Found a cool website called The Story of Stuff that makes you think twice about all those gadgets we buy. Somehow we’ve come to think of them as “must haves” – but seriously…do we really need all this stuff?

In a short video, Annie Leonard looks at the life cycle of goods, from extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal. How many high-tech doo-dads do you consider absolutely positively necessary? Have you bought into the idea that if you don’t have the latest version of clothes or shoes or that ultra-hot new cell phone, you can’t be cool? Do you judge yourself on whether you have what everyone else does? More than ever, people seem ready to sign up for the latest-and-greatest trends just to be like their friends.

Now I know our economy thrives on this kind of stuff and many even feel it’s our patriotic duty to do so. (Remember President Bush after 9-11?) And of course businesses design products in ways that make us want to get new versions all the time. I love Annie’s take on what she calls “perceived obsolescence” which is about being sold on the need for new when old would be just fine. This is in contrast to the long-accepted “planned obsolescence” (which still exists) where companies make things that can only last so long, driving the need for replacements. We’re now throwing away lots of stuff that works just fine. And it’s you and I who have to pay the bills.

The ironic thing is that, in search of bigger homes and more cool technology and the trendiest fashions, we are working harder than ever before and have less leisure time to enjoy all our stuff. And when we do have free time, shopping is one of our main leisure activities.

Oh…I know most of you will say “but I love shopping!” I know. But I would suggest we’ve been sold this as a culture and that if we took the time to explore what else we might be doing with our time, we might surprise ourselves by how much happier we could be. For all too many people, shopping just makes you want more stuff. So we work to shop because we think we need more stuff, and yet are always tired because we work so hard and barely have time for anything other than that stuff.

But here’s the real problem…in our rush to feed the economy and also be cool, we’re poisoning the planet and ourselves. And we’re not looking at the whole cost of these cheap, disposable electronics and other goods as it affects people who make the items in often substandard conditions, as well as areas that provide the raw materials and areas that later absorb the waste.

Annie’s video and website not only point out the problems in a clear way – and there are many of them, including the myth of recycling as a solution – but she also leaves us with some practical thoughts on how we can start to look at the whole picture as it really is and and make changes that get at the heart of our “throwaway mindset”.

We’ve been sold on a way of living that in the long run can’t be sustained. And we are all participating in this in one way or another, so this is not about finger-pointing. But there are very real things we can all start to do right now to change the way we look at and deal with all this stuff.

And that doesn’t mean we have to give up everything we love. We can still have fun while learning to build a sustainable economy. We might even discover new ways to have fun if we open up our minds to different ways of thinking about all of this STUFF.

To learn more, check out Annie’s very cool site which is great for kids or adults:

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard