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Nominate An Item that is Most Symbolic of Consumerism Gone Wrong

Last updated by on 48 Comments

I have been trying to think of an item that perfectly symbolizes consumerism gone wrong.

You know, those things that are just absolutely unnecessary, wasteful, atrocious inventions.

I need your help.

It’s tough. Everywhere you look, there are examples of gross consumerism that are enough to make you cringe that humanity came up with this thing instead of working on finding cancer cures or something productive:

  • the suburban Hummer that gets 8 mpg’s to haul around groceries that could have easily been transported in the trunk of a vehicle one-fourth its size
  • Keurig, with disposable plastic cups
  • the electric can opener when you have hands that are functional to manually open a can with a few twists of a lever
  • the $200 gas fume-spewing leaf blower used by a healthy individual, when equal time, no CO2, and a little exercise could have been had with a $10 rake
  • about two-thirds of the items you’ll find in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and 99% of what you’ll find in SkyMall

I could go on and on…

wasteful consumerismHere’s one that really stood out for me, for some reason: the VHS rewinding device. If you’re old enough to remember, back in the early/mid 90’s before DVD’s became the preferred video device, everyone had a VHS player. VHS players could play, fast forward, rewind, and even record new video. Some genius convinced the world that it wasn’t enough to have a VHS player that could rewind a tape. No! Instead, you should buy a stand-alone VHS rewinding device.

When you finished watching your VHS tape, instead of hitting the rewind button, you’d take out the tape, put it in the rewinder and it performed it’s one sole function – rewind that tape!

I think the pitch was two-fold:

1. “Why wait for your tape to rewind when you want to get started on the new one ASAP?!”

2. “Why put your VHS player through unnecessary wear and tear? Rewinding tapes wears them out!”

On that last point, we’ll just overlook the fact that the rewinders often cost as much as the VHS players themselves…

So rewinders were purchased by the millions and most of them broke down after a year or two due to being built from cheaper components than were used in the VHS players they were intended to save.

Remarkably, the damn things are still being sold today for $25 – and so far as you believe in the legitimacy of Amazon reviews, there are real live human beings who have computers and are literate still buying them. Somehow, the one I’ve linked to is the #942nd best selling electronic item on Amazon to this very day! Top 1,000!!! One commenter posted a gem of a review earlier this year that perfectly summarizes the plight of today’s modern VHS owners,

“I shopped everywhere including pawn shops, to find a VHS tape rewinder as the recorders I have, I do not want to kill the bearings in them prematurely. I kept looking and calling, etc. for over 3 months. I finally made up my mind to scout Amazon again. I found a good seller with a good price, delivered to me. I had it delivered over 2,000 miles in 1 week, via regular USPS shipping….”

Driving all around town, burning gas, and risking your life at pawn shops to find a used tape rewinder and then have a new $25 item shipped 2000 miles when you could easily pick up a replacement VHS player through Craiglist or EBay for $10 in the event of a possible ball bearing catastrophe? Understandable…

So, there it is… the VHS rewinder – although dated, you get my nod for the item that most symbolizes wasteful consumerism.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some good ones – help me out! Lets make this fun. Submit your nominees and reason why you’re nominating. We can take a vote in a future post, and the winning item will forever be referred to on this blog in any reference to wasteful consumerism.

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


48 Comments »
  • Clint says:

    How about a salad tosser? I never really understood why you couldn’t throw a lid on a container and shake the salad up or use two utensils and get the same result.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Indeed. Tossing one’s salad should be free. That’s a human right.

    • Jack says:

      “A salad spinner, also known as a “salad tosser”, is a kitchen tool used to wash and remove excess water from salad greens. It uses centrifugal force to separate the water from the leaves. This is necessary in order to keep the greens from going limp and enable salad dressing and oil to stick to the leaves.”
      It doesn’t toss ingredients together like you think. It’s for the washing of the salad.

    • Sidney says:

      I still use the old fashioned salad spinner that was my grandmothers……It is a basket with 2 handles that folds open & closed & lies flat in a drawer. The centrifical force that is used to spin the lettuce leaves dry, after one washes them, is your arm. Step out the door, spin around a few times and “voila: nice dry clean lettuyce!!” So simple!!

      I nominate the ubiquitous & annoying cell phones! How did we ever live without them and who has nocticed that a PHONES they stink!!

      Also anything with only one use.

  • Zee says:

    The Pet Rock!

    I hope that I don’t have to explain why this is a waste… Perhaps that’s just good marketing towards children and not consumerism at it’s worst. I’ll keep thinking of things that people thought were actually useful when they were purchasing them.

  • Vivian says:

    I’d like to nominate the engagement ring industry. Yes, I understand the symbolic value of a ring and absolutely encourage couples to get a high-quality stone if that’s what they want. However, there’s a difference between a durable and eye-pleasing stone worth $3,000 vs. the $30,000 lavish rocks that people are *expecting* to buy nowadays (both the girl and the guy!) Really? The ring is going to depreciate super fast, it has no other utility than to accessorize, and once you’re married you’ll probably swap it out for a plainer wedding band anyways. Is the 6 months-2 year wear-time really worth the cost of a car? :/

      • Michelle says:

        What I don’t undestand is, if people don’t wear their engagement rings for their lives, why they don’t become something of a family heirloom. The cost of a diamond ring (the gold standard for an engagment ring) is high, and a good quality ring properly cared for has a long life. My grandmother and my husband’s grandmother both had diamond solitare rings that were well made and had senimental value to them. My husband talked to his grandmother before mine, so her ring was the one he presented to me when we official decided we were engaged. (Yeah, we were very relaxed about defining our relationship until I joined the military and it started to actually matter.) Total cost of my engagement ring: $0 for a diamond solitare.

      • Michelle says:

        Aww, you already said Hummer. I’d throw in the Escalade, Avalanche, and all of the giant SUVs that still only seat around 5 people. You could buy a min-van that can seat 8 that is technically smaller (certainly smaller from top to bottom) than an Escalade or Avalanche SUV. Unless you actually need to seat 9 people, or regularly haul around the equivalent amount of stuff, I don’t see why anyone actually needs a Chevy Suburban, for example.

        • Sidney says:

          Also, god forbid!, the tv sets in the headrests! Back up camera’s and so on. To get a license in my state (MA) you must disable all the driver “help” techno garbage & actually turn around & look over your shoulder while backing up, use your mirrors and turn signals!

          • Kate says:

            Backup cameras are a safety feature that saves lives – I don’t think that qualifies as consumerism gone wrong. They have been proven to work so effectively that the federal government is requiring all car manufacturers to start phasing in back up cameras by 1 May 2016 with 100% compliance by 1 May 2018. A driver is physically incapable of seeing the ground for the first car length behind their car (depending on height of the vehicle). I know I would never be able to live with myself if I backed over the neighbor’s kids as I pulling out of my driveway.

  • Matt says:

    How about electric scooters for kids? I visited my parents in the suburbs and saw a perfectly healthy kid riding one down the sidewalk. Face was completely devoid of emotion, as if she was stuck in traffic. Twenty years ago, I was rollerblading down that same sidewalk and having an absolute blast!

  • Jen says:

    The Unclutterer site posts a weekly feature on the Unitasker of the Week – some useless item that serves only one purpose:
    http://unclutterer.com/category/unitasker-wednesday/
    Many are hilarious!

  • Ruth says:

    Useless things people put on wedding registries. Seriously, you put a bread dish, a bread bowl, a bread basket, and a bread plate on the registry, when all of these serve the same purpose, to serve bread….

  • Steve says:

    Paperweights and cell phone stands. They both serve pointless purposes, especially since you can use your cell phone as a paperweight.

  • Tim says:

    Those ridiculous AB shocker belts that came out several years ago…

    https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080227085013AAhbcnv

  • i dont hoard says:

    Disposable plates and cups in sit-down restaurants. Our cafeteria at work only has disposable plates, cups, and flatware and yet most people actually eat in the cafeteria. Apparently this is fine because it’s “compostable,” even though it all goes straight in the trash.

  • Jeremy says:

    Ashamedly, I do own and use a few unitaskers (the Mix ‘N Chop really does mash up ground meat better than a fork, wooden spoon or spatula! http://goo.gl/JL4xtJ)

    I don’t think much defines consumerism gone wrong like something that exists for LITERALLY no purpose other than proving you have the money to buy it. See the infamous I AM RICH app sold at $999.99 for a hot second in 2008… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Rich

  • Denise says:

    Disposable cleaning supplies. Brooms, mops and sponges work perfectly fine. Plus for all you germ-a-phobes, getting an occasional cold is preferable to filling our earth up with garbage.
    (I haven’t had a cold in years, btw)

  • Scondor says:

    i can’t exactly call it an item, but to me, a car parked in the driveway instead of the garage is very symbolic of consumerism gone wrong. what moron decides that probably the most expensive item he owns (or is making payments on) will be out in the elements for a daily dose of UV damage, and open season for door dings, scraped bumpers, stolen rims, break-ins, and grand theft auto?

    is the car worth more or less than the fake christmas tree, golf clubs, lawnmower, dinner party dishes, winter clothes, rarely used tools and toolbench, bulk paper towels, camping equipment, neglected toys, and dog food?

  • Mike F says:

    Has anyone else noticed how we are taking crude oil, which microbes spent 3,400,000,000 years of sun energy creating, and using most of it in ~500 years.

    The stuff is pretty magical if it weren’t for pollution, but lets take it easy, humans.

  • Bill W says:

    Paper Towels. One of many products designed specifically to be thrown away.

  • FatChance says:

    Pet rock. How many people paid $10 for a rock in a bag? How many are left?

  • Tom says:

    Segways! For those too lazy to walk or bike and too excited to sit!

  • Mr. SFZ says:

    G.E.,

    I’ve got to go with bottled water as well. The markups on it is just crazy. I read somewhere recently where you pay something like 4000% more for a single serving of bottled water than you would pay if it was from the tap. No thanks, I’ll just stick to refilling my water bottle from the tap every morning.

    Best regards,
    SFZ

  • Jennifer R. says:

    I know what you mean – however, my 75 year old grandmother could not open a can without an electric opener due to arthritis and early stage parkinsons… and our leaf blower is electric and the primary use is to quickly clean gutters twice a year. We use a mulching lawn mower to deal with most leaves – which uses gas but spares the use of plastic bags and wasting good leaves (excellent soil nutrient) by treating them like trash.

    Bottled water would be my pick. It is insane to buy pre-packaged small water bottles. We drink tons of water in our home and use culligan refillable gallons. We are looking for a filter for our tap but my husband is very particular.

    Another would be the use of water for lawns/sprinkler systems. It is crazy. You are wasting a valuable resource on making your grass greener while other parts of the world are dying of thirst. The water then runs through lawns and picks up pesticides that go to be treated through drains. Just plant clovers if you care about the lawn – less mowing, no watering, dense greenery.

    @scondor above mentioned cars not parked in a garage – the issue here is very interesting and linked to consumerism gone awry. Most people have garages that are filled to the absolute brim with junk they never use so a car can not fit in it. We noticed this recently – we are one of the very few people on our street who park in the garage. Everyone else has boxes and junk in theirs. Have a freakin’ yard sale and reclaim your space.

    • Scondor says:

      Exactly! And even worse is the Public Storage trap, where many people actually pay to have limited access to their junk. Making payments to own something is bad enough, but making payments on stuff you already fully paid for and hardly use is just nuts.

  • Steve says:

    My first thought was bottled water, but several people beat me to it. #2 on my list would be designer clothing that isn’t any higher-quality than the same generic item you can get at Target, but 4 times more expensive due to the prestige of the clothing line.

  • Tfree says:

    McMansions

    Packing materials that come with every thing

  • Josh says:

    Hands down, expensive jewelry for your pets. This always disgusts me when I see affluent people spend money like this. It’s absurdly wasteful and just as unnecessary.

  • Zod says:

    Bottled water is definitely number 1 in my book, but a very close second is wedding dresses. Why pay many thousands of dollars for a garment you will wear one time? Huge waste of money. Although, most things related to a wedding are more expensive than they should be.

  • Rlewis says:

    I think consumerism gone wrong is very evident in the technology field (obviously) but I have two examples.

    Children’s toys–stuffed animals with internet connections built-in–now have “digital feeding times” where you have to enter your credit card information to buy digital “food” and “feed” your stuffed animal. So they’re “feeding” digital, non-living items with actual real-world money.

    Even in video games, players can use real-world money to “buy” certain upgrades in the video game that aren’t available to other players. This is an example of human beings buying goods that do not exist–they’re buying digital code snippets!

  • Aldo @ MDN says:

    Like others said, bottle water is the worst but how about expensive cups of coffee? I don’t want to mention any by name but you know who they are.

    You see a lot of people walking around with their Lattes and spending an outrageous amount of money for something they can brew at home for pennies per cup.

  • Alex says:

    My vote is for all modern big budget movies. It’s a big one, but let’s face it; if films are to be just remakes of classics and use tons of special effects then the we, the audience, have forgotten what art is and waste time and money going to the cinema.
    The other thing would be the amount of reality television and the celeb world – who’s buying all these magazines about the lives of rich fools?

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  • Kelly says:

    Ha! VCR rewinders…brings back the old days.

    I think the consumer product that I think made me cringe the most is the concept of a teacup dog. My brother got a teacup Yorkie…b/c if your Yorkie isn’t *small enough*, and you really want your Yorkie to know that you loved her so much that you were willing to drop an extra $5k, that’s the way to go.

  • Justin B says:

    A gold plated iPhone.

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