| 1057 words

It's interesting living in the modern world. By all senses of objective comparison, we are each and all of us massively richer than we would have been had we lived 50 or 100 or 500 years ago. Presumably better off, surrounded by the fruits of industrialization, and yet it still might feel off.

Right now I'm surrounded by mass produced stuff. Furniture that was either made in an IKEA factory or some random noname amazon reseller. Generic electronics I got from a website. Consumer goods and standardized things that are all of very high quality, objectively nice, but where is the sauce? They have no story, no love that has gone into them.

Of course not all of it is like that. I have some nice artwork and decor that does feel personal, especially when I either know the maker or have made it myself. In fact I think this is one of the primary roles of decor, to be able to surround yourself with stories when so much regular stuff lacks them.

And I guess I'm not against mass produced stuff. It's common because it's cheap; it makes nice sofas and phones and food accessible to more common consumers and increases their quality of life. In egalitarian countries labour is incredibly expensive, and so it's good handcrafted stuff is extremely expensive because that money goes to the crafters, who certainly deserve it.

Handcrafted stuff is great because it's unique. It's often imperfect, it has a story associated with it. This is most discernable when you make stuff with your own hands, but I feel like it's true for anything that is artisanally made. Each one might be unique, with it's own bespoke patterns or defects. That's what great about it, but the unfortunate part is that's often the only thing that's great.

Mass produced stuff is almost by definition "good enough". When you're considering paying extra for something hand crafted - made with love by someone who cares rather than by an assembly line - you are almost entirely paying for the story it comes with. It would be great if you could justify it by knowing you're paying for a much higher quality product as well, but that often isn't the case.

Consider the example of the humble spoon, one I've been thinking about recently. You could get one at any random restaurant supply store for a couple of dollars, and a whole set of cutlery for not that much more. These are stamped on an assembly line, so all you're really paying for is the small cost of the metal. They're good spoons too, or maybe rather good enough, and certainly nothing to complain about.

Instead, you might want a spoon that's handmade by a real American worker, of course paid high American wages, with some soul to it. A set of 5 pieces of such cutlery sets you back $100! What do you get for that price? The knowledge that the cutlery was hand inspected and made with quality, that the maker was paid a living wage, that there's a unique design and story to the cutlery beyond just being stamped in a factory.

How much is that really worth though? It will maybe perform a little bit better, but really it'll be almost identical to literally any random spoon. Is it a waste of money to pay almost 30x as much for a humanmade version of a product we've long since automated? Is it better to know that the money is going to a team of real people who's names you can learn instead of some nebulous executive board using automation to take jobs from blue collar workers? Of course getting this just for the 10% increase in the quality of the spoon doesn't justify it, but maybe all the story and lore behind it does?

I honestly think a lot about these questions, and I don't have a satisfying answer. Generally I lean towards buying the more expensive handmade options when I can afford it, but I still doubt the decision every single time. I do really really love it when every item around me, even the most typical and mundane, have stories and lore. Even down to my spoon, I know where each thing comes from and why I have it.

All of this is also to reiterate why making my own stuff is the ideal solution. All the benefits of uniqueness and soul, and instead of paying $100 for a spoon all I have to do is dedicate 50 hours of my own time to learn a new skill, become good at it to the point where it can compete with the mass produced stuff, and then also devote the energy and resources to actually make it!

All of that also goes to show how incredibly valuable the time of a skilled maker can be. If I spend a weekend making a small web app for someone in my spare time (because I am, after all, technically a professional), that legitimately is worth hundreds of dollars of labour if they were to pay someone else to do it. I don't mean that in the wrong way, just that after the spoon example it's incredible how valuable it is to put time and soul into an item.

Of course going back to the point about paying for labour, it's specifically expensive in developed countries. In poor countries, labour is so cheap you can afford full time maids and drivers cooks and, full your house with curtains and carpets and architecture that must collectively have taken hundreds of man hours to produce. Is it better to import the nice stuff from cheap countries, to get the original items full of soul without paying through the nose for developed labour? Does that make it better or worse, to try to intentially pay people less for the same thing?

I don't know, these are a lot of question and I expect I'll come back to these later. For now, all I know is that the more I can fill my home with stuff that I or my friends have made, the better.