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When did goods get so bad?

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The city was behaving very strangely while I was out walking Saturday morning. Cars went by too slowly, as if they were stalking me, or someone. Every pedestrian but me seemed to be have a backpack or a large shopping bag, and I knew most of them didn’t live in my neighborhood.

A young woman walked by pushing an empty stroller and the paranoia really started to creep into my muscles. I suddenly became convinced that I was being filmed. A passing Cavalier came to a stop in the middle of the street and sat there for a moment. Whatever was going to happen was about to happen now. Two Middle Eastern men got out, leaving the doors open and the engine running. They trotted into a back alley, and emerged carrying a coffee table.

I had forgotten that it’s Winnipeg’s giveaway weekend, where citizens are encouraged to leave their unwanted home furnishings on the boulevard in front of their houses, for others to pick up if they like. Thrift-minded Winnipeggers hit the streets early Saturday, usually in pairs, to skulk through other people’s neighborhoods at creepy-slow speeds, hoping to find anything that may possibly be useful: worn-out golf bags, folding chairs, tarpaulins, drawerless dressers, dresserless drawers, sander belts, axe handles, maybe even a pair of Shake-Weights or a Jolly Jumper.

I’d intended to put out my items before the foragers left home: a tiny computer desk, a box of low-quality paintball gear, and a particle-board bookshelf. I forgot but knew it would be no problem finding a taker later on. The most important thing not to forget on giveaway weekend is to keep everything you do wish to keep as far as possible from the front boulevard. It’s even dangerous to leave something anywhere in the front yard. Every year careless people lose bikes, lawnmowers and garden gnomes, because anybody could haul it off and, if stopped in the act, make a case that they thought it was free.

Quirks aside, I love that we have giveaway weekends. There’s something beautiful about how it allows an object to regain its lost worthiness, by gaining a new owner. When I did put my items out later in the morning, they were gone before I could return to my desk with my coffee — I had hoped to see their new owners through the window.

The value of everyday household stuff has dwindled noticeably in my lifetime. I remember accompanying my dad, one Summer weekday when I was ten, to a little shop to get the family VCR repaired. Repaired! Can you imagine that? There were people running a profitable business fixing small appliances — toasters, coffee makers and Video Cassette Recorders — because even a few decades ago there was an expectation of lasting value in these things. Today we typically bury malfunctioning electronic devices in the ground and buy new ones. It’s possible that there will be a time when children are surprised to hear their parents used to have their cars fixed too. 

Certain aspects of the human world are marching pretty steadily in a particular direction, the growing disposableness of our goods being only one of them. But they aren’t all moving in a bad direction. Over my lifetime I’ve seen a steady increase, for example, in the recognition of gays as regular people, the ease of self-publishing your own creative work, and freedom of expression generally. I like the way things are moving on those fronts. So don’t think I’m saying that the world is going uniformly to Hell. But the quality of the objects with which we populate our homes is certainly not a category in which we’re moving towards humanity’s potential.

In New Zealand I met a young, pseudo-Buddhist Englishman — he high-fived me when he learned I had been meditating on the hostel’s back porch — who carefully washed and reused plastic bags other travelers had left. He explained that they are as permanent as everything else, and so he wanted to get some value out of the refuse of others if he could. “The only thing that makes them disposable is that we’re told to dispose of them,” he said. “If the ancient Egyptians made these, we’d still be finding them.”

I respect the way he valued value. He recommended getting rid of everything I own at least once, then go backpacking with a change of clothes and a book to see how infrequently I had to actually buy something in order to get by. It sounded more extreme to me at the time than it does now.

A stand-up lamp I bought a year ago is now showing signs of senility. The brightest setting is no longer where the knob is all the way to the right, it’s at a random position somewhere along its rotation each time I turn it on. The off position, similarly, is not quite at the other end any more, it’s migrated a few millimeters to the right. When I bought it I remember consciously avoiding the low-end ones and getting the heavier, more expensive one because I wanted a trustworthy light source.

It’s become pretty normal for “goods” to be pretty bad. So after seeing the delight with which a different person carries away the same bookshelf I can’t bloody stand to look at any more, I want to celebrate and maximize the value of the things I let into my life. There’s no strict timeframe for this, so I’m not making a formal experiment out of it, but I am going to set a definite compass heading here. From here on in I want to move against the cultural current by gradually transitioning my estate to include only lasting, fixable possessions, even if the world around me continues to lower its standards.

Broken down, that means:

Only buy new things that I expect to last a long time. It’s true that there are some types of products that are simply not available in the long-lasting variety. If I want to participate in the smart-phone world, for example, (and at this point I do) I will not expect to find one that will last ten years. But I will go with the makes that seem to be the most durable. My Samsung Android has survived quite a bit, including being submerged in running ditchwater for a good half-minute.

Acquire fewer things. Even if I’m not actively minimizing possessions, acquiring fewer things is a necessary side-effect because the initial purchase price of a high-quality item is going to be higher, even though cheaper items tend to cost more in the long run because they need replacing sooner. As I get more and more frugal, the purchase of a new item (or even a quality used one) is becoming rarer. This is good all around I think. As Mr. Money Mustache has said, “Buying yourself a new manufactured product should hurt a little bit.”

Find owners for things I don’t want. When something has become valueless for me, there is almost certainly someone out there in this city who would value it. Sometimes it’s a little more work to find an owner than to drag it to the bin, but often it’s not. Putting it on Kijiji or Craigslist often means you only have to drag it as far as your front door.

Fix broken things, if possible. For every item that has ever been successfully fixed by a DIY enthusiast, there is a Youtube video showing you how you can do it too. Fixing something is an incredible feeling.

Own nothing that makes me feel bad. This includes not only the low-quality but also the unnecessary. If I don’t have actual intentions for it, it ought to be somebody else’s. I’d rather own fifty good things than a thousand crummy things.

Some part of me yearns for a Walden-like life of sturdy hand tools and homemade everything, in a self-built shack outside the edge of town. I would like to trust and respect every item I use in my daily life, which means the fewer items there are, and the simpler they are, the better. The motive here isn’t exactly minimizing the volume of possessions, but maximizing their quality.

I know I’m too dependent on 21st century miracles like the internet to go quite as far as, say, Thoreau. Still, I would like to begin pruning the dead overgrowth away from where I am, and see what kind of material life I end up with before it truly pains me to cut one more thing loose.


Photo by tiffany terry

LizinOregon September 9, 2013 at 3:33 am

That’s a powerful image of the cars stalking free “stuff”. While it’s great to recycle, I can’t help but wonder about the time spent cruising the streets in search of more junk. Aren’t there better ways to spend the day?

Every time I tackle my clutter, I am reminded that the real solution is to avoid accumulating it in the first place.

Miss Growing Green September 9, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Well, I suppose one could go collect the more valuable junk, restore it or otherwise fix it up, then re-sell it on craigslist or Ebay. I guess it wouldn’t really be in the spirit of giving away items for people that “need” them though…

If you commit to re-gifting or reselling everything you collect, it can be kind of fun, like a treasure hunt of sorts, and by committing not to accumulate more stuff you can also avoid the title of “hoarder” :)

Jardley September 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm

” While it’s great to recycle, I can’t help but wonder about the time spent cruising the streets in search of more junk. Aren’t there better ways to spend the day?”

It’s all point of view, for instance my mother on her weekend’s off likes to spend both days at the flea market. To me, it’s unnecessary to go spend your whole day there back to back, and it’s unnecessary junk she could’ve a let someone else have who it’d be more useful for. To her, spending her days on her feet scouring at the flea market, she feels the most energetic, alert and relaxed

Vilx- September 9, 2013 at 3:50 am

When buying big things, don’t forget to still do the math. It’s true that better quality things are more expensive, but sometimes the expense gets big faster than the longevity. I recently came across such a case: I studied which fridges to buy, since I needed an old one. A typical consumer fridge costs about $400-$600 here (converted to US dollars). I can expect it to last at least 5 years, but it’s not uncommon that one lasts 10 years or more, especially if you take good care of it and repair it once or twice. On the other hand, a high-end Liebherr fridge costs about twice that or more – $1200 and above. By it’s reputation I’d expect it to last AT LEAST 10 years, an quite likely more. However, while it seems to be a good investment at first, you have to realize that it will take at least 20 years before it breaks even with two typical-quality fridges. That’s a lot of time. What are the chances that 20 years down the road you will still be satisfied with the same fridge?

Pete September 9, 2013 at 6:31 am

For fridges, a good fridge often is cheaper than a cheap fridge – the electricity costs (and fridge efficiency differences) over 5 years are a majority of the total cost.

Kenoryn September 18, 2013 at 9:11 am

Also, what is the environmental cost of throwing away and replacing the old fridge? This is a cost we pay with our health and our long-term prosperity and well-being (as well as the actual cost in dollars of paying to dispose of the fridge, and the cost you pay through tax dollars for its disposal)

R. H. Kanakia September 9, 2013 at 5:59 am

Since getting an e-reader, I’ve stopped buying physical books. I do still read them sometimes, but only when I get them from a library. I realized I was just tired of being attached to hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of paper that I owned mostly for sentimental value. I can treasure the things I learned from a book without also being encumbered by it.

Trish Scott September 9, 2013 at 8:35 am

I can second that! A long time ago I quit buying books – just used the library and gave away 90% of the books I’d been hauling around for decades. Then I got an e-reader and never do read a physical book anymore. Sometimes I look at the one bookcase I do have left and hate that I still have even those books cluttering up my life. They just sit there taking up space, waiting for the once a year I may need to reference them AND they have to be dusted. I can see another give-away in my future.

David Cain September 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I haven’t yet done the e-reader thing. Even if I stop buying paper books, I still have about 50 that I own and have not yet read. I figure if I get an e-reader I’ll end up with thousands of unread books because I don’t need to physically store them anywhere :)

Scott September 10, 2013 at 12:38 am

Unless the books have been gifted to you (without receipts), just solve your problem by putting wanted titles in a list. When you finish your current stockpile, give yourself permission to start the list, one-by-one.

Miss Growing Green September 9, 2013 at 7:32 pm

“I can treasure the things I learned from a book without also being encumbered by it.”

Amen to that! The last time I moved I brought boxes upon boxes of books along that were some of my favorites, but had never been re-opened and re-read. I stopped acquiring new ones and slowly passed them along to friends I thought would enjoy them. E-readers are so much more environmentally friendly.

Jardley September 9, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I totally understand sentimental value from the very scarce amount of books I manage to own having gotten them very randomly. But, I typically don’t buy books to fill up a book collection or set foot in a bookstore with the purpose of going to buy a book I heard was recommended or was by a favorite author or anything of that kind. Majority of the time I too get my books from the library. I just never got why I would buy a book when most likely I’d read it once. It would just take up space.
This is precisely the reason why I didn’t like or understood quotes that spoke about judging a person’s character if they possessed books or not in their home.

Matt September 25, 2013 at 11:49 am

I would be curious how many paper books it takes to equal the environmental impact of the plastic, copper, battery goo and other things in something even as small as an e-reader…it takes up less space but I wouldn’t think it’s necessarily the environmental option.

Alasdair September 9, 2013 at 6:43 am

A noble sentiment – there is a lot of stuff built to be destroyed. I’ve kept my dad’s slide rule. It reminds me both of how much things have changed, but also of how quickly things improve.

One thing to note is that not all rubbish was created equally. Value decreases because cost and hence scarcity decreased. When wood is sourced sustainably, books become just another crop. In contrast, waste something like coltan (in mobile phones) and there is a greater risk of people getting hurt to replace it. Mineral monopolies appear to be a major danger.

As for waste, the marginal cost in producing one more disposable DVD player is far less when they are made in such quantities. I’m sure that with globalization, there are more customers and so factories can get bigger and an economy of scale applies. By working at an economy of scale, fixing an inefficiency once and implementing it in every product makes increasing sense. What you should really worry about is negative externalities: toxic waste and air quality; and the greatest toxic waste of our age, carbon dioxide. Nobody complains when trees throw away their leaves at the end of the year.

While they sit in rubbish dumps, plastic bags are carbon sinks. Incidentally, the same was true of wood during the carboniferous period before fungus evolved the ability to digest it and recover minerals. How long before nature, if not people, evolves its own solution to recycle plastic?

I don’t think rubbish dumps will be looked down on in the future. If the Egyptians produced a lot of plastic bags we would have them hanging up in a museum. After all, what fraction of archaeology consist of a list of clay pots sourced from rubbish dumps? The gold and rare earth minerals in electronics alone make every rubbish dump a future windfall for those of sufficient technical means. All that stands in the way is whether it is cheaper to mine the rainforest or the rubbish dump. And you’re already seeing a lot of the latter in the developing world, though often by the incredibly poor.

Another reason cheep products are thrown away is because they are increasingly complicated. As a kid, I could take an electronic toy apart and expect to recognize motor, wire, broken bit. Now kids toys rival city plans for complexity. And they change so fast that there is decreasing value in learning to repair a particular product. The ideas required are also more complicated. To repair an old clock requires a knowledge of cleaning gear mechanisms and an idea of oscillators. Repairing a DVD player requires you to recognize micro-electronics, optics, mechanics and often at far smaller scales. Getting your car fixed is similarly increasing in complexity.

I really like the idea of having a small number of high quality and easily repaired items. There is a real demand for such products. However, the business model may need some work. Like dating sites, success means you never see the customer again. Websites that profit by growing a community rather than from direct sales is one solution. What is needed is a culture change in how businesses make their money. But whether that can be imposed by regulation or customer choice is unclear.

David Cain September 9, 2013 at 4:24 pm

At this point I’m less interested in figuring out how the whole economy ought to change, and more in what I want to do differently. For all the things I dislike about my job, I love that it involves using a hammer because it’s such a simple and elegant tool and I buy the good ones with the wood handle. I know it isn’t hiding anything from me. It isn’t going to conk out or stop working.

Meredith September 9, 2013 at 7:02 am

Freecycle is a good resource for re-purposing stuff you don’t need anymore – local groups make it easy to post and claim items right in your neighborhood. freecycle dot org

sallyann September 9, 2013 at 7:04 am

We have a weekend like that in Perth (Western Australia) too, we call it “bring out your dead” and the local government disposes of the leftovers (landfill). I like all the recycling that happens when everything is on the roadside.

I have definitely been working on acquiring fewer things over the last year. The kindle has been a massive help with that. So far this year I have bought no new clothes/shoes/accessories, which I am quite pleased about (whilst it obviously demonstrates how much I already have). Relatives do give me clothes they no longer want because they know I don’t mind recycling and will wear it if I like it.

I take our cast-offs to a charitable op-shop but I think reducing the amount acquired is more important. Thoreau knew a thing or two.

Sofia September 9, 2013 at 7:14 am

Hello David,

I watched this great documentary about planned obsolescence few months ago, it might interest you: Comprar, tirar, comprar (‘to buy, to throw away, to buy’) by Cosima Dannoritzer.

Here’s a link to the original version, is in Spanish but there are some interviews in English (I’m sure you can find it on the internet with English subtitles too): http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/el-documental/documental-comprar-tirar-comprar/1382261/

Best regards from Barcelona!

Ragnar September 9, 2013 at 7:45 am

I’m actually not the kind of guy that buys things I don’t need, for the most part. And nothing against people who give me presents, but that’s where the bulk of things I don’t use, or rarely use, come from. When you’re put on the spot, people ask you what you want, and all you can say is “I don’t really want anything man.” People don’t accept that, so they either find something else to give you, or demand that you think of something you want or need.

Kate Elizabeth September 9, 2013 at 8:31 am

That’s so true re: presents. It becomes an awkward conversation when you politely assert that you don’t need/want anything – but your loved one still feels obligated to buy you something. As if that’s the only respectable way to show you they care. In a way though, they’re not listening, not respecting your wishes.

I turned 30 this year, and some very old friends bought me some very thoughtful, fancy gifts. I got them home and realised I didn’t want them. What was I going to do with them? I felt like a right brat.
But I realised that was just my strong reaction to more stuff coming into my house; nothing to do with them.

Trish Scott September 9, 2013 at 8:41 am

Gifts. Bah Humbug. If I need something I’ll buy it myself.

Back several decades and then some, my fiance wanted to buy me an engagement ring. I said I didn’t want one, I really just wanted a simple gold band. But do they ever think you mean what you say?! NO. So I got stuck with this diamond googaw on my hand for 12! of the longest years of my life. I should have seen the writing on the wall when he bought me that damned thing.

Kate Elizabeth September 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Is it about being a Scrooge? And putting a dampener on all things holiday-related?

I think thats not fair to get you a ring when you didn’t want one. It’s just not taking into account what YOU want. Or don’t want as the case may be.

I think we’re all supposed to want the diamond ring. But what if you don’t? What if you haven’t bought into that particular dream? Does it make you less in love, or less committed when you get engaged? Surely not.

Ragnar September 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Yeah that’s not you being a brat, that’s a completely logical reaction. I’m going to start telling people to make me cupcakes or something… although I might end up with a whole lot of them, you can never have too many homemade cupcakes, am I right?

Randy October 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm

You are right!

Scott September 10, 2013 at 12:44 am

Ask for food as gifts. They get to spend money on you, and you get to save money. Win-win.

Ragnar September 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I just had that same thought 5 seconds ago, I wish someone had suggested that 5 years ago though!

Tim September 11, 2013 at 9:38 am

Pick out a good charity and ask your friends/family to donate to that charity instead of giving you a gift. Satisfies their need, your wants, and someone else’s need at the same time.

Ragnar September 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm

That’s a great idea man, thanks.

Christine September 13, 2013 at 7:34 am

I too am always at a loss when people ask me what I want. In truth, what I usually really want is out of their price range so I wouldn’t dream of asking for it, because I too look for quality.

I usually give people a book title or two, but this year I asked for a concert ticket. I think I will always do this from now on.

Lots of people give me wine, this I can’t complain about :-D

Jenni September 14, 2013 at 2:23 am

I feel the same way about presents. Oftentimes, receiving presents I don’t want actually produces a very unwelcome feeling of guilt within me. What are your thoughts about GIVING presents that aren’t useless clutter, and that cost very little? I am a student, so buying Christmas presents for my family, even just close family members, would put a big dent in my bank account. Thus far I’ve stuck mostly to making gifts — ornaments, fudge, baked goods, hand-sewn books, etc. My parents have always told me they’d rather receive something I made anyway. And these can be fun to make, and there can be a lot of creativity in gift-making projects. The thing I struggle with the most in making gifts, though, is in making sure they’re useful to the recipient and an appropriate gift. It’s usually pretty easy to come up with gifts for women — homemade candles, soap, foot scrub, etc. — but when it comes to men, I have a hard time doing so. Any thoughts on good, homemade, inexpensive gifts for men?

Kenoryn September 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

Food, clothing, art, and practical housewares can work for men. Gifts I’ve given or thought about giving men I’ve known include crocheted scarves, a handmade shirt, a spice rack made from branches/driftwood, carved salad spoons, basket of some of his favourite foods (that keep), a quilt, paintings, cleaning his car for him, a shelf, a carved walking stick, a cuttingboard, and trips (hiking, canoeing, camping etc.)

Kenoryn September 18, 2013 at 10:16 am

I ask for gifts of time/skill: help with my garden, or with my house which I’m fixing up, or as others have suggested, homemade food items. I often give people gift baskets of preserves or cookies or similar, or my time, e.g. if you know someone who hates housekeeping, give them a top-to-bottom clean of their house. Or car. Or fridge. This year I grew some perennials from seed to give as gifts – depends on the gift-giving season of course…

Randy October 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm

They also don’t accept when you honestly say “cash is fine”…they will still find something else to give you.

Trish Scott September 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

I live across the street from an engineer. He was the head engineer on 4! yes 4! winning Indianapolis 500 cars back in the day. He’s a legend in that circle. One day his car wouldn’t start and he had to call a tow truck to get it into town to be fixed. I’m all, “my god, I would have thought out of all the people on the planet, you could get your car started when it goes wonky.” He said, of course, what we all know now, “it’s just not that simple any more.”

cj September 9, 2013 at 9:22 am

David!!! The disposable society must be repugnant to any thinking person. Fixing stuff is getting harder and harder to do by oneself, except for all those neato YouTube vids. There are somethings that seem purposely made to be more costly to repair than to replace. I suppose the solution is not to buy these things, but sometimes we do not know until it is too late! What a mess! Have a tangerine sky of a day!

Leticia September 9, 2013 at 9:45 am

Things got disposable by design. When companies noticed that if you make a lamp that lasts 30 years, people will only need to buy another in 30 years, they started making lamps that lasted less. Other pressures are the price point, for instance, if you want to make cheap merchandise it has to be lower quality.

By the way, I have fixed my lamp. :)

On the other hand, when you buy the highest end model you are paying marketing, not quality. My rule for best quality in electronics is: look for the highest end model, go down 2 and there is the probable best bang for your buck. For non-electronic stuff, the best bang for the buck is usually found used.

Now on to my pet peeve: Let us agree that you only get to quote Walden once a year? ;)

After all, all Thoreau did was squat someone’s land, do odd jobs around the neighbourhood and write one boring book that I ended up reading after seeing quoted everywhere. I am sure most of the people that quoted it had read only the dust jacket.

David Cain September 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I’m not sure what to do about the lamp. I’ve checked the connections and they seem to be fine. I hope it’s the bulb, but I don’t want to buy one and find out it isn’t.

I think the appeal of Walden is pretty obvious, and Thoreau was no squatter — the land was owned by his friend and fellow quotable Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Leticia September 10, 2013 at 7:29 am

About the lamp, the problem seems to be some kind of lack of contact on the switch, you should probably replace it.

About Walden I’m not letting you off with “pretty obvious”. :) Not because I want to pick a fight, but because I am sure you can do better.

I did now know it was Emerson’s land. Thoreau left that bit out of the book.

Scott September 10, 2013 at 12:47 am

If people were willing to pay for a 30-year lamp, a 30-year lamp would be built. Less sinister, but just as real as planned obsolescence is unnecessary quality. It is considered a waste of manufacturing to build in extra quality beyond what the consumer is willing to pay.

Dr. Kiwano September 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm

It’s probably worth noting that while on one hand things are getting more complicated and requiring more tools and skills to repair, on the other hand, end-user access to those tools and skills is improving dramatically. Not only do we have the abundance of YouTube videos by anyone who’s seen fit to fix their own things, but the combination of obsolescence of industrial equipment, and much of the developing world having developed to the point where they make their own machinery instead of taking cast-off machinery from the developed world, means that there’s a small glut of old industrial machinery finding its way into makerspaces and other similar community ventures.

P.S. You’ve got quite the makerspace over in Winnipeg. You should definitely pay them a visit before deciding that anything you’ve got is irreparably broken.

David Cain September 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm

What a great concept. Maybe my lamp has a bright future after all.

Kenneth September 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Last night, I spent an hour and a half fixing my toilet, which was running on and on. I had researched the part, and bought it on Amazon for $8.21. It took so long because I needed to go buy a pipewrench ($8) and a big fat screwdriver ($3). Total cost to fix about $20. Satisfaction, priceless! And probably saved $100 on a plumber bill.

David Cain September 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Nice one!

Miss Growing Green September 9, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Awesome post! I agree on all accounts.
One thing I do that helps curb my desire to buy things- I force myself to attempt to sell or otherwise donate anything I want to get rid of. When it actually becomes a chore to get rid of things (vs. a quick toss in the dumpster) it really turns you off to buying more.
And, it keeps people reusing items instead of having them rot in a dumpster.
And, you’ll either make money off the sale or get a tax deduction for the donation, so it brings you closer to financial freedom too :)

new age nomad September 9, 2013 at 8:46 pm

This is right on! I’m also doing all of this and I’m so amazed at what I don’t need AND what I don’t want! My closet is still full of clothes I hardly wear and my storage unit is full of stuff I can actually live without, but my load is getting lighter and lighter and I feel so much better without all my stuff weighing me down. It’s freedom. :)

Scott September 9, 2013 at 8:55 pm

“gradually transitioning my estate to include only lasting, fixable possessions”

That is an admirable direction. To succeed on that path, do not forget you will need both the TIME and SKILL to fix what you own unless you are willing to outsource repairs, in which case you will need MONEY.

Check out Jacob Lund Fisker’s blog for how to hold onto the third in order to have the first and second.

Cherry Odelberg September 10, 2013 at 9:41 am

I like the way you think it through.

Brenden September 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm

The beginning of your story reminds me of August 14/15th here in Madison, WI. It is a college town and almost all of the leases that the students use run from August 15th to August 14. So every year there is a day called “Hippie Christmas” where all of the furniture and other things no one wants to keep or wants to move is left on the curb.
I like the idea of a giveaway weekend. I have never heard of one before. Great post!

John September 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Nice reflection David. I recently went on in six day backpacking trip in the Sierras. Coming back to civilization is mind boggling and overwhelming. As I sat on the plane back home and paged through the sky mall magazine for fun, I got a kick out of how much useless disposable crap is peddled to us even as we fly a mile above everything. It makes me want to give the 300 items or less a shot!

ET September 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I have a list of things I need/want. I only buy things that have been on the list for awhile. When I acquire a new item, an old one is ousted. Sure there exceptions – but when your home is 120 sq feet it’s hard to have too many things.

I think the challenge is not to “see what kind of material life I end up with before it truly pains me to cut one more thing loose.” but to see what kind of material life you end up with after cutting the things you thought were necessary – one step too far, rather than one step too few. You never know your bounds until you overreach.

Giddings Plaza FI September 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Winnipeg has the right idea with give-away days. And you are right on with only acquiring quality goods that you really need, and can fix. When I’m done with “stuff”, I give it to friends, to Goodwill, or put it on my curb with a free sign. I’ve also, in the last couple years, progressed to learning to fix things. YouTube and wikihow have been a great help. I’ve fixed / avoided replacing hoses, plumbing parts, a blender, among other things. Much better than throwing that crap out, to a lonely burial in a dump.

Kevin Cole September 13, 2013 at 8:23 am

That’s a pretty cool day you guys have up there. It sounds like a much simpler version of a yard sale – no haggling and no confusion.

Innovation has been happening at a much faster rate than ever before so naturally some items will become obsolete within a few years. But at the same time, plenty of items (like your lamp) are designed specifically to last a little while. It’s much cheaper to produce a lamp like this and the company will net a larger profit because they know you’ll be back in a year.

I do like how you mentioned the positive innovations that society has experienced as well. Equality is becoming more and more normal as time goes on. Racism and homophobia are still present, but continue to dwindle with each new generation.

Enjoy your experiment man.

angelina September 15, 2013 at 3:37 am

as Mario answered I am inspired that anybody able to earn $9239 in one month on the computer. did you see this site link——–> http://www.jobs47.com

To find a mountain path all by oneself gives a greater feeling of strength than to take a path that is shown.

Karen Suller September 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm

One of the guides in my life is William Coperthwaite from Machias, Maine. He is a protege of Scott & Helen Nearing. His life has been spent traveling the world and collecting the old ways of doing things and he lives his path. His one and only book is “A Handmade Life”. I bought many copies when it came out years ago and gave them all away. Nothing in that book has been forgotten by me. It is a gem. A friend of mine said “he is one of the necessary people on this planet”.

k.treu September 16, 2013 at 8:11 am

my older brother used to say: “i can’t affort to buy cheap things”.

kristina September 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Someone else already gave the perfect analogy – a guy who’s job it was to work on cars couldn’t fix his own car because of the increasing complexity.

My partner and I seek out old things specifically for this exact reason. They are made to last and often have simpler working parts, which means they are easier to fix. Our vehicles, kitchen gadgets, his tools – all old. A corollary to this – buy manual. I can’t count the number of times an electric coffee grinder has broken…even when I paid good money for it. Now we own a manual grinder where the input is not electricity but my own right arm turning the crank.

Matt Eshed September 17, 2013 at 7:24 am

Four years of reading your blog and you’ve got your finger on the pulse more than ever!

I love the paragraph, “Some part of me yearns for a Walden-like life of sturdy hand tools and homemade everything, in a self-built shack outside the edge of town. I would like to trust and respect every item I use in my daily life, which means the fewer items there are, and the simpler they are, the better. The motive here isn’t exactly minimizing the volume of possessions, but maximizing their quality.”

…. perhaps you’ve influenced that mentality in me! After living in the same lower Manhattan apartment for 20 years, I’ve finally begun to look at the dearth of possessions covering every surface in my bedroom as a huge waste of time and energy! The world that already exists right outside has everything I need!

Also, for David, and all other readers, if you aren’t aware of this website, enjoy. (It’s not what it seems, trust me.) http://cabinporn.com/

mandy January 31, 2014 at 4:26 pm

wow!!!! yes please.

Tom K September 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

I miss Smith & Hawken (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_%26_Hawken)

They had a philosophy in line with your post. I was acquainted once with Paul Hawken (The Magic of Findhorn) and he’s a very perceptive and talented guy worth looking into. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hawken

And this, from Benjamin Franklin: “I’d rather it be said of me: ‘He lived usefully.’ than ‘He died rich.'”

Chris Jones October 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm

About the lamp, if it is an adjustable dimming control, it is probably some kind of variable resistor like a volume control. A lot of those can be brought back into working condition with a squirt of contact cleaner aerosol, directed right onto the carbon track of the variable resistor. I fixed the volume control of an old stereo with that recently, though I had to totally disassemble it to get access to where I needed to spray the contact cleaner lubricant. Something like this stuff:

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