Have you ever wondered where all the stuff is now that you’ve received as Christmas presents over the years? From your childhood, through your teenage years and into adulthood? How about everything you’ve ever given anyone else for Christmas? I’ll bet you don’t have a clue where most of it is now, or how it ended up. “The Story of Stuff”, a new short film released today online, takes you on a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture — from resource extraction to gadget incineration — exposing the real costs of our use-it and lose-it approach to stuff.

Throughout the 20-minute film, activist Annie Leonard, the film’s narrator and an expert on the materials economy, examines the social, environmental and global costs of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. Her illustration of a culture driven by stuff allows her to isolate the moment in history where she says the trend of consumption mania began. The “Story of Stuff” examines how economic policies of the post-World War II era ushered in notions of consumerism — and how those notions are still driving much of the U.S. and other global economies today.

According to the film, consumer mania may have been born from the post World War II era, but economic manipulation has driven consumerism to where it is today. From the limited life cycle of personal computers to changes in footwear fashion, Leonard demonstrates that products are either designed to be regularly replaced or to convince consumers that their stuff needs to be upgraded. This notion of planned and perceived obsolescence drives the machine of consumerism year round.

The film features Leonard delivering a rapid-fire, often humorous and always engaging story about “all our stuff — where it comes from and where it goes when we throw it away.” Written by Leonard, the film was produced by Free Range Studios, the makers of other socially-minded, web-based films such as “The Meatrix” and “Store Wars.” Funding for the project came from The Sustainable Funders and Tides Foundation.

This film provides the missing links in our understanding of how consumerism works, and why it is causing such damage to our planet and to people who are involved in production of our stuff, who we aren’t even consciously aware of. I heartily recommend seeing this film.

Here’s a taster:

For the full 20-minute film, visit The Story of Stuff website.