Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Junk Funk

A lot of things have been falling apart around my house lately.

In the past two months:

-One brand new plastic colander cracked when I tried to pick it up after filling it half-full with green beans from my garden.

-Another brand new metal colander that was supposedly stainless steel started to rust. (I mean, really, now. Who makes a colander that corrodes in the presence of water? Who does that? Why, apparently, the same people who make a plastic colander that cracks under the massive weight of a small pile of green beans-- Chefmate.)

-A pricey supposedly rust-proof silicon-coated whisk that I purchased less than six months ago ALSO began to rust.

-A two-month-old pair of my husband's pants began to fray at a seam sufficiently that I could not repair them.

-A nightlight in the bathroom stopped working-- not the bulb, but the light itself. When my husband tried to test it with his multimeter to see if it conducted any current, he discovered that--

-My husband's multimeter has mysteriously stopped working.

-The toilet AND the sink in the master bath clogged at the same time. When tried to unclog them with the auger we bought for months ago, we couldn't, because the auger, despite having been thoroughly cleaned and stored in a dryish place, had completely rusted.

-The remote control to my son's totally awesome remote control moon night light that shows all the different phases of the moon stopped functioning.

-A package of brand new, Disney licensed big-boy underpants for my son came with two of the three pairs already coming apart at the seams.

-My computer hard drive died such a thoroughly tragic death that even my major computer mojo master husband could not resuscitate it.

-The hard drive to my husband's Linux server in the basement ALSO somehow got corrupted to the point that my husband had to reinstall the operating system.

All of these recent unhappy accidents-- along with the rash of recent toy recalls the mainstream media have gleefully gone about terrifying us all with-- have set me to thinking a fair bit lately about how difficult it has become in the past several years for ordinary middle-class people like myself to buy decently made things that last.

Though I have pretty much always, out of necessity, been a mostly* thrifty sort of shopper, I am not the sort to value low cost over quality. When given the choice-- i.e., the cash-- to choose between a low-cost item that is obviously cheaply made and a higher-cost item that is clearly crafted to last, I will nearly always choose the latter. From a practical standpoint, I know paying a bit extra for better quality is likely to save me money in the long run.

And, from an environmentalist standpoint, I know that buying well-made goods that last is better for the environment than buying cheap goods that will soon be thrown out and replaced.

But from a philosophical standpoint, too, I simply appreciate objects that are well-made. I find it much more pleasing to buy a thing when I feel as though another human being really put some thought, effort and skill into creating it. This preference of mine is one of the reasons I like living in my fifty-year-old house. When I look at the hand-troweled patterns in the mud over the drywall, for instance, I think of all the time some person spent making sure those whorls looked just right fifty years ago, I feel a deep appreciation for that unknown man's dedication to his craft. I never felt this way looking at the hastily slapped-together walls so common in more recent construction.

So, whether I am purchasing a house, a table, or a kitchen knife I am willing to spend a little extra time searching, and spend a little extra money, if I have it, to get something that was made with a little extra care.

But I feel like lately it is becoming next-to-impossible for a middle-income person such as myself to buy everyday items, like household goods and clothing, that are made to last. It's not so much that prices have gone up-- it's that the quality of consumer goods across the board seems, at least in my personal experience, to have gone down.

I remember when I could buy a pair of khaki pants at Target or Old Navy, and have those pants last me for three years even if I wore them twice a week. Now it seems like no matter where I go to shop for clothing-- even if I go someplace slightly more upscale, like The Gap, or a fancy department store-- everywhere I look I see garments made of the cheapest possible fabric, or clothes that are already sporting loose threads, frayed seams, or missing buttons right there on the rack. And no item of clothing I buy anymore seems to last me more than a year. I have shirts I bought five years ago that still look new, and shirts I bought six months ago that are falling apart.

I remember when I could plunk down $10-$15 on a stainless steel colander and have it turn out to be, well, a stainless steel colander.

It would be easy to blame all the shoddiness I seem to see on store shelves lately on global free markets and the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs to foreign countries. But, to tell the truth, when I DO make a point of trying to buy American-made goods (an effort which has become increasingly challenging, given how few tangible goods are actually made here these days), I generally find that THOSE products are cheap junk, too. Like the "Made in the USA!!!" steel storage shelves we bought for our basement recently that were so warped it took two people three hours, a vise and a hammer to put a simple six-shelf unit together. Or the domestically made flag-and-pole set I bought on the Fourth of July that has already practically rusted in half.

I can only conclude that pretty much no company, anywhere, cares anymore about making quality products. And that few business people, anywhere, care anymore about such concepts as pride in workmanship, integrity, or honor. Which is kind of a discouraging thought regarding the moral state of global human society.

I do have some hope left, though. After I tracked down the company that made my son's moon light, and emailed them asking for a replacement remote control, a customer service representative named Jenn actually wrote me back, personally, and sent me a new remote that actually worked in less than a week. I didn't even have to send the broken remote back in. No receipts, proof-of-purchase, mother's maiden name, or ownership rights to first-born children required.

It was practically a miracle.

*Good haircuts, high-heeled boots, books, and gardening accessories notably excepted


jeanie said...


Had 2 of those yesterday.

Gave 'Salina a daffodil day pen at the shops and it exploded into bits WITHIN 10 METRES.

V bought a new trowel (he is a brickie - paid $80 for a good one) and after 2 days work the handle cracked.

Awesome Mom said...

I hear ya sister!!

P.S. I think that anyone that owns a multimeter is pretty cool. I love multimeters.

Anonymous said...

~The first part of your post reads like a script to a new horror movie ... one i would go and watch :)

As for the topic ... yep, well .. i kinda realized that early on when I had the coice between a 700 DM and a 1500 DM VCR (that was the 80ies, we still had deutsch marks, and still had vcrs) .. and I found that both would crap out in the same timespan ...

same today, the economy is totally built upon us needing to buy new things more often ... a computer ??? obsolete after 3 years ... a TV .. 5 - 7 ... and what about all those viewing formats ... we spent so much on VHS .. then it was replaced by DVD .. now DVD is about to leave the building ... a lot of my allowence as a kid went into vinyl records .. and then later the same records as CDs .. and now they want us to pay again to download them ... sigh

still the first part of the post keeps creeping me out

the mad momma said...

well i think that is true of products built across the world. the chinese products get the worst press, but truly, nothing is made to alst. ..and disposable is very acceptable. sad but true.

Bea said...

It took me an astonishingly long time to figure out why the knees of my pants keep wearing out, since I've had children. (It's not all the fault of the manufacturers, in my case.)

*waving* to another hard-drive crash-survivor!

Jaelithe said...

It IS true that kids put a lot of wear and tear on their parents' clothing! Still, I see the fact that I have some pre-baby clothes that I still wear that are still in decent shape as a sign that perhaps the boy's assault on my wardrobe is not the only cause of recent critical structural failures in my clothes.

Jaelithe said...

P.S. Peter, I may be young, but I DID live in the age of the VCR ;)

Debbie said...

This is EXACTLY why I envy you your brain. While I feel similarly to the point of almost getting the heebie-jeebies about how close my thoughts are to yours on this subject, I could nevereverever write them out in the manner that you have. This is some quality writing.

And thanks for saying it. Somebody needs to.

Anonymous said...

I so get this. And I get sick of it.

Sugared Harpy said...

God, you're right (glances around house). Sucky!

Chrissy said...

I've had the same phenomenon of things falling apart in my kitchen lately.

So frustrating!

Just happened upon your blog, by the way, and am enjoying it.