Throw it out

I think most of us realize we live in a society where you use it up and throw it away. I have a perfectly functional iPhone 3 sitting on my desk beside me that never quite gets its batteries charged. My new (1 year old) iPhone 4 probably doesn’t get the fullest of uses as it is. I probably should have sold the 3, or given it to someone who could use it, but I’m comfortably behind the curve. As my wife could get her a 3gs that would outperform my 3 for $50, and have an OS that could be kept up to date, I opted to leave it behind as a toy for jogging music or gaming. In reality it just sits looking forlorn from the corner of my desk. I might still be using it, but the calendaring functionality for work was going to leave me behind unless I upgraded.

I didn’t grow up during the depression, but my parents were raised in the aftermath and learned frugality. I guess they passed it on to me, although I don’t remember it being emphasized as a core value. I remember tuna fish being too expensive to have every day, it being a favorite meal of mine. I also remember playing a game I made up where I collected the trickle of water from a hose that ran to the floor drain in the basement from the humidifier when the furnace kicked on. I’d save it in old jars (that were too good to throw away) that smelled faintly of pickles and jam, despite the thorough washing. I never got too far, as my mom would eventually find the stash and dump it all out, but it didn’t keep me from running to the basement whenever I noticed the heat coming on.

Which brings me to Saturday night and my weekly laundry chore. Sometime in the final load the motor gave out so the spin cycle wouldn’t go. The washer isn’t too old, slightly pre-dating my marriage of 5 years. With thoughts of the heaping of troubles and technical breakdowns, I sadly proceeded to bed with the sodden load heaped in the machine. I returned to the problem this morning. I’ve fixed washers and dryers before, and it’s usually not something too difficult to troubleshoot. I took off the control panel exposing the electronics and scored the hidden technical sheet. It was only the spin cycle that was failing, so in my mind it had to be a belt or a motor. Pulling off the front of the machine I realized that with the belt intact, the technical advances in washing technology had rendered me impotent in the machine-fixing adventure for today. The spec sheet talked about the transmission and the motor. I broke down and called a couple appliance repair shops and finally found an acceptable deal of a free in-home estimate available in the same day.

The technician was a nice guy and managed to come a couple hours early. I had put everything back in order, so as to not alert him to my monkeying (although it did get that corner of the basement a much-needed cleaning). He quickly opened it up and diagnosed it as the motor. He called for a quote and said there was one available, but that it would be about $370 with the labor. I was somewhat sticker shocked and knew that it was somewhat over half of what I paid for it new. Now I know I’m partially to blame, as in my efforts to finish the laundry and get to bed I often push the load a little heavy, which must have contributed to it’s early demise. I don’t know what I would have been able to save if I had been able to comfortably diagnose the problem and get a motor, but I don’t suppose the labor was too unreasonable. The price was right at the point where I was almost ready to just get a new one, but the frugality kicked in enough that I just had the work done.

It does really kind of chap my hide, built-in planned obsolescence. It’s hard to fathom the number of things this year that, through mechanical breakdown or technological eclipsing, we have needed to buy anew. The printer we had for just a couple years had its power supply die, and since it cost less than a day’s wages to get a better one, we did. Three of the four ballasts in the lights in the garage with less than two hundred hours usage over the last couple years died in December. My current truck has needed far more in repairs in half the time of my last one, prompting me to wonder if I shouldn’t trade it in frequently. The new tv didn’t have enough older connections, so we bought a blu-ray player, because it was cheap and did a better job. I know this smacks a lot of First World Problems, and it’s true, but it about kills me every time I take something functional (or nearly so) and toss it aside. It’s especially painful because I see people who do it more than me without seeming to have a second thought. I’m in a border-line hoarder position, as I’m a tinkerer, and think things like: “The motor and gear system in the scanner on the printer could be really good for some art or automation project!” This has caused me to have a basement full of things that,”just might be good for something”.

Debbie has a couple tables that belonged to previous generations in her family. My own grandmother gave me a chair that used to belong to Mrs. Bliss, one of her friends, and I’m hoping to have it reupholstered sometime soon. But I can’t really see that I own anything (besides a few pieces of art) that would really be something to be left to a future generation that would be less than ephemeral. My desk is recovered cubicle equipment, my tools cheap Chinese steel and plastic, and now even the books are now largely going to ones and zeroes. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for a time that was never mine, or maybe my frugality has gotten the better of me and I don’t acquire heirloom things. I just find the whole concept a bit sad and empty.