Wastefulness: A Western Phenomenon

Wastefulness: A Western Phenomenon

It occurred to me recently that perspective is absolutely crucial for developing our sense of the world. The right perspective can utterly change a person's understanding, can alter something's meaning, and most importantly, can open our minds to new and revolutionary possibilities.

I was at a girlfriend’s place for dinner the other week. Her Indian friend Vi was also staying over, and he regaled with us interesting tales of his travels. He’d just flown in from Tokyo, and had stayed in a Japanese ‘capsule hotel’ for a night before his flight.

Capsule hotels work like this: a person gets into a bed, which is encased in a small pod or room big enough only for the bed and some ceiling space. These bedroom capsules are stacked up into what can essentially be called a people-sized chest of drawers. The snoozing guest has just enough room to lie down and kip for the evening. Then, in the morning, they get up and go.

The thought of not having any proper amenities or space alarmed me. I’d never heard of the concept or seen it before, so I immediately said – “Really? They’re okay with sleeping like that? Like sardines being packed into a tin.” But Vi looked at me and replied, “Or, you could look at it as these people only taking up the space they need.” At which point I felt like an ignorance shotgun had just blasted a hole through my chest, with years of guilty Western privilege oozing shamefully out of my body. Duh.

Where did our assumed entitlement come from?

Where some find sleeping in a poky pod outrageous, others see it as taking and/or using only what they absolutely need. And that is genius. It’s minimalism at its finest. Without unnecessary space and amenities, the capsule hotel is purely functional, stripping everything back to its one basic use: sleep.

Westerners really value their luxury – or, at least, are pros at championing their entitlement to ‘standard’ living conditions. By this I mean a basic bed, a bathroom, a locked door, and now, of course, electrical ‘necessities’ such as TVs and Wi-Fi. On the other hand, Eastern countries in particular seem to be grasping the concept of wastefulness a lot faster than we are in England, and are actively implementing ways to prevent wastefulness in their nations a lot more efficiently than their Western counterparts.

It made me think. Why do we think we need so much extra crap around us when all we need is a bed to sleep for the night? When did the human ego get so entitled to having space and resources to exploit and waste? How much more efficient could the world be if the West especially recognized that we didn’t need all the frills, bells, and whistles on things? (Short answer: because, consumerism.)

Your Starbucks drink order embarrasses me. | illumelation.com.jpg

What if Starbucks only sold black coffee and tea in one standard regular size. That’s it – nothing else. None of these hundreds of unnecessary variables which people now think they need, like "Salted Caramel Mocha" or "Pumpkin Spiced Latte." Coffee is coffee. You want sugar and milk? On your own time, buddy. You want decaf? Tough shit. Move along, kid.

Shut Up and Take My Money!

I heard a story a few months ago which still gets my blood boiling when I think about it. I know a chauffeur who works for an exceptionally wealthy family based in Southampton. Every few months, he drives them into London so they can stay in their weekly rented apartment in Sloane Square in Chelsea, which remains otherwise untouched for 320 days of the year.

In the apartment, there are family photos, monogrammed pillows, wardrobes stuffed with clothes – and yet the family only stays there no more than five, maybe six times a year. And now – the clincher. Guess how much they pay per week?

£10,000. That's $14,000. €13,000. PHP690,000. PER WEEK.

Shut Up and Take My Money! Fry, Futurama | illumelation.com

Yep. £10,000 per week for the sake of having a central apartment that they treat like an hotel. That amounts to over half a million pounds of waste per year. It’s utterly outrageous, and downright farcical. Their money is their money (well, technically, it’s oil money), but just imagine what £10,000 a week could do for third world cities and villages? What even 1% of that could mean for clean water, for healthcare, for anything else?

I think that's messed up. Wrong. Wrong that some happily drain millions of pounds on living spaces that they never use whilst millions of others are grateful for having a roof over their heads at night, or a bite of bread to ease their stomachs until the next chance to eat real food. And yes – fully aware of my soapbox. But the world’s wealth distribution is fundamentally backwards.

Redefining Western Perspectives

Spiritual Enlightenment Material Possessions, Funny | illumelation.com

The world is pretty broken. The monetary system is probably the greatest scam in the history of the world, but we continue to buy into it (literally). Every manufactured commodity is built to be productive and efficient for X amount of time, after which point, you head back to the shops and buy another, better model. Millions of mobile phones are made that last for less than 3 years. (How many times have you upgraded your shiny new touchscreen phone after it randomly had a breakdown?) And recycling? Recycling is viewed as more of fad than a governmental requirement.

I am so freaking enlightened, meme.

We, in the West particularly, need to develop increased consciousness of our own buying habits. Only necessary goods must be manufactured, and must be manufactured to last rather than fill trends. We need to redefine our concepts of luxury (I’d consider family time a luxury, rather than having my hotel minibar stuffed full of expensive little bottles of liquor). We need to strip away our sense of entitlement to certain things, remove the ego that we attach to material objects.

I propose a redefining of Western perspectives on wastefulness, and an emphasis on taking only what we need. We need to break down the consumer mindset and sense of entitlement so heavily drilled into our heads by media and recognise that we can take a step towards changing our world by reframing the concept of our comfort zones. Only by the awakening of our individual consciousness and the strength of our willpower can we ever begin to make a change.

What are your thoughts on Western wastefulness?

Mel left London to chase summer around the world, one country at a time. She loves the ocean, writing postcards, and solo exploration. Travel with her on Instagram.