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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time the bread machine walked off the counter

By Lee Simpson

One of the eye-opening aspects of this year is how often the need arises to replace stuff in one's life, particularly appliances. I had undertaken a weekly supply of bread for my son-in-law and was working my way through a bread machine cookbook, when that machine shook itself into a frenzy over a particularly daring flaxseed dough, falling on the floor. Now, the answer in this case is simply to revert to handmade bread, which is proving quite rewarding.

The dishwasher is another case with an easy solution. It has developed a leak, and Danny, the repair person, advised that at 10 years of age, it would likely be "less expensive to replace than repair.” You will have encountered this modern wisdom, of course. The part plus labour (which I could just about defend under the rules of YBN) cost more than the replacement of our basic model. After consultation with my husband — because this situation requires his commitment, too — we decided to do all of the dishes by hand until yearsend.

But then the stove blew up. Black smoke billowed out of the oven upon pre-heating: it's only two years old, so clearly it was not up for replacement although inevitably two months post-warranty. We were able to repair the oven element. Danny and I had a philosophical chat over this one as he is at the pointy end of the repair-replace debate. He expressed genuine anxiety over how his business has grown. He thinks of it as “manufacturing assured destruction,” the diabolical twin of built-in obsolescence. He believes that the customer is not given a fair chance to extend the life of appliances because parts are so rapidly de-listed as newer, more expensive models come along. He also thinks that purchasers are given incomplete information to extend the lifespan of their appliances. For example, we are all taught to vacuum the coils on the back of our refrigerators to prevent early burnout. But did you know that those coils are now frequently under the machine? Danny showed me, but how would I have known this and performed the required action without a knowledgeable, sympathetic and strong ally?

This is the sinister underbelly of modern appliance marketing. The dreadful results are choking our landfills. And its big item garbage week where I live: on my country lane, there are no fewer than five discarded stoves and fridges. I suspect that some have no larger problem than simply being the wrong colour. White, after all, is the new harvest gold as stainless steel becomes the only thing a contemporary kitchen can wear. As the model with the new features comes out, the three-year-old machine suddenly develops a glitch, suggesting replacement.

I like the old features, both the ones on my stove and the ones on my face. I refuse to upgrade just as adamantly as I would object to restructuring my unstylish nose. Is this about my year of consumer resistance and (hopefully!) spiritual strengthening? Yes, and no: it is also about common sense. We must end the acquiescence to the manipulation of manufacturers without an environmental conscience.

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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