My office chair broke a few months ago. The end of one of the plastic spokes around where it met with the plastic wheel cracked. I tried to glue it, but it just broke again in a different spot. I continued to use it while I searched around for a replacement. As I continued to use it in it’s broken condition, the one arm broke, and I noticed that the seat had nothing resembling padding left under the well-worn butt-groove. I sat on a folded blanket to give it some comfort and dealt with the constant wobble, but the chair was also starting to mark the floor so a replacement was needed soon.
The sad part? This was the chair my mother had bought for me when she had been up visiting less than 4 years ago. We purchased it from a local big-box office store, and it wasn’t cheap. Even then it was over $100. It was almost all plastic, with polyester fabric. What had seemed like a good buy at the time, as it turns out, was not a great deal. I wish I could say that was my only non-durable buy. My husband bought a task lamp that lasted about 3 months. The plastic joint snapped from moving it around, he was holding it together with duct tape.
We have, I think, as a society become used to buying things and having them break on us. We are helpless victims of a disposable culture. If you’re currently cash-strapped, like many people (and like me), it doesn’t seem possible to break free of buying cheap, low quality goods in favor of the longer-lasting but more expensive quality ones. I don’t believe that’s so, but you have to be willing to go a little out of your way.
1. Buy Used or Vintage Goods
Search flea markets, swap shops, good will, salvation army, craigslist, ebay. You never know what you’re going to find. The flip side of this is that you never know IF you’re going to find. If you’re looking for something specific, you have to be both lucky and persistent. For example, I found a nice double-burner cast iron griddle pan for $10. It took me a few months of looking, but I found a nice one. I wasn’t in a particular hurry so it wasn’t any hardship to wait. The pan required re-seasoning, but it’s great now. I looked around for a chair, but wasn’t having any luck in locating one.
2. look for durability and reparability in new goods
This is something I’m learning now. When you’re going out to look for a new or replacement item, take your time and look around. Examine the item you want to buy. Are the joints or other key pieces of it that need to be sturdy made of plastic, cheap soft wood, or other inferior materials? If so, keep looking for one that uses quality materials for the key parts. It’s hard to find items that aren’t made mostly of plastic anymore, but if you can find one it’s worth it. Are the key pieces removable/replaceable? that’s a true bonus, because it means something can be repaired later rather than replaced. I eyed beautiful wooden swivel chairs at Pottery Barn, but the $400 price tag was WAY beyond my budget, and I didn’t have the time to save up for one. The big box office supply stores around me all had either cheap crappy chairs or way too expensive chairs. Sometimes the chair was both crappy and expensive.
Of all places, I found my durable chair at Ikea. Now, I realize Ikea’s not known for durable, lots of their stuff is made of cheap pressboard and doesn’t last very long at all. I had gone to buy some replacement bowls for my regular dinner dishes (I am a klutz, and lately I seem to be focusing on breaking bowls). While I was there, I thought, “hey, let’s look and see what they have in the way of office swivel chairs”. They had lots that were basically Ikea-stylized versions of the big-box mostly-plastic chair. But they had a few that were different. I settled on one with a with a leather(ish?) seat and backrest. The reason: it had a metal frame and metal base. The wheels were standard separate plastic pieces that I could easily remove and replace. The seat and backrest were separate pieces that could be repaired and replaced. The bonus? The chair I had chosen was only $59, which was within my budget. It’s also got a smaller footprint than my previous chair, which is great in our tiny 7×10 office. It was painted steel gray, which definitely doesn’t match with my yellow walls and brown trim in my office, but a quick stop at home depot to buy a spray can of Rustoleum brown hammered specialty paint and a bit of sandpaper, add a couple hours of work later and I think it’s a great addition to my office that should (fingers crossed) last me a number of years.
We all should demand quality in the goods we buy. Buying something cheap only to have to replace it soon after benefits nobody but the companies who peddle junk, because they think you’ll buy it. Even if you don’t have much money, don’t settle for crap. There are inexpensive goods out there made from quality materials, but you may have to look a bit harder. Be a smart and careful consumer.
Have you ever ended up in the trap of buying non-durable crap?