I am reading a book about frugality (big surprise!) called The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser Rowland and Adam Grubb. They had an excellent part about the importance of being materialistic, meaning taking care of your material possessions. Today it has almost become cool or at least normalized that you don’t take care of your things or repair them. You just go out and buy a new one and throw the old one out. This leads to two things:
1. We don’t value the things we have
2. The knowledge of how to maintain and repair things is forgotten. So many things are bought just because the owner doesn’t know how to repair it or breaks earlier because it hasn’t been maintained properly (and of course everyone also wants a new thingy)
I know that my dad still uses an old kitchen aid that I think is older than him and still works perfectly. I myself got our old ice cream maker that must be approaching the same age as the kitchen aid that still works. How come that our own microwave, dishwasher, mixer and so many other things break within a couple of years? Have we become worse at making things? Of course not, there is something else at play called planned obsolescence along with wanting everything so cheap that the quality gets compromised.
Planned obsolescence is a policy of planning or designing where you build in a limited useful life in the product. What this means is you design it to break within a certain time so that the company has a chance to sell you more. How long do you need to own a washing machine before it breaks and still feel like you have trust in the company? It needs to be long enough that you can’t really remember when you bought it but not too long ago that the company can sell you a new one as soon as possible. 3 is too short but approaching 7 years it’s more likely that you don’t remember was it 7 or 10 years ago you bought it and it feels like it’s worked for a “long” time. It obviously works best in markets where there isn’t endless choice because then you will probably choose another brand.
It is the same mentality that makes it hard to repair the stuff we have since companies don’t want to us to. The products today aren’t designed so that we can take them apart and fix them.
There is also Percived obsolescence. Here companies work hard to make us believe that what we have that still works isn’t good enough. Clothes and mobile phones are typical examples but most things now are perceived that way. You need to have the latest model of everything so that you can keep up with the Joneses that are you friends, colleagues and neighbors. This makes people throw out a perfectly good pair of jeans just because the cut has changed from one year to the next. Which is just plain ridiculous from a resource perspective but completely “normal” in today’s society.
The bank of great things
So how do you become materialistic in a smart and sustainable way? One way is to build up a bank of great things. When something breaks and needs replacing or you need something that you don’t have (need not want!) you make sure that you buy something (can be second hand) that has great quality. You might have to research this a bit so that you are sure that you are paying for quality not brand name. Let’s say you need a rain jacket – you buy a great classic jacket (that might cost a lot, much more than other people pay for rain jackets) with the intention of having it for the rest of your life. If you then calculate the cost per use it will be very low compared to buying many cheap jackets over the same time span. My super warm winter jacket is an example from my wardrobe (I live in Sweden so you need a super warm winter jacket). It cost 5000kr ($600) which is a lot! I bought it when I was 16 years old and 11 years later it’s still going strong and I’ve used it every winter. So far the cost per use is 15kr but since I will probably use it for many more years it will be close to zero kr per use.
So start building your bank of great things and sooner or later you will have a home with things that you can have the rest of your life just like my dad’s kitchen aid (or sell second hand since they have some value). I think it is important to first exhaust all the other ways of acquiring things like borrowing, finding/getting tings for free, buying second hand before you use this strategy and that the intention is to own things for life. And don’t forget to maintain them!