Zen and the Art of Item Replacement

My family has only one television in the house, and it is primarily used for playing Wii games. It’s an enormous, extremely heavy old 32″ television, bought when I was in college and now approaching ten years old. In all four corners, the screen has begun to turn faintly blue, and it shows up particularly well on a white screen, as the cloudiness covers a good portion of the screen.

Not too long ago, I would have insisted on replacing this immediately, but in all honesty, it doesn’t interfere with any of our usage of the television. Thus, we’ll keep it until the issue becomes serious enough that it disallows our use of the television for any purpose.

Quite frankly, some of our friends and family think this is weird. “Why don’t you just replace it?” they ask. “You can afford it, you know,” they’ll say, as though they need to remind us that we can, in fact, spend money.

The real truth of the matter is that my wife and I have started to follow a set of unwritten rules about when and how to upgrade or replace the items that we have now. I thought it might be fun to actually write some of these down and share them.

Rule #1: If it isn’t broke, don’t replace it.
This means that if we have an item that is functional, we don’t replace it with something newer (there are a few little caveats to this that I’ll explain later). This rule is why we haven’t replaced our television yet and we probably won’t until the tube blows – it’s functional, so why replace it?

Rule #2: When we do replace something, we replace it with long term quality and reliability.
For example, our house came with a washer and dryer set that we plan on using until they’re on death’s door. At that point, we will pony up and buy quality replacements for them – ones that are energy efficient and designed to last for the long haul. This might cost us a lot out of pocket right then, but the efficiency and reliability of the items will pay dividends for many years afterwards.

Rule #3: Upgrading before the end of the lifespan is fine if there is a clear and compelling functional reason for the change.
Our kitchen knives are a great example of this. We have a functional set of kitchen knives that work well for most of our uses, but they’re not excellent and they are frustrating for some tasks (vegetable chopping, etc.). The knives simply aren’t designed well enough to execute repetitive chopping and so on. Thus, the knives are on our list of items to replace in the future. When we do replace them, we will replace them with stellar knives, ones intended to last a lifetime.

Rule #4: No item is upgraded unless we both agree on the need for the upgrade.
If this rule weren’t in place, I might have already replaced the knives. However, my wife is still riding the fence on them – we’ve slated a replacement for them in the long term, but not immediately. Why? Her argument is that they still do most tasks well, so we should buy single knife upgrades for specific tasks. My argument is that some single knives will just encourage us to upgrade all of them, so we might as well save the money and get the whole set. We will do a knife upgrade when we are in full agreement on what to do, but until then, we’ll wait until we agree on what to do.

Rule #5: Try to avoid things that have a steady “upgrade” cycle.
Video game consoles come to mind. We own a Wii, and we know from the past that video game consoles are “upgraded” every five years or so, with the console manufacturer reducing and then eliminating support for the old console as the new one begins to sell well. Does this mean we upgrade when the new console comes out? I don’t really plan to as long as I’m still enjoying games for my Wii – I actually have far more games right now than I have time to play, so why upgrade until I’ve gotten the enjoyment out of everything that I have?

The same logic goes for HD-DVD and BluRay. I see no reason to ever upgrade to them until it literally becomes impossible to get movies on regular DVD – and even then, I won’t upgrade for a while. Why? I have all of the movies I enjoy watching repeatedly on DVD already, so why upgrade to a new format? I’m very glad to see that some family members of mine feel the same way – one of them actually has a VCR in a box (just in case they completely go off the market) so that they can continue to watch their video tape collection and aren’t forced into an upgrade that doesn’t really add value.

In short, we don’t upgrade that often, but when we do, we do it with items of quality, not just a cheap replacement item.

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