it’s often not the item we are buying, but we’ve been sold on the brand. The founder of Nike even admitted that the company once saw themselves as production oriented, but that they now understand their most important function is to market the product. So guess where they put all their money? Advertising. And often this advertising isn’t even for a specific product, it’s all about the image they want to associate with their brand. Nike aren’t selling your trainers, they are selling you a fashion statement that in this climate will probably be outdated in a mere 2 weeks!

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False Advertising

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What’s with all the Christmas advertising this year regarding having your best Christmas ever?! It seems worse than usual to me, it’s the mainstay of several UK stores campaigns. Wilko’s tagline is “Bring home your best Christmas”. Asda’s tagline is “Christmas made better”. Swarovski are saying that you must ‘give brilliant’. Since when did stores get so arrogant? I’m all for retailers helping you to achieve ‘Christmas’, after all we all want to buy a little special food to celebrate the day. We may wish to buy a few gifts, or experiences. That’s what makes Christmas different from every other day of the year. But it’s this year I’ve really noticed them piling on the pressure for people to buy more and more. Maybe it’s just that I’ve got fresh eyes now I’m further down the road on my minimalist journey.

In fact the only retailer I’ve seen peddling a different message is Sainsbury’s, who are pioneering an advertising campaign centred on a harassed dad who’s trying to find his family ‘the greatest gifts’. It ends when he discovers the greatest gift he could give anyone is his time. It’s refreshingly different, even if I find the song that accompanies it rather irritating. At the end of the day, a huge part of Christmas is meeting up with people you love and sharing a meal. I think that is a truly great thing – sharing conversation, food, laughter, a few silly hats and a walk in the afternoon.

But, Christmas IS just another day – albeit a special day – but it doesn’t need to be perfect, you don’t need to keep ‘besting’ last year and no amount of stuff, including food is going to stop the odd family argument. After all, you’re probably going to be couped up with these people for a few days! So relax, enjoy it for what it is and take it as it comes. Happy Christmas Everyone!

3 months without a lounge

We’re coming to the end of 3 months without a lounge! No TV, no sofa or armchairs, no dining room table or chairs, no curtains, blinds, lamps- literally nothing! We emptied our lounge to carry out renovations and it’s been an interesting lesson in what we can do without.

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We’ve been sitting on the bed, instead of in arm chairs or in the summer months- we would use picnic chairs in the garden. Whilst the picnic chairs were lovely on hot days- it’s not so much fun now it’s cold. Also after a while, they get really uncomfortable. The thing we both want back most of all is our 3 piece suite! Secondly, the dining room table was also missed greatly- it’s so important for conversations, good digestion and just a more pleasant meal occasion, including entertaining. It also proves useful for any other task you want to complete- like sewing, drawing or just spreading a large book open.

We’ve been using on-demand internet streaming to watch the occasional hour of TV and our laptops to watch the odd DVD. In a lot of ways we haven’t missed the TV, my other half hardly watched it anyway whereas I definitely watched it too much. I often put it on for company when I was in the house on my own all day. I thought I’d missed it quite a bit and then I turned it on again. Within 15 minutes I couldn’t take it’s blaring, loud and flashy programmes. Everything seems so fast-paced and over-the-top and I turned it off. I’ve much preferred the more thoughtful, intellectual and gentle content of Radio 4. It does make you realise how much they’ve dumbed down television and even on the BBC, it’s purely about entertainment no matter what the content. All that said, I think that I will want to watch some carefully chosen programmes on it and the occasional film. Time will tell if this is the case and whether we keep it longer term.

I think we own too many DVDs, given how infrequently we watch them and (thankfully) our cheap DVD tower hasn’t stood up to being stored in the garage and is splitting in the middle. That is not coming back in the room and so the DVD collection will have to be further downsized! (No, I promise I did not take a hammer to it!) A quick scan on the WeBuyBooks app uncovers that we have £200-£300 worth of DVDs sitting around our house! No doubt we will be selling and trading some in very soon.

We think that we are going to return our bookcase to the lounge, as I feel that there have been occasions when I have wanted a book and have been disappointed that it’s been packed away in a box (boxes!) However, we both think the bookcase is ugly and so I think we’d both secretly like it to go. My other half thinks I have too many unread books (it’s true!) and so, I am doubtful that most of these will be returning to our space either.

My one indulgence has been a china cabinet, as my other half points out – it serves only to display china – not minimalist at all! However, it is a piece of Art Deco beauty and I can’t believe I found it in a charity shop. I will use it to display some of our everyday crockery which is Portmierion Crazy Daisy and very beautiful. I will never tire of looking at it and I have never regretted putting a high quality dinner service on our wedding list. It is something that will last a lifetime and always look good.

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We had inherited a dining table from family and it had a wonky leg, we both hated it because it was ridiculously large (seated 8 which we rarely need). It had these 2 additional leaves, but because they didn’t fold under they had these great big pieces of wood sticking out and were a nightmare to store. So we ended up having to have the whole thing out all the time. We took the opportunity to get rid of that and bought a much more sensibly sized drop-leaf table from eBay. It’s a really minimalist piece of design by Ercol known as the plank table (although ours has dropped leaves at each end). I think it’s an utter design classic and will never date due to its simplicity. Alongside this, an extended family member died and we were offered the opportunity to purchase any furniture we would like. We were fortunate to find that they had 2 blonde wood Ercol Goldsmith Carver chairs (like these) to go with our table and I had also picked up another Ercol Hoop-Backed blonde wood chair for £2 at a jumble sale! Here it is after rubbing it down, it was splattered with paint but it’s looking fine now. I just need to finish it with something to protect the beautiful wood.

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Ideally, we’d like to find a 4th Ercol chair to complete our mismatched set. They are as solid as the day they were made in the 1950s (you can date them by their labels) and should last forever. Again, I don’t think they will ever date and this mid-century design is becoming the modern antique (hugely sought after).

Finally, we opted to get rid of the carpet which with cats was constantly getting ruined in various ways! After much thought, we decided to install real Oak parquet flooring. We could have spent half as much on a ‘plastic’ carpet which was not something we wanted to do. We could have spent the same amount on a wool carpet but in 10-15 years, it would probably have needed replacing. Instead, we opted for this beautiful hardwood flooring which is an art form in itself. It will certainly outlive us – the estimated lifespan is 150 years. We did look at installing second-hand parquet but there are many reasons (just search the net) why we felt this was not the answer for us. It is so lovely to look at and it looks different at different times of day, as the light changes which is much more interesting the flat, matte carpet. Now we have endured the disruption of renovating and putting this room back together, we will never have to worry about flooring again except for re-finishing in about 30 years time. The only other thing that will need refreshing every 10-15 years is the paintwork.

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I will be posting some before and after pictures soon, just as soon as we are able to return all the furniture to the room. I don’t want to give it all away just yet! Have you ever had the opportunity to ‘lose’ a room like this? Did it spur you into minimising? Do share your stories in the comments.

UK Minimalists or Aspiring Minimalists Wanted for new Channel 4 Programme!

Princess Productions is making a new series for Channel 4 where they basically apply The Minimalists technique of boxing up all your possessions and only taking out what you need. They are looking for participants for a 30 day experiment. You can find out more details and apply here and click on ‘Undressed’. You must be aged 18 or older, a UK resident and at least a 2 person household. You must be a home owner or part of a flat share.

It should be an interesting watch and introduce more people to the concept of Minimalism and owning less. Maybe they will be like me and finally be able to put a name to a feeling they’ve been experiencing.

Have you ever been brave enough to do The Minimalists 30 day challenge on your own? Please let me know in the comments.