How often do you upgrade or replace your belongings? From electronics and appliances to vehicles, clothing, and more, it’s become clear that quality has decreased over time. At least, that’s what Brian and I have found in our experiences. Planned obsolescence, which is the deliberate design of products with a limited lifespan, has unfortunately become an expected aspect of the modern marketplace.
Of course, it can be argued that certain electronics will require an upgrade eventually, given the advancement in technologies. Even so, I wonder how often and genuinely necessary some of these upgrades are.
Planned Obsolescence at Home
Planned obsolescence and poorly made products often share similar consequences, including increased waste and consumption. As much as Brian and I try to make informed decisions, we still face annoyances at home. Most notably, a newer LG refrigerator that we inherited from the previous owners, a three-year-old air conditioner, and a washing machine less than a year old quit working on us.
It’s frustrating to spend so much time researching quality items only to deal with them failing a short time later. We sought out American-made appliances, but while disassembling and repairing them, we discovered that manufacturers had incorporated non-American parts. How aggravating is that?! In any case, we repaired all three with the help of YouTube.
It’s easy to see how one could quickly become frustrated and choose to buy a replacement instead. Without our (my) stubborn frugality and curiosity, we might be in the same boat. Many of our modern products are a far cry from the durable and long-lasting items of the past. So, how can we make things last nowadays?
Take It Personally
Are corporations to blame for this underhanded business strategy? Is it possible that consumers share the blame for their own unsustainable demands and ultimate acceptance of the status quo? If you’re unhappy with the quality of today’s products, it may be time to consider taking things more personally. After all, we’re talking about your belongings purchased with your money. I’d say that’s pretty personal.
- Research companies that offer great service and/or lifetime warranties
- If possible, shop locally or build a relationship with a small business owner
- If applicable, register your products for warranty coverage
- Assume responsibility for at least a basic understanding how your products operate
- If the time comes and there is no warranty coverage, learn what you can about repairs
Unlike France and the European Union, the United States does not have any national regulations or laws that penalize planned obsolescence. France, specifically, became the first country in the world to outlaw the practice and was even successful in bringing suits against Apple for their involvement in planned obsolescence. Because there are no regulations in the United States to protect consumers from planned obsolescence, we must protect ourselves.
….Honestly, I’d argue that it’s smart to look out for yourself anyway, with or without laws in place.
How to Minimize Planned Obsolescence
Unless you swear off consumerism, it’s tough to completely avoid planned obsolescence in today’s world. With that being said, we live in a consumer’s paradise in which almost anything can be purchased instantly with make-believe money. Of course, businesses are going to take advantage of the consumerist culture that exists! They’re here to make money; nevertheless, we as consumers get to decide how we want to spend our money.
Don’t Cheap Out
Oftentimes, cheap products are built with cheap parts. When businesses understand that they can profit from building cheap stuff because people want to spend the least amount of money, guess what happens? Those metal pieces are replaced with plastic, screws are replaced with nails, then replaced with plastic snaps, and previously replaceable parts are now soldered on to prevent replacement. How cheap do you really want to go?
Be mindful of what you’re spending your money on and consider the differences between being cheap and being frugal. Frugality is the practice of consciously spending money on more intentional purchases that prioritize long-term value and durability. When you don’t cheap out and instead take a more frugal approach, there is a greater chance of you selecting a more long-lasting product.
Exercise Your Right to Repair
Our disposable society has created an environment that no longer encourages or supports the DIY spirit. When products can easily be replaced instead of repaired, many will choose to replace them brand new. Try your hand at repairing your item. It’s a great way to learn new skills, understand how something works, and avoid the unnecessary waste and cost of planned obsolescence. With many companies choosing to restrict access to people repairing their own goods, exercising your right to repair is a direct way to fight planned obsolescence and take back your power.
Respect Your Things
Proper maintenance and care go a long way toward extending the life of your possessions. Treat your things as if you want them to stick around for the long haul. If you don’t know how to maintain them, then learn.
If you’ve repaired and utilized your item to its fullest potential, consider offering it to others for a second life or repurposing it for a new life.
For instance, our 25-year-old washer and dryer decided that they had had enough. We placed them at the curb with a sign indicating that they were free and in need of repair. They were picked up in less than an hour. Another example is when we chose to purchase a secondhand vintage dresser to repurpose it as our bathroom vanity.
Repurposing is an incredible way to save money, learn new skills, and keep things in circulation rather than sitting in a landfill.
Adopt a Low-Maintenance Lifestyle
My final recommendation for minimizing planned obsolescence is to adopt a low-maintenance, minimalist lifestyle. The truth is, you don’t have to buy into all of this “extra stuff” that society tells us to consume. You have the power to decide what truly matters to you and reject societal expectations of materialism.
Unless you want to, you’re not required to buy a new car, phone, dishwasher, or even a new tool. There have been many operational products in the past that have gotten the job done and are still running well. Sure, maybe they’re not as efficient as some of the flashier, newer items in circulation, but they are likely much simpler to maintain, repair, and sustain their functionality.
On a personal note, I still have my Blackberry Pearl, circa 2007. I last used it in 2019. Guess what? It still works, even to this day. I don’t have a current need for it, but could I return to it if I need to? Absolutely. If you ask me, more people are enslaved by their own devices today than they should be. Perhaps the world would be a kinder, more pleasant place if people looked up from their phones more. Though, that’s another conversation for another day.
A low-maintenance lifestyle is, in a sense, a return to the basics. Planned obsolescence will exist as long as people continue to accept it. One way to minimize it is to focus on mindful consumption and limit the amount of consumerism you engage in.
Fight for Durability
If you’re like me and feel let down by the standard of modern goods, then you may want to investigate how planned obsolescence is impacting both the general marketplace and consumer spending patterns. While it may not be possible to escape planned obsolescence entirely, there are ways to mitigate its impact.
As consumers, we have the right to demand and purchase quality, long-lasting products. In doing so, we vote with our dollars to support responsible manufacturers while also making choices that benefit us and future generations.
What ways have you minimized planned obsolescence in your life?