Monday, May 05, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 5-11-08
Jeff Gill

Making Do and Making Last

The Lovely Wife and I usually go for the proposition that paying a bit more for quality adds up to frugal in the long run.

Buying something that’s half the price which lasts a third as long means you replace it faster, unless the cost consideration makes you realize you don’t need the item in the first place (hence the other household principle of not buying something, anything, on sight).

Clothing gets to be an interesting challenge in this category. Like the “sawdust in the transmission” trick of olde tymes used car salesmen, they’ve gotten good at masking poor stichery and inferior materials until you’ve had the item for long enough that you don’t feel like looking for the receipt and going back to wait in line at (Ha!) “Customer Service.”

Kids’ clothing is the real puzzle, because you’re not buying for the ages, anyhow. I’m delighted to own jackets and shoes with decades of wear in them, since I dress in a fairly neutral (read: dull) style (read: none) that doesn’t go out of style because it wasn’t ever all that much in style. So twenty year old jackets work for me, and buying something twice as expensive as the one that would open up across the seams in eighteen months is a good purchase.

For the Little Guy’s stuff, you know that he will outgrow it in a month or a season or at least a year. You could say that we should go easy on the Earth by getting the better quality stuff and handing it along to other families, but that doesn’t always come to mind when you’re looking for a pair of pants that isn’t blown out at the knees RIGHT NOW.

Equally, we keep messing up on the accessory department, like school backpacks. The lure of Buzz Lightyear or Spider-Man draws us into the shelves of . . . well, junk. Piping that peels off in a week, mesh than snags and tears like tissue paper, and odd inner seam chunks of left over material that endlessly spin off threads and bits to hook on notebook spirals and dump out on the kitchen table or living room carpet.

Next year, no major store or theme branded backpack, we say. Sensible, durable, rugged (pricey) bookbag or satchel is the way to go – until the Little Guy sees a brightly colored logo of some sort, and the negotiating begins.

“Planned obsolescence” first hit the national consciousness in 1960, when Vance Packard, author of “The Hidden Persuaders,” wrote “The Waste Makers,” explaining how manufacturers no longer had a business interest in making lasting, durable goods.

In fact, Packard could document how the retail industry did research and development in how to make things that would have a useable life just long enough for us to tolerate it, and then break down, wear out, or become useless at just the right time for us to buy a new one.

Add to that functional obsolescence something called design obsolescence, which is the mysterious art of making something wear out in your mind – it’s out of date, looks old, isn’t cool anymore.

Packard wrote about “the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals.” They’re still doing good work in this department almost 50 years later. Meanwhile, finding stuff that is effective and durable is like going on a mastodon hunt.

For all the mothers who search the shelves and dig through catalogs and hunt the wild internet to seek the right item that serves your kids’ needs while not wasting the Earth’s resources, a Mother’s Day salute to you.

Keep on stalking and trading and swapping and bartering, O maternal hunters and gatherers! Your family and your planet will appreciate it, in time.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s not a mother, but has one and is married to another. Tell him your hunt for the perfect pair of shoes for your children at

No comments:

Post a Comment