Running Things into the Ground

We often buy used stuff.  Sometimes we buy new, high-quality stuff.  Sometimes we buy new, low-priced stuff.  What all our stuff has in common is that we wring every last drop of usefulness out of it! If we feel unable to do all the wringing ourselves, we pass it on to someone who can use it.  This conserves resources and saves money, and it’s really satisfying!  Here are some examples:

As I’ve mentioned, we had our bathroom renovated this month.  Completely renovated.  The guys gutted the entire room, threw away everything, and installed all new fixtures, ceiling, floor, walls, everything.  We also got a new roof.  But none of the stuff that was replaced was anywhere near new!  When we bought our house, the home inspector told us it would need a new porch roof immediately and a new main roof in about 5 years; we waited 8 years, until the porch gutters were clogging with black potato chips (peeled-off roof surface) and the upstairs ceiling paint began to peel presumably from small leaks in the main roof.  We’d bought the house with a bathroom we weren’t thrilled with but could tolerate until we ran it into the ground.  The aqua bathtub was about 55 years old; its sliding glass doors (with the horrible scummy track that was so hard to clean and made sitting on the edge of the tub painful!), yellow wall tile, and ugly fiberboard cabinets and wall sconces were about 40 years old, and one sconce’s glass shade had broken, so we’d taken out the bulb and gotten by with light from just one bulb on one side of the mirror; other parts were newer but poor quality or incompetently installed, like the sarcastic-award-winning toilet, the vent fan that vented only into the space between the dropped ceiling and the real ceiling, and the glittery plastic vanity top that tilted toward the right so that it always had a puddle of soap scum on that side two days after cleaning.  We spent 8 years watching a “not our style, and I hate those noisy sliding doors” bathroom turn into an uglier, “can’t get it clean anymore,” semi-functional bathroom while we saved our money and planned the bathroom we wanted. Finally we got it done, and it is amazing!  We appreciate it all the more because the old bathroom had gotten so bad!

Another new thing I’ve been enjoying partly by comparison is (are?) my new glasses.  I’ve had contact lenses for 25 years, so I wear my glasses only at night and in dusty situations, so I can’t justify replacing them very often.  Back in 1997, I chose glasses frames of the pastel plastic type with large roundish lenses, because I like my field of in-focus vision as large as possible and can’t stand those little feet–I like my glasses right on my nose!  Those frames already were out of style at the time, and over the years more and more people teased me about my ’80s look, but the frames were holding up well and the lenses didn’t need to be changed, so I wouldn’t replace them just out of vanity.  I waited until the plastic actually started to break down (little bumps and white dust) and cracked next to one of the screws so that one earpiece was crooked . . . and then I waited another 3 months until my annual exam.  But there was no way I’d choose the flimsy, rimless glasses many of my friends have been wearing (and they may look good, but I’ve noticed they get new ones about once a year); I had to have plastic all around the lenses and no little feet! My five-year-old son was adamant that a pair of dark red, sort of Tina Fey style frames looked good on me, and now that I’m used to them I agree.  I had forgotten that it’s possible to have glasses that don’t slide down your nose when you bend over stretching!

Now we’re working on running our kitchen into the ground.  Even when we’re ready to do some major work on it, we’ll be keeping the steel cabinets for a long time more!  But we could use new flooring, and then there’s the stove. It came with the house.  I saw our stove in a 1979 Sears catalog, so it is 32 years old.  (At least it’s white, not Harvest Gold or Avocado Green!)  It still has two burners that work perfectly, one that you can light with a match, and one that works except that the thingy under the knob that shows the heat setting is loose, so you have to knock it into a position that allows the knob to turn and then adjust the heat by turning your head sideways to look at the flame.  The oven works fine, but all the numbers rubbed off the knob, so Daniel etched the numbers on, but you have to turn on the bright light and squint from a few inches away to see them.  Oh, and the oven door handle fell off and couldn’t be reattached (it seems it was screwed onto the outer panel of the door before the inner panel was permanently attached to it), so Daniel fashioned a new handle out of an old wire coat-hanger, and it doesn’t look so bad if we keep a cute hand towel hanging on it at all times.  It’s still a good stove!

Yes, we own a hybrid car, but we didn’t get it until our old car became thoroughly and exasperatingly inadequate. I’m sad that the 1998 Saturn lasted only 9 years and 8 months, but when I was driving it to a service appointment and it suddenly began smoking and shuddering (while going 50mph through a tunnel, eeeek!!) and this turned out to be caused by two previously undiagnosed problems, I could no longer deny that it was running into the ground (and we were lucky it didn’t do that literally).  In the last 7 months we owned it, it was in the shop 7 times and received repairs costing about twice what we got for it as a trade-in.  We probably should have given up sooner.  Gee, I hope they sold it as parts or recyclable materials or something, rather than as a car to some poor soul!

I’ve owned 3 computers in 26 years. I buy the best Macintosh available at the time and make her last as long as possible.  Right now I have a dual-processor G5 made in early 2004, and she’s still blazingly fast and does everything I want to do.  She did have a hard drive crash last year, which was very sad, but Daniel was able not only to install the new hard drive but also to salvage my files.  (Have you noticed how Daniel can fix a lot of things?  He’s very handy to have around!)

There are lots of other examples of things we’re running into the ground.  Maybe I’ll add to this article later, but right now it’s time to link up to Works-for-Me Wednesday and drink my lunchtime juice from a glass bottle I snagged during my big recycling project 7 or 8 years ago and have been washing and reusing ever since!

Comments are open on this article, and I’d love to hear about other people’s long-lasting stuff!  Get more ideas from the Making Do and Doing Without series at Premeditated Leftovers!

RELATED ARTICLES:
The Cheap Thrills of Thrifty Fashion
The Five-Part Furniture-Finding Plan
What Do You Reuse?

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

16 Responses to Running Things into the Ground

  1. Although it’s obvious that you know this, I’ve got to mention that the trick to getting the most good out of things is to keep them maintained wherever possible. Our 1983 Tercel wagon is still a useful vehicle because I took care of repairs as they were needed (oil changes, brakes, tires, light bulbs, etc.). Though the paint has weathered, the interior is still presentable because we minimized spills, stains, and scratches. As a family, we were always careful to treat our things properly. For instance, “no food or drink near the computer.”

    The other trick is to buy quality. My grandparents gave us a set of high-quality pots and pans as a wedding gift. Those pots lasted 40 years. We shopped carefully for replacements so that we can have a satisfying and long-lasting experience with the new set.

    I learned these traits from my parents. My folks didn’t have a lot of money, but they would save up to buy things that were useful, superior, and durable. Then they would maintain those things properly (keeping them clean, oiled, etc.). I’m always astonished at people who will buy their kid a new bicycle and then leave it out in the rain so that it’s ruined in one year. (My bike is older than I am.) But such people do the same with all their other possessions as well.

  2. Ben says:

    I have to chime in to say there are some things that should not be run into the ground. Beds, for example, are so important to your well-being, and you use them so much of the time, that a good bed is worth practically any cost if you break it down by the night, let alone by the hour. Saving a few pennies a night is just not worth waking up tired and irritable with stiff joints.Regarding people who don’t take care of their things, I want to share (again) my friend Gypsy’s excellent description of what it’s like to be such a person, since those of us who aren’t can have trouble understanding the mindset: http://gypsygies.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/the-half-broken-world/Thanks for the post, EnviroBecca!

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