Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Abundance post: Wear it Out

[Update: I added some further comments on this here.]

Use it up, wear it out...

There's some debate there about what "wear it out" means. Does wearing something out mean to keep fixing something until there's no place left to patch? Or wear it out as-is, like driving a car full of rust holes and belching smoke out the end? How far do you take this before you give in and replace something that's unsafe, inefficient or just ugly?

I don't think there's one right answer. I do think that "wear it out" includes refinishing, repainting, patching, darning, and replacing parts if you can; it can also just mean squeezing the last out of something. But there's a difference between wearing a sock with a hole in the toe and re-using a worn out baby car seat or a lamp that short-circuits.

Which brings us back to one of Mama Squirrel's favourite rants: how come socks don't last as long as they used to? How come the stroller we bought for Crayons was toast after just one kid (even though it was treated nicely and not dragged through the snow the way The Apprentice's old beast was)? How come the Barbie heads crack off and the new sheets shrink beyond recognition? How come more things aren't user-repairable?

Of course I know why. They're mostly made overseas, as cheaply as possible. The plastic parts snap off at a touch. We're supposed to buy new things, not fix the old ones. Besides, most of us can't be trusted to know how to open the back of something. Or someone thinks we just can't be bothered.

You could say that the joke of "wearing it out" is that most things these days "wear out" without any help, one week past the warranty period. Our stove is on its fourth oven element, and that's not a tribute to our resourcefulness, it's a rant against poor workmanship. (The first time one of the elements broke, it shot sparks out the oven door, made a hole like a cigarette burn in the kitchen floor, and scared me half to death. Since then I keep an eye on the element, and if I ever see any funny red bulges while it's heating up, I know it's time to replace it.)

The challenge now of hanging onto something long enough to wear it out is finding something that's worth wearing out in the first place.


coffeemamma said...

We say our home is where small appliances come to die ;-) We especially consider coffee makers to be disposible, since we can't afford the high-end or stainless-steel ones.

And pants for little boys? Forget keeping the knees in them for more than a month. There's a good reason why you can so rarely find boys' pants at thrift stores after size 3. If The Boy's pants still fit around the waist after he's blasted the knees out, I cut them off for summer shorts, which helps in a way.

We've become resigned to the fact that we have to buy some things (The Boy's pants, and socks like you mentioned) at a store that is a bit pricier than we like. They have regularly-scheduled 40-50% off sales, so we jump at the chance to stock up.

Great post!

MommyLydia said...

I've also heard it is because things are so cheap. The prices of replacement parts have become expensive compared to the original appliance itself, and they are expensive for the company to stock, etc. But time and again people buy what is cheap, not what lasts, so that is what is on the shelves.

Meredith said...

I blame this house's brand new oven for burning out prematurely. It's taking me a while, but I'm still hunting for a white range with NON ELECTRONIC controls with which to replace it.

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

Things are cheaply made and that hampers the "wear it out" mentality. The things wear themselves out. It reminds me of the predicament of the family in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle". Anything they could afford to buy was shoddy and poorly made - even their food didn't actually nourish them. And that's so true of our culture today. Not many items on the dollar menu have any actual nutrition - it's just filler for your stomach. I can't hand down the baby shoes, because they fall apart after 6 months. We buy new hairbrushes often, because the handles crack and the tips have all come off.
I am so tired of PLASTIC cups cracking and breaking and replacing them every 3 months, and I actually buy the disposable sippee cups because they are cheaper and hold up better than the "good" ones. My hangers don't hold up my clothes anymore. The kids' dressers have plastic runners on the drawers and can't handle a water ring because they are pressed board. I've even noticed that our "good", name brand clothes are less prone to stains than the cheap ones.
Sears had a thing going called KidVantage where if they wore holes in the pants, they would replace them in the same size if you owned them for a year or less. You were guaranteed that they would grow out of them before they wore out.
Even my breadmaker - new it cost around $30. I lost the little paddle thing. To get a new one? $14.95 plus $6.95 s/h! I just went to the thrift store and bought an identical one for $6 and threw out the machinery, keeping the pan and paddle. So wasteful - I'm sure the machine worked fine! But I only needed the little part - and it was cheaper to buy a new one and throw away the parts I didn't need.

Mama Says

TheNormalMiddle said...

I totally agree with the "cheaply" made things today. They do not last as long as things used to last. We've lived in our house 7 years and we've been thru 3 dishwashers. It all came down to how cheaply made they are. Sometimes it is better to splurge and buy the better brand (our last dishwasher we learned our lesson and bought the GE Gold Series instead of whatever was cheapest at Lowes).

I'll be posting on my celebrating a year of abundance today when I get around to it.

Anonymous said...

I have several friends that like to dress in trendy clothes, so they buy cheaper clothes and then don't feel bad about buying new clothes every season. I have such a hard time wearing something for such a short time. It seems wasteful. I've discovered that if I pay a little bit more for a piece of clothing (bought from the right supplier) it really does last longer. I was wearing a shirt yesterday that I've owned for nearly nine years! And it's barely faded, which is amazing.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my pet peeves as well. I'd love to be my like my grandparents, using household items 40 and 60 years after purchase but as you all have pointed out, that's not easy to do these days even if you are well-intentioned and determined.

One thing I've done when faced with a dilemma such as milehimama is offer the excess parts for free on a website such as craigslist or I'm in California and a lady on the East Coast, Connecticut I think it was, contacted me for a blender jar I was offering after the power components conked out. She paid the shipping for me to send it to her which was still much cheaper than her buying a replacement. (I did not ship it until I'd received her payment and it cleared my bank.)

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

In the midst of our butter yellow kitchen with the cream colored frig is a...1970s brown stove.

It was there when the young people who had this house before us lived here. I suspect it has been here since almost the first owner.

However, it works just great so why replace it. As I said on my blog at one time, I look at it as another antique.

You are SO right, though. They really do not make things like they used to!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post. To coffeemamma, fyi we just solved the same problem of "disposable" makers by buying an inexpensive filter holder that will fit nicely over the mouth of a thermos. We pour through the boiling water, cap the thermos, and our coffee tastes better than in a maker, no additional costs to keep the warming burner on, no extra "toasting" of the coffee, and once it does get cold, it can be reheated quickly in a microwave or stovetop. To the lady who bought the used bread machine for the replacement part, I hope you returned the rest of the unit to the thrift store in case somebody else needed to replace only the body part of theirs that broke down. I try to purchase the more expensive items when the quality is obviously much better and also when it's an item that one of us would know how to repair or re-use as needed until it really wears out. Look for ways to avoid the "disposable" inexpensive items that the box stores keep trying to sell us -- challenging but so important.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with this entry! I too have discovered that there are household items and clothing items esp. that are just better if you buy better. Sure, there are some things I don't mind being disposable (napkins, occasionally plates, diapers), but when it comes to my underwear and my son's socks, it needs to last. I started buying Victoria's Secret undies several years ago (at their semi-annual sales) because I discovered they lasted better - I still have pairs from probably three years ago that are in good condition. However, when I last bought some last summer, not only do they cost probably a dollar more than they used to, they're already wearing out! What's up with that?!?!