Why do we live with things that don’t work?

I’ve written previously about living with broken things. Let’s extend that: why do we live with things that don’t work as intended?

Have you bought pencils lately? Sharpened them in one of those cheap plastic sharpeners you can buy at the stationer’s (that’s old-talk for the office supply store) for a buck or so? Have you invented swear words when your pencil ends up looking like the one in the photo above? I’ve probably spent twenty bucks on that plastic junk and crappy pencils. I finally bought a metal sharpener with replaceable blades. It cost ten times as much as a plastic job but it worked like a charm until the girls ran crayons through it. Now I just need to replace the cutters. And I expect it will work pretty much forever.

So why did I put up for so long with sharpeners that didn’t work and stole a sliver of happiness from me each time they broke a pencil lead? I don’t know. It was convenient? I misunderstood the true cost of using junk?  Now I have a sharpener that I won’t have to replace that always makes me smile a bit when I see a crisp sharp pencil point.

How many things does this apply to in your home? In your life? What have you patched up, hoping it will work one more time? The lawn mower? The bedroom door? Are the lights still out in the hallway? Why do we keep living with junk that frustrates us when a fix is so easy?

An old story:

James Krenov

Back in the old days, I made custom furniture. My hero was a fella named James Krenov who wrote three seminal books about woodworking. In one book, he talks about the challenge of selling the idea of fine furniture to someone.

“Yes, you can buy a coffee table at Target for $49.00. But how long will it look good? How long will it hold up to family wear? How much money will you spend replacing that table every year and how much joy will it steal from you in the mean time? An alternative is this cherry table that will cost you $400.00. It will be a joy to own and you’ll smile each time you look at it. You can oil it any time that you like – I’ll show you how – and it will be new again. And you can list it in your will to give to your grandchild.”

I’ve never quite forgotten than but I know what it’s like to find a table for 49.00. It’s a steal and looks great. For a week until the first time a backpack is pulled over it and the zipper tears the paper-thin veneer.


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