Monday, April 2, 2012

Garbage in Garbage out: Our Disposable Society

Guest Post from my husband, Stephen Fuhrman:

Garbage in Garbage out

In the late 80s my grandfather passed away.  My Dad moved all of Grandpa’s stuff to his shop and tried his best to pass it out to family members.  Nobody wanted it.  At that time I was all but broke so I dug through it and found a bunch of old tools and household goods that I was allowed to take home with me.  Items like a carpenter’s square, electric drill, hand wrenches, electric skillet, and aluminum cake pan, etc.  To this day I still use most of these items.  A few have worn out completely and had to be replaced.  My point is, these are items that sooner or later I would have purchased in order to cook, fix or whatever throughout the last 25 years.

My wonderful frugal wife that I married just 6 years ago brags almost daily about her 25 year old kitchen center, her 20 year old pots and pan set, and her 25 year old electric skillet.  Sure there are many new versions of these items on the market just begging her to buy but why?

I am talking about all this because of how disposable our society has gotten.  Just today in my little vacuum store, I had a customer come in with vacuums that were 3 years old and a 1.5 years old.  They were no longer working right and making squeaking noises.  As we talked to her, she made it clear that she loves her vacuums.  If we were to total up the amount of money she spent it would be between $800 and $900 just 1 to 3 years ago.  As we prepared a quote, she spoke up and said if it cost too much that she would just buy new ones.  “WOW”  was my thought.  In three years you are willing to pay another $850 for new items to replace the old machines that have stopped performing for you in that short amount of time.  Of course, we convinced her, that spending $100 on repairs was much better than filling the landfills and spending another $850 on new vacuums which will inherently have the same problem in a couple of years.
This got me thinking…  What is wrong with us Americans?  Why do we complain about money and the economy while wasting so much money on garbage products?  Once we do find that we made a bad investment, why do we insist on doing it all over again?  I’m not sure I have the answer, but I do have some thoughts.

Are we lazy?   A couple of weeks ago I replaced an old floor in my wife’s office with laminate flooring.  Even though I have lots of power tools and what I refer to as garage toys, I do not have a table saw or a compound miter saw to easily cut the boards perfectly.  I was about to go to Home Depot and buy one for $300 until I remembered that,  back in the late 80s, I built furniture without these tools and it all turned out nice.  I figured if I could do it then, I can do it now.  So I saved myself 300 bucks and used squares, straight-edges, and a good old fashioned circular saw to make all my cuts.

The woman that was in my store seemed like a quite mechanical and intelligent woman. She could see that paying $100 and waiting for a day was a better deal than paying $850 and getting instant gratification.  But we had to do some convincing.  Was she mentally lazy, or just swayed by the “go out and buy a newer, better one” mentality?   Why was it that it took convincing that repairing the old, saving money and landfills was a better deal?  I could make a pretty good living if I could save or collect $750 everyday.

To get back to my main thought of garbage.  OK let’s say these machines were garbage and needed to be dumped.  Why would anyone replace a 3 year old relatively expensive item with a duplicate?  Why would anyone think that you need to replace appliances every three years?  If you do your homework, buy quality products that are suitable to your needs, allow it to be demonstrated so that you use it and care for it correctly, you should never have to. 

Back to my tools, I could have gone out and bought new tools that are shinier and would have done the job easier and maybe even better, but I didn’t.  Why?  Because the old tools are not garbage, they just required me to do more brain work.
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