Updated 28 October 2013

100 utterly useless things

Computers and cupcakes and cruise missiles, shoes and ships and sealingwax. Humans are excellent at turning raw matter into all manner of entertaining artificial Stuff. By Olivia Rose-Innes


Computers and cupcakes and cruise missiles, shoes and ships and sealingwax. Humans are excellent at turning raw matter into all manner of entertaining artificial Stuff.

But the world is now full. Well, it’s stuffed really, isn’t it. We live under a continuous avalanche of new Things, some useful, some enchanting, some downright idiotic.

And just about all of it, wheelchairs and whipped cream alike, chews up resources and spews out pollution during its manufacture, and then gets added to the other avalanche – waste – once we’re finished with it.

Of the 3Rs, Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, the most important R, and the one we’re most pathetic at because it involves denying ourselves, is Reduce i.e. consume less stuff in the first place so there’s less  demand for manufacturers to keep churning it out, and less necessity to Reuse and Recycle it afterwards.

Some of the Stuff has to got to go. I’m not suggesting a green version of the Chinese cultural revolution, where each item must prove its worthiness to the cause or die. A universe of purely utilitarian objects would be grim. Besides, objects that serve a primarily aesthetic purpose can justify their existence in that they make us happier and mentally healthier.

But there are some things we can surely learn to live without.

Here’s my kickstart to the List of 100 Utterly Useless Things to Banish from the Face of the Earth:

  1. Those little toxic scented trees in cars. Also, “new car smell” spray, designed to emulate the heady scent of volatile organic compounds off-gassing from a vehicle fresh off the factory floor.
  2. Wrapping paper. You’re not still buying new rolls of the stuff, are you?
  3. Obsessive creepy collections of teddybears or dolls. Or owls. Or anything with glass eyes that stares at you en masse.
  4. Pedigreed dogs and cats. No, I don’t mean extant ones. They’re nice and it’s not their fault they’re here. I mean future ones: we don’t need to be bringing more inbred pets into the world when there are thousands of perfectly good ones needing homes already.
  5. And on that topic: pet clothes. Making any animal dress up. Nudity is a human construct.
  6. Clothes for inanimate objects. Furry toilet seats, and those crocheted toilet-roll covers in the form of a doll about to give birth to a toilet roll.
  7. Cigarettes. World’s top litter component, apart from anything else.
  8. Those little plastic tops that cover the sucking part on sports drinks. Second to cigarette butts, they’re the most common litter item I see when hiking. We either need to stop making them or design a way to keep them attached – akin to the stay-on-tab on beverage cans, a great unsung invention that effectively removed old-style aluminium pull-tabs from the litter stream.
  9. Sports drinks. Highly processed and packaged, much more expensive and likely inferior to water.
  10. Men’s neckties. These miniature corporate nooses have been around for a century serving no purpose other than to pose a choking and hygiene hazard (they get washed less often than other clothes items). You don’t need them to succeed. Take anti-tie activist Richard Branson. “Join me,” he says. “Find your nearest pair of scissors and cut your tie off. Or better still, cut your friend’s tie off! They’ll thank you for it when the ideas start flowing.” Of course, Richard doesn’t have to worry about consequences quite as much the rest of us.
  11. Fur.
  12. Veal, a euphemism for Baby Cow forced to live in a crate to keep its meat tender.
  13. Unnecessarily automated items for the absurdly slothful. Battery-operated spice mills, for instance, or the self-stirring beverage mug (really). Moving walkways and escalators should be reserved for the genuinely disabled.
  14. Scrapbooking. Originally, this was a gentle form of recycling, where people pasted ticket stubbs from shows and pictures snipped from old magazines. Now it’s a twee consumerist off-the-peg hobby, where you can BUY sets of cute ready-made cut-outs.
  15. High-heeled shoes and other torture devices.
  16. Scary fake nails and eyelashes.
  17. Tanks, cluster bombs, landmines, etc.
  18. Genital dye
  19. "Designer Water a.k.a. Aqua Minerale. Aqua naturale in South Africa just as good." (From reader 'aml'.) Agreed; nothing wrong with our tap water.
  20. "Double ply toilet paper - pretty sure it's going to go down in history as one of the most unnecessary and destructive human indulgences ever." (From reader 'Aki')
  21. I know that’s fewer than the 100 things advertised in the title. There are plenty more that belong on this list (fairy lights, miniature cocktail umbrellas, plastic flowers and that device on infomercials that vacuum seals your leftovers, come to mind), which I haven’t included because I desire them and haven’t evolved sufficiently yet to bid them adieu.

    But I also wanted to leave some space for your Useless ideas too. What don’t we need? Let me know below and if I agree it’s utterly pointless I’ll add it to the list.

    - Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, December 2012, Health24 


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