Know Your Product!

Know Your Product!

We asked the ever delightful Belinda Suzette to pen an article for us about ‘stuff’. And boy oh boy, did she deliver! Read along to hear about some of the amazing treasures she has collected over the years, and how she finds value in the items she keeps.

There is poetry in stuff. My old housemate and I used to play a game that I have since named ‘Know Your Product’. On the occasion we found ourselves together at home and in the same room, perhaps reflecting on our day and having a cuppa, we’d look around the room we were in and pick it to pieces. We are both hoarders. We both love stuff. It’s genetic, we can’t help it, we’re predisposed.

But far from finding it negative, we delight in the love of our stuff, the practical and the purely decorative. We didn’t see why the practical stuff had to look boring, we saw beauty in many things, and we liked to surround ourselves in beauty. So yeah, there was a lot of stuff. Our game of ‘Know Your Product’ was to look at each thing and imagine its impact on the earth. Where did it come from? Who made it? Was it recycled, up-cycled, pre-loved? Will it be loved by someone else in the future? Where will it go? How long will it last?

I have since moved into a very small shack with my ever expanding family which means that for me the rules of Know Your Product have shifted. Stuff has never been so important and so needy of possessing a dual function. There is only so much I can fit in this space so it needs to have value, it needs to be practical, it needs to be beautiful and it needs to be robust. I have whittled my small world down according to these values and I love it. Sometimes when I stumble across a stolen moment I admire each of the objects in my shack, and think long on them. I think of its story, muse on its past lives, its point of origin, its current use and abode and then to ponder on where it might end up. It’s a meditative activity of gratitude and value building and it makes me feel good about the way I live and my home.

I look around me at a corner of my home and I see…
The fireplace: the smallest of combustion stoves we could find, bought locally and the last of the made in Australia batch – we were so lucky! On top of the stove sits an old tin kettle, found object. I have little clue of its life before living here. It is large and old and reminiscent of the Australian bush and times gone by. There is no stamp, no name; a pre-loved and discarded anonymous piece of Australiana beauty. Behind the fire a few of my favourite things; a collection Zapatista figurines, Guatemalan and Peruvian traditional textile weavings bought direct from the artists on my travels through Central and South America. They hang on handmade wooden coat hangers purchased from a Suitcase Rummage in Northern NSW, a tiny embroidered volcano made for me by a dear friend, slung from a bronze lion wall hook found in a garage sale. Some branch weavings I made, photographs of my family in bespoke frames my partner created using reclaimed timber from my grandmothers old fence. A clay lamp base my mother made before I was born and a lamp shade I made using branch weavings.

The dining table: gorgeous old red and green retro wooden table gifted to me from a neighbour when he moved (I’d always had a keen eye on it and seems he knew it!). Second hand wooden chairs found on Gumtree, adorned with Melbourne designer Kip & Co textiles and a blue blanket crocheted by a friend. The table top finds cheap as chips op shop ceramic pottery vases (hand- made in Israel by Batia!), wood-turned fruit bowls (op shop finds and cousin’s hubby hand craft), giant camphor laurel chopping board, bought from local woodturner at the markets, bush fruit picked by a friend from the citrus trees on her landlady’s property, gingham table cloth handed down from my grandmother, hand towel with crocheted top hanging on the stove and made with love by my other grandmother. Oh I love this game!

I encourage you to try this! Look around you. Now take one object and travel with it…
The wonderful by-product of this game is this: it helps the world in so many ways. It supports shopping local, small business, slow living, recycling, reducing waste, fighting fast fashion, learning to repair and up-cycle, encouraging creativity, feeling gratitude, self-love, respect, pride. We don’t need so much stuff, but we love stuff and loving stuff is okay. By moving the goal posts on the definition of love we can only add value to it.

Some tips on how to know your product!

Ask questions. We live in the age of information! Before you buy something, ask about it! Ask the
shopkeeper, the maker, Google, the creator, the baker, the candle stick maker.
Find an app. The next time you go clothes shopping use an app such as the Good On You app to
give you an immediate ranking on how the store performs regarding labour, environment and
animal issues. There are ethical shopping apps for almost anything, fair trade apps, social impact
apps, good guide apps, healthy eating apps.
Fix it. If your clothes get a tear or don’t fit anymore, find someone who does alterations and have it
fixed. If your shoes break, find a cobbler. Look out for a repair cafe or local who might be able to
help you, even teach you how to fix things!
Buy second hand when you can. This really is the easiest and cheapest way to know your
product. Its new lease on life begins with you! You can imagine or research its back story, and still
care about its future.
Make it DIY. It has never been hotter or more accessible to teach yourself a new skill or even better
DIWO (do it with others). Or can you find a local creative to make it for you?
Think about its lifespan. What is it made from? Will it degrade? How long will it take to
biodegrade? What are the environmental impacts of the whole lifecycle of this product?