Offbeat 02 October 2015
I am bloody minded when it comes to preserving value. It is all too easy to go with the disposable culture of throw-it-away-when-it-doesn’t-work, so I try to fix things and use them for as long as possible.
This week I decided to try and fix a snapped mop. It seemed like a legitimate endeavour. I had the head of the mop and a broken pole from a broom, remnants from cleaners who seem to think that the harder you press down, the cleaner things will become.
My DIY injury track record frightens me, but I never let fear overcome me. I sawed without cutting myself. I made it safely through sandpapering the end of the pole to a size that would fit the head of the mop. My fingers survived the hammer, just. It all went perfectly, until I proudly handled the rescued mop and got a splinter in my thumb as a reward for my efforts. After half an hour with my old box cutter, a safety pin and tweezers, I got smart and sucked the splinter’s head out, then pulled the whole thing out with my teeth.
I’m obviously not ready to perform open heart surgery, yet.
Throughout this adventure, my mind kept throwing up the idea of the right tools for the job. I wondered particularly if I should dash out and buy a sander to get around the dragging job of sanding the pole down to size. I realised I should probably add a decent sized clamp and a new jigsaw to the shopping list, and probably a scalpel to lift the skin above the splinter, rather than the rusty old box cutter. Fortunately I was pressed for time and very pressed for money, so reality overrode my instincts.
At no time whatsoever did it occur to me to go out and buy a new mop.
Call it replacement fever. A new mop holds no allure, but the prospect of bright, new things is hard to resist. We seem to forget though that there are people who have to recycle, repair and reuse simply because they don’t have the money to buy new stuff like brooms and mops.
The sensation of something new hits home like a drug. It has no reason, only the momentary thrill of novelty, which wears of completely in a day or two. And as money becomes available, we programme ourselves to that thrill by using the money to buy and replace.
Although the thrill appears senseless, there is a demented economy to it. The global economy is predicated on a pattern of manufacturing and consumption. Economic blocs in the West consume from Asian manufacturing blocs. The transfer of money between consumption and manufacturing leads to yet more consumption and manufacturing.
The culture of replacement, driven by the thrill of novelty, is the key driver of that pattern. If I buy a new mop, that means that someone has to manufacture a new mop to replace the item from the pool of mops available for sale. That creates jobs, and wealth. If I buy a new clamp and sander, all the better, because it takes more capacity and employees to manufacture those.
It makes sense, yet it doesn’t.
As I write this, there are serious challenges to the pattern of consumption and manufacturing. The current commodities rout is more than a threat to the notional financial growth of investors in stocks and bonds. At a very basic level there is less of a need for the basic resources that manufacturers need. That’s based on demand, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that consumption is not where investors hoped it would be.
My best guess is that there is not enough money to buy stuff, and the thrill of high-priced novelty that drives stock markets onwards and upwards, is wearing off. How often can the market buy new consumer technology or new clothes before the money runs out or the thrill wears off?
My adventure with rebuilding a mop was a small act of rebellion against the fallacy of unlimited growth and unchecked greed. New products won’t improve me, and don’t particularly excite me. I can’t afford to create jobs by spending without thought.
I like the idea of taking pride in my ability to fix and preserve the things I have, even if it does come with splinters.