Wearing Things Out

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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