Useless Junk Or Collected Treasure?
When someone declares you have too much useless junk, what do you do? Do you agree and reassure them you’re going to get rid of it all by the end of spring? Or, do you mount a full-scale justification of why you hold onto things for safekeeping?
Quite apart from the difficulties hoarders have parting with tons of useless junk, there’s another side to the story that the latest generation or two isn’t used to. Anyone old enough to remember the ‘70s will know it was the zenith of manufacturing. Everything was made as well as it was ever going to be, from bicycles to lighting, furniture to photographic equipment. Many things were made to last because people expected to hang onto it and care for it until it eventually wore out.
But that is a totally alien concept today. So much useless junk we keep in the cupboards is deliberated made to throw away. Computers, for instance, are designed to be completely obsolete. Options to modify and upgrade aren’t really serious. Besides, manufacturers make it cheaper to buy a new one.
This same mindset of disposability equates to manufacturing and retail nirvana, where customers happily run back to the stores to buy replacements every few years, rather than paying for parts and servicing. The vast majority of what we buy really is designed to become useless junk within a predefined time. So it’s harder for any of it to be treasured and kept.
Do they know how to make laminate surfaces to last for decades without scratching? Sure. Cars that will run as good as new after twenty years of service? Certainly. Computers and other electrical goods that can be elegantly upgraded so you only pay for the modules that actually need replacing? Definitely. But they don’t sell those, do they? Planned obsolescence is the fancy name for selling shiny stuff designed to become useless junk in the shortest allowable timeframe.
Collected treasures, on the other hand, reveal quality in products. Carefully made toys, or furniture with hidden features built into the frame and upholstery lasted. A feeling of solid quality put into individual items gave them a collectable feel. And, certainly, we all had it drummed into us that we needed to look after our things because replacement was somehow seen as a “failure”. Besides, with enough care, you could easily keep enjoying items for years to come.
For these reasons (along with the damage done to our planet by trashing it’s resources) today’s disposable culture disturbs me. Chewing through ever more material, and spending more money on endless upgrades is no measure of progress. It’s just a reflection of the attitude trap we’re in, believing we have to have so much and keep replacing it. Ironically, you could see it as new a form of poverty (though I’m certain many would disagree). Useless junk or collected treasures? I know what I’d choose.
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