Written for The Alternative, 17 Nov 2015
The mind and body were designed to work together in the human being. Activities such as cooking, gardening, sewing and sport require coordination between both and can nourish the mind/ body connect powerfully.
The tradition of crafts comes from this ability of the human mind and body to function together to create beauty.
With the advent of industrialisation, human societies separated the two, delegating the more tedious and time consuming aspects of craft to machines. Industry is mainly focussed on efficiency and reduces the human element to a minimum. Industrial products often lack the soul and mark of the human hand.
As societies rely more and more on industry, craftsmen have been sidelined and marginalised. And of course, those of us living in urban environments work less and less with our hands and more and more with our minds.
The physical effort that goes into making something ourselves also teaches us to appreciate what goes into making any objects. Try making something as simple as a cloth bag yourself and you will find it very difficult to throw it away even after years of use.
The growing problem with waste in the industrialised world is an obvious symptom of this disconnect. We don’t know who made our clothes, our furniture and computers. We don’t know how long it took them to put these together for us or how much they suffered for it or how much they earned.
It is easier to throw away such items when all we think of is the monetary value we paid for it. The minute we feel that we can afford something better, we drop the previous version.
Breaking out of this cycle of anonymous and mechanised production can begin with using our hands at home. Here are a few ways in which you can try this
1. Cooking is a good place to start since we all need to eat and we all know what we like. Cook for yourself, small and easy to begin with. Look at your leftovers and think about the decisions you made in setting the menu and the quantities to work with.
2. Cleaning is another activity that helps connect mind and body. If daily cleaning becomes a chore, identify simple cleaning activities for the weekend that you prefer to do yourself and reward yourself with a beautiful clean home! As you clean, think about what items have reached the end of their lifecycle and about whether someone else can use them before you turn to the dustbin.
3. Gardening even in small pots on a balcony will help you become familiar with the precious energy of compost and soil. Set up a compost bin and watch your kitchen waste transform into compost, feed the plants with this compost and watch them blossom! Once you appreciate the beauty of compost you will not want to throw any of your kitchen waste away!
4. Design your own clothes – since tailoring is an acquired skill, you can at least take the effort to visualise and get a tailor to make the clothes you have designed. Handling fabrics and seeing the end result will add another level of meaning to your wardrobe.
5. Get children started on small simple craft activities for functional objects – learning to make paper bags, painting on their clothes or learning techniques of knitting, crochet and embroidery help connect creativity with utility.
6. Learn to repair – darning small tears on clothes, learning to make small electric repairs, or fixing a broken frame will teach children that if something is slightly damaged it doesn’t mean that it should be thrown away.
7. Make the connect – Take an object and track its manufacturing history, find out where that object was made and by whom – visit their facility if possible. Such experiences leave a lasting understanding of what it takes to make things.
Often we feel we are not capable of making something beautiful – and that deters us from making things at all. The DIY ( Do It Yourself) movement began in the 1950s and was also possibly motivated by economic needs, lack of product quality and availability and the need to customise.
If we all started doing a lot more things ourselves, we would quite possibly reduce our overall consumption as well as the waste we generate.
These articles form a series in the Green Idea campaign called The Beauty of Recycling conducted by eCoexist and Studio Alternatives and sponsored by the Government of Maharashtra, Environment Department. They aim to raise awareness about the aesthetic and financial potential of recycling. To read more visit www.beautyofrecycling.in