The Story of Stuff Makes Moms - And Kids - Think

Filed under: Movies, Gear Guides: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Gear Guides: Big Kids, Gear Guides: Tweens

Annie Leonard explains how stuff is made, and soon tossed. Image via

"The Story of Stuff" is the stuff of legend in classrooms across the country -- and now, my small town in Maine. This short film by activist Annie Leonard documents the travels of stuff -- the consumer goods we buy and use and toss -- and their impact on the environment. The free 20-minute video was the subject of a New York Times story that documented how its anti-materialistic message has taken classrooms by storm. That's because teachers itching to explain climate change can't find more than a passing explanation in their traditional textbooks. The Times reports that some 6 million people have viewed the movie on the Web, millions more on YouTube, and more than 7,000 schools, churches and people have ordered DVDs.

Last night, I talked a handful of my girlfriends into watching it with me so we could see why teachers everywhere are using it get teens talking about the plague of our consumer culture. Seems that if we buy less, we might just save the world.

Here's why: Annie Leonard, a former Greenpeace employee, wrote the film after spending years investigating the travels of trash across the globe. Leonard also narrates the story of "stuff" (depicted as line-drawn cartoons); she's clear and often funny, the way people who really know what they're talking about often are. It doesn't hurt that the film was produced by Free Range Studios, the group behind socially minded, web-based films like "The Meatrix" and "Grocery Store Wars." (The project was bankrolled by The Sustainability Funders and Tides Foundation.)

Huddled around a laptop, we listened. We laughed. We gasped. I marveled at the simplicity of the medium, and the complexity of the message. Leonard outlines in very clear language how the global materials economy works. Or doesn't. I love a good picture, so I was delighted when the pie charts appeared to illustrate how one-third of the world's natural resources have burned up in the past 20 years. Of course, then I was horrified. Leonard went on to explain that even though America accounts for just 5 percent of the world's population, we use 30 percent of the world's resources-and generate 30 percent of its waste.

Maybe it was the comfy couches, or the red wine. But, when it was all over, we couldn't help but feel a sisterhood of complicity. One mom admitted she lusts after handbags. Another wants to redecorate her home. We all collect shoes. And we love our children-as well as the environment. Leonard contends that our current state of consumer mania (of which we're a part, no matter how disciplined we try to be) was designed after World War II and ratcheted our of control by economic and media manipulation. Many sexy new products are designed for the dump-and consumers feel terrible if they aren't constantly upgrading.

Gretchen Giumarro, 38, is a landscape architect and mother of two boys. Even so, she somehow recalled being told by a five-year-old visitor that "washing the dishes kills the polar bears." True. But, after watching "The Story of Stuff," she suggested that you have to teach kids to love the environment before you can teach them to heal it. "I'd love to have another video with the next installment," she said. "I could really use the "what you can do" chapter of the story." Me, too.

Until then, here's a good start.

What are you doing to teach your kids about stuff? Or are your kids the ones schooling you?

Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos is editor of Project Homestead.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.