Several years back, my wife and I thought that we would participate in a bit of a social experiment. We decided that we would purge the major living spaces of our home of as many products of mass manufacturing as we could. Through a complex series of experiences and conversations, my wife and I had come to realize that we were surrounded by objects which had no traces of the human hand upon them and that, for all intents and purposes, were the manifestation of a distancing, cold mechanization. The motive for our experiment came from our suspicion that surrounding ourselves with the products of industrialization was having a subtle demoralizing and dehumanizing effect on our lives.
There is no doubt that industrialization has enriched the human experience in ways that we could barely imagine. It facilitated the division of labor and, consequently, allowed the majority of us the wealth and free time to pursue things beyond the activity of labor itself. Industrialization, for all its benefits, did leave its mark on the products it produced. By and large, it replaced the expertise and variation of the artisan with the efficiency and precision of the machine. What this eventually did was surround us with industrialized wonders that gave emphasis to the mechanics that had produced them.
For complex reasons, my wife and I had begun to wonder what kind of an effect it would have on us to surround ourselves with as many objects that were made by the human hand as possible. Slowly, we set about performing little tasks of transition. We eventually replaced all our plastic plant pots with hand-made ceramics and replaced mass-produced framed images with original works of art.
We created small, disciplined projects for ourselves that would aid in our goals. For example, once a month we bought a hand-made ceramic mug from the many potters we knew in our community to replace one of the commercially produced mugs in our cupboards. Every new mug meant a trip to the Salvation Army in order to relieve us of what we began to see as an icon of commercialism. The successes of this project lead to an accumulation of plates made by artists.
Through this experiment, our lives became less plastic or universal and more humane or particular. Over time we found our house saturated with objects that reflected the expertise and wonder of an object created by the human hand. It also surrounded us with objects that were individual and a manifestation of the wonder of human creativity. The result of our experiment was that we were increasingly surrounded with objects that existed nowhere else in the world but in our home, increasing our sense of their value and meaning.
Fundamentally, our experiment provided us with a living environment that was saturated with objects of inspiration and which nurtured our creativity. Over all, it created an environment that enriched our souls and I think we are better people for it.