When I bought my first post divorce house in 1994, I got the appliances which were left in the kitchen. Both the refrigerator and the range were dated but serviceable. I don’t remember much about the refrigerator except that it wasn’t frost free. The range, however, made an impression since I remember some family friends having one like it in their brand new house in the early 1960’s. It was an avocado Frigidaire Flair . The ovens still worked, but only a couple of burners did.
When I checked the internet to see what the range was called, I found a site that was a bulletin board for people looking for cannibalized parts to keep their 1960’s ranges going. Now that’s durable. About a year after I moved in to the house, after trying to get the range repaired and being told that parts were no longer available, I replaced the Frigidaire with a gas range.
Friends of ours have a huge old O’Keefe and Merritt range and GE refrigerator with a small freezer. Both are from the 1950s or before and are still in good working order. They probably aren’t as energy efficient as some of their recently manufactured counterparts on a day to day basis, but I wonder how they stack up when you figure in the environmental costs of manufacturing and transporting new ones and disposing of the old ones?
About a month ago our washer went on the fritz. I spent $65 to have the repairman tell me that it would cost about $225 for the part to fix it, and that it probably wasn’t worth it for a washer that old. The washer was about six years old. When I went to the store to store to buy a new one, the salesman told me the kind I was considering was a dependable brand, that it would last five or six years. When I expressed surprise, he told me that was the norm now. Appliances don’t last very long. I was amazed.
Not long after that, I took my Electrolux vacuum to be repaired. I bought this brand because I remember Mother’s Electrolux and one just like it I picked up at a garage sale many years ago. They were just about indestructible. I used to ride around the house on Mother’s when I was little, sitting on it and propelling it with my legs. While the repairman worked on my sweeper, the salesman told me the new facts of life. At some point not too long ago, but before I bought the one I have now, the Electrolux brand name was sold to a company which has them made in, you guessed it, China. The parts are mostly plastic and the sweepers have a lifespan of about five years. I paid my $30 bucks, took my Electrolux home and hope to get a couple of more years out of it.
I know about built in obsolescence. It makes new jobs and keeps the economy humming. We see the latest new thing all the time with cars and tech products. I am writing on a dinosaur laptop which is probably five years old. But some things don’t need to keep adding new bells and whistles every year to do their jobs. If there is a real improvement in functionality, fine, otherwise, make them to last. Because, basically, I use my appliances the same way my mother used hers. The stove needs to cook at even temperatures. The washer needs to get clothes clean without beating them to shreds. The vacuum cleaner needs to suck up dirt. And they need to keep doing these things for years and years.