Planned Obsolescence Isn’t What It Used To Be

Not long after we were married, John and Karen gave us their old microwave oven. It was a beast of a thing, almost large enough to cook a turkey. We kept it for years. I used to joke that it was the oldest functioning microwave on the planet. It may not have been a joke. We finally decided to get rid of it when we moved to Cary. There simply wasn’t room for it on the counter of our new kitchen. We stuck a price tag on it and placed it with our other junk in a garage sale. It sat there, forlornly, all through the first day and into the afternoon of the second day. Finally, when the sale only had an hour or two left, an elderly woman took an interest in it. She studied it for a while, then wandered off, then came back to it again and looked some more. I sidled over with an optimistic expression on my face, ready to close the deal. The woman looked up at me and asked, “Is this color or black-and-white?”

I have serious issues with the consumer culture that surrounds us. Stuff is made to be used and tossed. Very few things are made to last. Computers are old before you buy them, the cell phone you must have is the one that came out the day after you bought the one you do have, and every week some guy rings the doorbell and tries to sell you the latest cable or satellite hook-up. Right about the time I started buying DVDs, stores began selling Blue-Ray Discs.

My wife and I are in open rebellion against the system. We keep things for decades longer than the manufacturer intended them to last. I recently got rid of a car that was older than my daughter who is old enough to drive (and it only broke down because I did something stupid). The TV in my study has old metal cable attachments that look like bicycle pump needles. There is a functioning VHS player hooked up to it, but I can’t use it because it needs to be on channel 92 and the buttons on the front of the TV only go up to 50. To get to channel 92, I have to use the remote, but the remote is so old that only the volume buttons work and even then only when I push really, really hard. I still have a functioning turntable in the basement, along with all the LPs I bought back in college.

I spend a considerable portion of every day in the La-Z-Boy chair in my study. That’s where I do my reading. That’s where I watch movies. That’s where I take my naps. My dad bought that chair when I was about 12. He used to sit in it when he did marriage counseling in our living room. When my parents moved to Wisconsin, the chair went with them and was the focus of the family room where the vast majority of the activity took place in that house. When my dad died, I inherited the chair. That was more than 11 years ago. The vinyl is cracked and ripped and has to be covered with a sheet. It makes an assortment of creaking noises, and the footrest sometimes doesn’t catch. But I have no plans to get rid of it.

It’s not just the expensive stuff that we do this with. I was on vacation with my family when I was about 10. We stopped at a gift shop somewhere in Northern Wisconsin where my dad bought everyone in the family their own glass mug. I used mine all through high school. I took it to college and had it for a few years after I was married. One evening I was bragging to my wife about how long I’d had the mug when it slipped out of my hand and shattered. I went out the next day and bought another one. A week later, I dropped the new one and chipped a wedge-shaped piece out of the handle. Twenty-five years later, I’m still using that same broken mug.

We bought our grill at a garage sale 27 years ago. I wear sunglasses that I bought in 1988. My wife carries a cell phone with a pull-out antennae. It’s so large you can actually put the ear holes by your ear and the mouth holes by your mouth. (I’ve always been a little disturbed by smaller cell phones that aren’t large enough for me to do this. I have an urge to keep shifting them up and down my cheek as I talk and listen.)

I guess this is why I like antiques so much. Yes, I enjoy the way they look. But more than that, they were built to last. The dresser in our bedroom has been in my bedroom as long as I can remember. The drop-leaf table in our living room is the one my mother ate at 70 years ago on her first visit to her mother-in-law’s house.

I don’t really have a point to make. I am just frustrated at having to throw away a perfectly good Bic pen simply because it’s out of ink.

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2 Responses to Planned Obsolescence Isn’t What It Used To Be

  1. Linda says:

    And as I like to tell people – my microwave has lasted through three bikes. I know this because the day Ken bought the microwave, they were giving away bikes with every sale. I used that bike to it fell apart and then we bought new, inexpensive bikes and I rode that until it had several problems so Ken surprised me with a Trek … but I’m still using the microwave – about 28 yrs. old now.

  2. Katherine says:

    I keep stuff for a long time too… My attitude is, “If it still works somewhat, why get rid of it?” And even if it doesn’t work, I may keep it just for nostalgia’s sake.

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