A couple of days ago I stopped to pick up some jeans of Christopher’s that I’d dropped off at that famous St. John’s landmark, Tony’s Tailor Shop. Both pairs of jeans were in perfectly good shape except for a tidy little hole that had been torn in the right leg of one pair, left leg of the other. I realize any mother worth her salt would have picked up a needle, thread, and some handy scrap denim she has lying around, and patched those jeans up smartly.
But I am not a mother worth her salt. I am a decidedly low-sodium mother when it comes to sewing and other handicrafts. However, I’m also not the mom who will ditch a perfectly good pair of jeans because a child has managed to tear a hole in them, so off to the tailor shop I go.
Tony’s (and Tony himself, who I just found out is the grandfather of one of my students, and I squealed like I was meeting a celebrity when the student informed me of his heady heritage) has been around so long, and so reliably, in this neighbourhood that it really has gained local fame, but as I stood and waited to pick up the jeans I tried to think of other, working tailor shops in St. John’s. I’m sure there used to be more, but I can’t think of another now. There also used to be shoe repair shops and appliance repair shops and those, too, seem to be going out of style. I blame it all on our disposable society.
The zipper on my favourite (OK, my only) boots stuck last month, and there’s a seam coming unravelled on my best (OK, my only) church shoes. And I know there used to be places you could take boots and shoes to be fixed when they started to fall apart, but I’m not even sure any of those places exist anymore. I’m pretty sure 90% of people would say that a boot with a stuck zipper, or a shoe with ripped seams, is a sign from God that you’re supposed to buy new boots and shoes.
I resist this throw-away ethic with every fibre of my being. I resist it partly because of my committment to environmental issues, but also because it’s in my blood to resist.
My parents, like many of their generation, are not what you’d call card-carrying environmentalists. In fact, my dad doesn’t even seem to be sure about global warming, from what I can tell (though he hasn’t actually accused Al Gore of making it up). But also like many of their generation, they are FAR better at making things last and opting out of mindless consumerism, than many of us younger folk who wear our bleeding hearts, and our green cards, on our newly-purchased sleeves.
I am currently cooking on the kitchen stove my parents purchased when they got married in 1962. It never got thrown out … just recycled. They upgraded when they bought the house in 72 and I think they’re still using that stove. They still have dishes they got as wedding gifts. They made their orange shag carpet last nearly 20 years — well, in that case, the environmental benefit is probably cancelled out by the interior decorating crime, but still, their hearts are in the right place. At the repair shop, usually.
They know how to make things last, as older people nearly always do, having grown up in an era when things had to last, were built to last, and were expected to last. Nowadays our think the built-in obsolesence of our consumer has gone to a crazy level. If a DVD player or TV stops working, we’re expected to toss it and get a new one. What do we do with a broken cellphone or even a computer that’s still under warranty? Nobody comes to fix it … you send it back and they send you a new one. I tried to get new lenses in my glasses a couple of years back and the glasses guy explained to me that it was cheaper to throw the old ones out and get new frames as well (never mind the fact that I liked my old frames). When things are cheaper to replace than they are to repair, there’s something seriously wrong — because we’re not counting the real cost of constantly buying new stuff … the cost of ever-growing landfills and dwindling resources.
But quite apart from my environmental self-righteousness, I find a genuine pleasure in making things last. Admittedly, there are times I take it to excess — I’ve had clothes and shoes so worn out that no living being should be seen alive wearing them, and appliances which “worked” in such a quirky and singular way they couldn’t really be called “working,” yet I kept using them. And then, hypocritically, I’ll discard and replace something that really could have been repaired, probably quite easily, just because I’ve gotten frustrated with it.
But while I hope to exercise better discernment in future, I would still like to try, as much as possible, to live by that good old-fashioned motto:
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!!