Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Valuable information?

Over the last few years I have developed a terrible habit of buying 'lifestyle' magazines. Its a wasteful habit, and I realise now that I may as well have been buying packets of cigarettes for the good it has done me. Yesterday evening I audited my collection. I skimmed through them and ripped out the pages that I could use in my life; the rest I put out for recycling. I have reduced a 20 strong stack of glossy magazines to a collection of paper that measures 1cm thick, when folded in half. That is how much value I got out of thousands of pages and approximately £70 of investment.

A magazine is in effect a fixed bundle; you buy one article, you buy all (and you will at least skim them all, because you want to get your money's worth). There is not a single 'women's' magazine on the market that I think can be described as a quality publication. Almost every other page is a targeted advert for a product that will probably not serve your needs (if such a need even exists – if it doesn't the ad will create one in your mind). The pages in between are too often filled with naive journalism that neither serves the reader, the journalist or the often downtrodden subject of the 'special report' or 'real life insider'. The high maintenance  interiors and fashion, whilst beautifully staged, don't actually reflect a life of leisure and real beauty (unless you have staff of course).

The only magazine I can say that I have collected that I have truly loved was National Geographic. I was given a massive vintage collection as a child and was hooked. It opened up worlds I never knew existed and its breadth and depth I credit with making me a more informed, well rounded and worldly (and naturally modest...) adult. It is however an expensive investment, both in monetary and reinforced shelving terms; and alas I had to let it go a few years ago. I wish I had a photo of that wall of yellow spines that still sits back home!

There is no 'women's' magazine that will do that for you. There aren't even many specialist hobby and craft magazines that will do that. I have some craft magazines of my mothers from the 1970s that, whilst slim part-works, have more in-depth, useful information (and zero craft brand/product/crafting celebrity) in each feature than modern craft magazines have in a whole issue. Sure, you may find the odd recipe that you like; the odd picture that brightens your day; the odd craft pattern. But ultimately, on a 12 monthly cycle, the same ideas, the same features, the same themes come up again and again, packaged in different colours and fonts. Those magazines are an expensive form of escapism. They appeal because they often engender a feeling of belonging, that you are doing and buying and experiencing the 'right' things, the same things as other people are doing.

There are more rewarding and cost effective ways to feel informed, connected and authentic than that. A visit to the library or a second hand book store, a google search, a chat with a friend; and saving those pounds that you would have spent on a glossy magazine to buy a good book or a quality tool or ingredient that will help you on your way to a more authentic life.

I bought a jam skimmer in a charity shop for 50p yesterday. How stoked am I? 50p I didn't spend on an airbrushed picture of Jane Fonda selling snake oil, wedged between a few bland recipes 'updated' by celebrity chefs? Stoked!!! I think I have learnt my lesson.

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