Updated on 11.11.11

Wearing Things Out

Trent Hamm

Dinner with My Family is taking a one week hiatus this week.

On the shelf in my office sits a well-worn copy of the board game Settlers of Catan. By well-worn, I mean well-worn. Fraying edges. Ink starting to wear off of the cards. A few home-brewed replacement pieces. A bit of moisture damage causing some warped pieces.

The game has moved with me at least four times. It’s went to the homes of countless friends. It’s been taken on countless camping trips, including quite a few where we pulled all of the pieces out of the box and put them into bags for easier travel.

In 1998, I paid somewhere around $30 for this game. I would estimate that Sarah and I have each had several hundred hours worth of fun from this game and it’s not completely worn out yet. It still has some miles left to go before it needs replacing.

I’ve gotten much more value out of this well-worn game than from most of the nearly-new items in our home.

When I think about the items I’ve used until they’ve literally worn out, my mind is flooded with memories.

I actually wore out an iPod Touch until the battery only held charge for about fifteen minutes and the screen was so scratched up that it was unusable.

I’ve read about five books so many times that pages were falling apart. That’s why I now own second copies of Your Money or Your Life and Getting Things Done.

We kept using an old crock pot until the heating element stopped functioning in it. Earlier wear included several chips in the ceramic, a broken lid, and a broken leg.

I wore out several CDs during my college years, simply from small scratches accumulated over many, many, many listens and trips in my backpack.

I had a backpack that finally fell to shreds. I’ve done the same with several pairs of shoes and more than a few pairs of socks.

Every time I actually use an item until I’ve worn it out, I feel as though I’ve received incredible value from that item. That item not only saved me a lot of money over the years (or provided so many hours of value for such a little price), but it also became imbued with a lot of memories along the way. My memories and associations with that copy of Settlers are much deeper than the vast majority of other items in my home, for example.

So, what can this tell me about the way I spend money now?

First of all, I think it’s worth it to ask myself whether or not I’m going to completely wear out anything that I buy. I tend to do this really well with some things, such as clothing, but with other things, I tend to not do this as well (board games come to mind, although they take a lot of wear).

Of course, if you do that, how will you ever try anything new? I think the key is that when you realize you’re not going to use something extensively, you should sell it and roll it into something else.

This actually starts to touch on another issue: clutter. The battle here, of course, is against spending money on things you’re not going to use a lot. Clutter is the result of buying things that you don’t use a lot.

You can start by visiting a room in your home and asking yourself which of these items you actually use on a regular basis. If you don’t use them, sell them! Use that money to right your financial ship a bit and to make sure that the things you do have that you use often are sturdy, reliable, and useful versions of that item.

For example, when I’m standing in my kitchen, I’d rather have three or four good knives that I’ll use for years and years than a big ol’ block of knives, most of which I rarely use. Ideally, I’ll keep using and sharpening these knives until they’re unusable. Most important, I know I won’t have to even think about buying a knife for many years and the knives I do have won’t take up much space in my home.

A big de-clutter where you get rid of the things you rarely use is a great weekend project. Set aside things to sell on eBay or at a consignment shop or at a yard sale next spring.

Stick with the things you’ll wear out – and don’t spend your time or money on the things that you won’t.

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  1. Vanessa says:

    I’ve never “went” into a purchase wanting it to wear out before I got my use out of it. You can’t tell from the outset knowing what’s going to hold up and what’s going to fall apart. My first computer worked for over a decade. My second didn’t make it a year and I replaced it well before I intended to. Sometimes it’s a gamble and all you can do is to take care of your possessions as best as possible which will help them last longer.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Why is my comment bold? I didn’t ask for that!

    The bottom half of Trent’s post is all bold as well.

  3. AnnJo says:

    “It’s went to”? Cringe.

    Using games until they fall apart is one thing, but continuing to use cracked, unstable electrical appliances that hold very hot liquids, or items you may need to rely on heavily in an emergency (if your car breaks down do you really want to walk more than a block or two, perhaps carrying your child, in shoes that are shredded?) is more foolhardy than frugal.

    It seems to me that when an item is too damaged to safely and effectively perform its primary purpose, it should be discarded.

  4. Vicky says:

    I like this post!

    I have a pair of adorable shoes I bought almost 8 years ago. They’re pink closed toed sandals – and recently, they are so fragile the soles are coming off. I’ve been gluing them back together in the mean time…

    But I bought them on clearance, for less than $10. And I got 8 years out of them. That is incredible value to me.

    Also just a random comparison, I have video games I’ve gotten 100’s of hours out of… which also makes me very happy to keep them on the shelf, as many are now irreplaceable, and very, very old…

  5. lurker carl says:

    Egads, awaiting moderation that never happens.

  6. elyn says:

    There’s a fine line between sensible frugal and crazy frugal. My mom was and is crazy frugal. She also used things until they wore out, which means- so did we. This was sometimes a safety issue. The car I drove in high school had tires that had long ago worn out- these were horribly dangerous. That car got ridiculously and hazardously worn out before she got rid of it. To this day, I spend top dollar on car maintenance, tires, snow tires, etc. No skimping there!

    Yes, it’s great to use some things til they wear out, but I’m with AnnJo- some frugality is foolhardy.

  7. kc says:

    “Stellar,” “strong,” “simply put,” adverbs in general.

  8. Troy says:

    Using things and getting value from them is great, but the measure of worth or value is not how worn out it gets, or how many times it is used. It is if it provided enough value to justify its expense, both initial and ongoing.

    I don’t want my safety items to wear out. And there are many thing that I buy that I hope I never need to use. Like my back up generator or insurance or band aids.

  9. sjw says:

    I’m having “wear things out” issue. I have work clothing and suits. They’re not worn out. But they aren’t really client appropriate any more. And they certainly aren’t what I want to wear on the weekend.

    And since they aren’t client appropriate, I don’t feel donation really makes sense.

  10. Gretchen says:

    Most of your topics are worn out.

    Otherwise, ditto number 1. I don’t buy things on purpose I don’t think I’ll get my money’s worth from.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    I have enough self-respect that I don’t go out in public in socks & shoes that are falling apart, carrying a threadbare (or duct-taped together) backpack, or using a slow cooker propped up somehow because of its missing lid, or risking injury by using a blender with a cracked container, or making my living online on an aging & unreliable computer. As elyn said above, there’s reasonable frugal and crazy frugal.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    That should be missing leg, not missing lid.

  13. Des says:

    @valleycat1 – That sounds more like self-consciousness than self-respect. I’m with you on the dangerous appliances, but I have no problem wearing worn shoes or carrying a duct-taped backpack as long as I’m not going to a board meeting. I lovingly call my well-worn, everyday shoes my “millionaire-next-door” shoes. They’re not pretty, but they are functional (keep my feet warm and dry in winter) and that is all I really need. I’ll save my “I-need-new-shoes-to-feel-good-about-myself” money in my IRA. :)

  14. jackie.n says:

    wasn’t there a post recently about his worn out sandals?

  15. Vanessa says:

    Good memory, jackie.n! Those sandals were the subject of a post called “Some Thoughts on Wearing Things Out” posted June 15 of this year.

  16. lurker carl says:

    Well, I’m trying this again sans moderation.

    The crockpot should have be repaired with parts salvaged from similar models found at thrift stores or yard sales.

  17. lurker carl says:

    Finding value in board games, books, cheap appliances and underwear is find and dandy. It is better to find value in the expensive appliances, machinery, high end clothes and your dwelling. Learning how to extend the life of the high dollar items in your life through maintenance and repair will go much farther than cheaping out on the inexpensive things like crock pots or socks.

  18. lurker carl says:

    Yet again, more moderation!

  19. lurker carl says:

    Knowing how to replace the $1 slide saves the $400 leather coat when the zipper fails, where the car needs regular shots of grease prevents a front end rebuild and prematurely worn tires, rebuilding a faucet for a few dollars instead of replacing it for considerably more to stop hot water from dripping money down the drain 24/7.

  20. lurker carl says:

    The value of a well used board game hardly compares to the value of keeping your more expensive belongings intact and lasting for a decade or two beyond their expected life span. The game may represent happy memories but the washing machine goes unappreciated until it quits before the water drains and you have no idea how to get it working again.

  21. lurker carl says:

    Perhaps if I call the table top appliance a slow cooker instead . . .

  22. SwingCheese says:

    Agreed with some other posters that obviously, items that are a safety issue should be replaced as soon as they become unsafe. But items which I love, I will use again and again, and I understand what Trent is saying when he talks about using something until it falls apart. For me, holding onto these items is more about the memories than anything else.

  23. kristine says:

    sjw- donate them anyway. For a man with no pants, frayed at the cuff pants are a godsend. Don’t be embarrassed that they have wear, just embrace being generous with whatever you have! At least they have a shot at further use. In the landfill they become a liability.

  24. kristine says:

    It depends where you live and work as well. Where I live, a duct-taped backpack would make you seem insane. Which is why I will someday soon move. My 10yo Ford Focus with a loud but harmless engine block vibration (had it checked out), is seen as crazy frugal and/or eccentric where I teach, where the students all have Audis, BMW 700 series(!), Porsches and Benz SUVs. I save my uber-frug (I coined it!) for the home front. Having duct tape in a variety of colors is a wonderful thing- a shower curtain really can last 10 years! Epoxy, gorilla glue, an exacto, and sharpies in all colors are all staples of the wear-it-out crowd. A variety of handy raw materials as well.

  25. Availle says:

    I agree with kristine, environment is crucial. I am also home front scruffy if you want so. When I come home I immediately change into my old and worn out stuff, which are things I wear exclusively when staying home alone (and possibly when taking out the trash after dark).

    Where I live, the green front is very strong, and people wear this attitudes on their sleeves. A student of mine is wearing shoes with holes so large I can see his socks through them. He claims they are 8 years old, cannot be fixed anymore (which he had done several times) and when it finally starts snowing/raining, he’ll trash them.

    Frugality: yes, getting everything out of an item: yes, but…

  26. deRuiter says:

    “It’s “went” to the homes of countless friends.” Went? Where’s the passion for using correct grammar in writing? It’s odd that rereading this “went” didn’t sound incorrect to you Trent. I agree with posters above, safety items should not be kept until worn out, but other things can be used until they fall apart if it suits you. Keeping things going longer means you hold onto more of your money.

  27. Liz says:

    Good for you, #6 Elyn! It is never good to jeopardize safety to save money. I always get my car serviced as scheculed and get tires as needed. Now If I could just get a discount on the auto insurance for doing so!

  28. Debbie M says:

    I like this perspective. Whatever your definition of too worn out to use, it seems cool to remember that ideally we will get mostly things that will become well-loved. If, at the store, you realize you can’t imagine yourself ever wearing out the item you’re thinking about, that’s good information to be noticing.

  29. Kate says:

    Well…it must be a full moon: brings out the craziness in school kids and super critics on blogs.

  30. kristine says:

    Yeah, the “it’s went” was fingernails on a blackboard. If you have trouble with proper grammar, then forgoing contractions might help prevent egregious errors. (It has went) Or just do a spelling/grammar check in Word. But I think I remember the author uses a free writing program. Word is a worthwhile professional investment for a writer. Maybe there is a “grammar boy dot com” out there! Or just reading posts out loud before posting could help. A slapstick stumble off the spellingboy soap box- but hopefully he can have a good laugh at himself!

  31. kristine says:

    “It has went” is not super criticism. It’s 3rd grade grammar, not fine-tuning for the connoisseur. Holy mackeral!

    The only reason any one called it out is that the author made a post this week about how not spelling properly makes a writer sound unprofessional, and how such unprofessional writing casts doubt on all the content as a result.

  32. kristine says:

    And mackeral was a joke. I’s mackerel.

  33. Kate says:

    Agreed that the incorrect grammar was noticeable. Worth commenting on? Not so sure. I can’t say how irritating it is as a reader to see a big number of comments and then click into them and see that the majority are comments about grammar and spelling, with very few adding to the topic of the post. I guess it is easier for me to overlook grammar and spelling errors in both the post AND the comments and focus on the actual content of the article and the comments.

  34. Kittie says:

    Diito KATE, I never care about the grammar either. I love the back and forth though.

  35. Johanna says:

    I agree that it’s usually more interesting to talk about content than about grammar and spelling. But wasn’t it just last week that Trent was talking about how when other people make spelling mistakes online, it “undermines their credibility”? Seems to me that if he’s going to dish it out, he should be able to take it.

  36. Andrew says:

    I too like the back-and-forth of the comments, but the incorrect grammar and endless repetition of certain pet phrases have made Trent’s original posts increasingly hard to take.

    I sincerely doubt that Trent ever bothers to go back and read his posts with a critical eye–just as he apparently never reads the comments. This uncaring and arrogant attitude will probably end up contributing to the end of TSD–sooner than he might believe likely.

  37. marta says:

    I think people wouldn’t comment so much on incorrect grammar or Trent’s writing in general if Trent himself didn’t say often how he strives to improve his writing — he goes on and on about writing being his passion.

    Topic: I agree with those who say that there is a line between being frugal and just being cheap or foolhardy. I will mend and repair clothes and shoes where possible and the same goes for some appliances (only if it’s cost-effective), but I have got my limits. For example, I am not going to wear out a computer until the point it’s unusable because it will mean months (or years) of poor performance and frustration, affecting my work.

  38. elyn says:

    I’m here for the topics, myself. Yeah, the grammar thing can be annoying, but it does seem like the criticism of it has become an entertainment activity in itself for a group of people. As a relative newcomer, it is a bit off-putting. It seems that there is a grammar police clique that bonds with itself by mocking Trent’s grammar. For most topics, I’ll only post comments if it takes me very little effort, because why put effort into posting about a topic, if the majority of people on the thread would prefer to grammar-kvetch rather than engage in discussions? It’s not as if doing so is sending a message to Trent, since same posters are also stating that he doesn’t read the comments. So, if that is the case, I don’t think the complaints are constructive criticism so much as, “Ha! Look! That idiot made another mistake! Whee!” Blame Trent all you want for his bad grammar, but the environment of the comment section is on us.

  39. Sara says:

    @Kate and elyn: Maybe that’s why Trent should be more careful about proofreading his posts. Some readers find poor spelling and grammar distracting, which is why they feel the need to point it out. I can’t help but contrast TSD with Get Rich Slowly. JD obviously puts a great deal of time and effort into polishing the content that is posted on his blog. Comments on spelling and grammar are rare at GRS — and in the unusual event that an error slips by JD, the post is quickly corrected once someone comments on it.

  40. Vanessa says:

    Blame Trent all you want for his bad grammar, but the environment of the comment section is on us.

    Why is that? On every other blog I read, the blogger/site owner controls the environment of the comments.

  41. Tracy says:

    “When I think about the items I’ve used until they’ve literally worn out, my mind is flooded with memories.

    I actually wore out an iPod Touch until the battery only held charge for about fifteen minutes and the screen was so scratched up that it was unusable.”

    What kinds of memories are associated with an almost unusable iPod Touch? Personally, I would be frustrated by something that only worked for 15 minutes!

    I really don’t understand this line of thinking. I do beleive that there’s great value in really thinking about your purchases and if it’s something you’ll use regularly. And in not replacing something just because the ‘next model’ has come out.

    But keeping something that’s unusable? Or something like the blender or crockpot, that is really a safety issue? That’s not frugal, that’s silly.

    Not to mention the idea that you have received great value from an item simply because you’ve worn it out is just false – if that was the case, you’d be best off only buying things that are poorly made (regardless of price) – they’ll be sure to wear out very quickly. I’d rather invest in quality and have something that still looks and functions like new years later.

  42. Evita says:

    I am with Valleycat about the issue of self-respect. People do notice your worn-out clothes, assume you are dirt-poor, negligent, clueless or cheap and treat you accordingly. As a child, I suffered enough seeing my mother (not poor, just cheap) wear hose with runs, deformed shoes and dresses with big snags in public that I swore never to step that low, even when unemployed and without resources.
    Ditto with the safety issue. Unbelievable in a home with children !!

  43. Evita says:

    Vanessa, unlike the majority of bloggers, Trent never reads the comments, so we can have our own party!! ;)

  44. Esme says:

    Well if you all like being uber-critical so much, go off and start your own ‘holier-than-thou’ blog where you can rub shoulders with your smug friends and pride yourselves on your illusions of perfection. Why waste your oh-so-valuable time being trolls? I’m a grammar nerd but I understand that the medium isn’t necessarily the message, and that Trent is human and therefore, flawed. Many of you really really need to take a hard look at the glass houses you live in and put down the stones.

  45. Diana Freeman says:

    Hay Trent,

    My old General Electric deluxe hairdryer which I have had for about 45 years is still working; although, I heard it sputtering this morning while drying my hair.

    I purchased my bedroom set when I was twenty years old, and while it could use a new coat of Flextovarathane, I refuse to replace it. I paid around $350 for it back in 1965, and now I can’t find a bedroom set made as well. Good things just don’t wearout.

    Money never came easy to me; therefore, whenever my husband and I have an opportunity to purchase furniture, clothing or an automobile, it has to last as long as possible. Our purchases are always high quality classic, middle market, sale items, and we use coupons or discounts most every time.

    We are never afraid to purchase second hand for an item in good condition. Call us the frugal Freemans!

  46. elyn says:

    I relate to Evita’s post about having a cheap mom and the impact it had on her as a child. As I mentioned earlier, my mom was crazy-frugal (and we weren’t poor, either), so our safety was impacted. So were our feelings of self-worth. There was a sense that our needs and desires as children were not really quite as important as her saving a buck.

    I recently read some post on another blog by someone I would categorize as crazy frugal. She seemed really proud of herself because she hides her children’s toys, and at Christmas wraps them up again and gives them back to them as gifts! Her kids even ask her for their own toys back for Christmas. I can only imagine the message they are receiving from this. It made my stomach turn. I mean, really- is this person that cheap that she can’t buy her kids new toys once a year at Christmas? Again, there’s sensible frugal, and there’s crazytown frugal…

  47. dajolt says:

    I bet you bought the old Mayfair version of the Settlers of Catan game, which has very flimsy material compared to the Europaen Kosmos editions…

  48. Kate says:

    As with anything there are extremes–frugality or spendthriftedness (yes…it is a made up word, methinks).

  49. Tom says:

    I wonder if this works…

    Anyway, an ipod touch dying already? How old could that thing possibly be, 2 years old?

  50. Beth says:

    I wear EVERYTHING out. I DO NOT replace an item util it is unusable. It can try one’s patience, like not having a flat TV cuz the old one isn’t dead yet, but It does give me lots of financial security and freedom. If you really get your money’s worth out of something, you can really savor getting yourself what you really want when you replace it.

  51. PF says:

    Hi Trent,

    I find that many of your posts just sound the same anymore. Have you considered getting some guest writers?

  52. Honey says:

    Yeah, but my husband won’t get rid of anything that’s worn out because “the item holds the memories.” So we must buy a replacement because the original is no longer functional, but store the original and never even speak of getting rid of it.

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