Decline of the repairman

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The Maytag man isn't the only repairperson with nothing to do these days -- in fact, it seems like repairmen in general are a dying breed. This certainly isn't breaking news to most people, but it struck me the other day like a thunderbolt from above: how can my generation be so righteous about being green, and still consume all this essentially disposable crap? Sure, we're recycling more than ever (a concept pioneered during WWII, by the way, when the nation put used steel goods on the corner to be melted down into bullets and bombshells), but if we bought things of quality instead of disposable things, and we repaired them instead of recycling them, what a difference that would make!

It makes economic sense, too: instead of buying the same couch from Ikea three times in ten years, buy a quality couch and spend the difference getting it repaired once or twice. It's weird -- we've supplanted the joy of owning something of quality for a long period of time with the relatively fleeting joy of buying a new thing over and over again. (And still we crave "vintage" things -- clothes, furniture, cars -- for which we'll pay a steep premium.)

It's partly a generational thing, too, I suppose -- my grandmother, who barely scraped through the Great Depression with her parents and seven siblings, never threw anything away. Even when disposable things became common, she would save them: plastic trays that came with early-80s microwave dinners, for instance, became dinner plates for years to come. She never adapted to our new disposable society, and it made her into a pack rat!

Straw poll time: when's the last time you had something repaired? How about fixing a worn-out pair of shoes? Had a chair reupholstered? How about an umbrella, or a toaster, or any cheap electronic device that wasn't under warrantee?

October 8, 2007 - 4:50am
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