planned obsolescence, future landfill, and premium-priced durability: in which we buy an expensive new washer

One of the things I hate most about our current world is planned obsolescence. 

There's a "wmtc's greatest hits" long piece unpacking planned obsolescence, as it relates to capitalism and our deteriorating environment: "we work to buy things that are built to die so that we must work to buy more things that will break". (This post sparked an interesting long discussion, now lost to the ether.) 

When we look at the cost of basic living now, compared with our parents' or grandparents' generations -- home internet, computers, mobile phones, etc. -- we need to include this. We buy and re-buy, over and over, items that our parents may have replaced once in their lifetimes, if at all.

And the life cycle of products continue to shrink. Things we bought when we first moved to Canada in 2005 lasted longer than the same items purchased in 2015. We once bought a can opener that was literally single-use. A coffee grinder that I used five times before it broke. And on and on.

Wmtc readers had another good discussion about this after I bought an extremely expensive office chair. Talk about privilege! I was embarrassed to spend almost $1,000 on a chair. The alternative, however, was spending $200-300 for a chair that would fall apart in less than two years. My expensive chair, purchased in 2009, is still like new in 2022.

This kind of buying is a privilege, only feasible for those with discretionary income or credit. Folks with less income end up buying crap because it's all they can afford -- another form of the cost of poverty

Planned obsolescence preys on bargain hunters. The quest to wring maximum use from every dollar actually means spending more in the long run.

Planned obsolescence keeps people in debt, or in poverty, or prevents them from living a better life with greater comforts and supports.

Planned obsolescence is killing our planet. The Earth is filling up with phones, and computers, and appliances, and plastic toys, everything else that we buy, and re-buy, and re-buy.

* * * *

I think about this all the time, but most recently it's on my mind because our washing machine broke. 

The Whirlpool washer that was in our home when we bought it suddenly stopped spinning. The one appliance repair person in our little town is away for an extended period of time. Through some intense sleuthing, I found a repair person in the next town, about 45 minutes away -- but he doesn't make service calls.*

We disconnected the washer, loaded it into the car, and drove to Port McNeill. The following day, Repair Person called: it can't be fixed. The part that broke isn't available, as the breakdown of this part signals the end of the machine. By tracing the serial number, he learned that the washer was manufactured seven years ago -- and that is the full lifespan of the machine. 

Seven years? For a washer?? That is ludicrous.

Now we had to drive back to Port McNeill, pick up the faulty washer, and re-install it. We would use a lot of electricity drying sopping wet clothes, but at least we'd have something in the interim. Envisioning our hydro bills would be a great incentive to buy a new washer, pronto.

As I started to research, I saw that almost every washer had only a one-year warranty. Hmmm.

Repair Person recommended we look into Huebsch, sold in the US as Speed Queen. They manufacture washers for laundromats and hotels, and also they have a few consumer models, which are built to the same specs as the commercial machines. Repair Person doesn't sell appliances or earn commissions. He said, "If you can afford it, it will last the rest of your life."

I investigated. Huebsch washers and dryers cost about twice as much as standard consumer models from Whirlpool, LG, Samsung, and most other household brands. They are supposed to last decades, rather than years. There are only two authorized Huebsch dealers in the province, and amazingly, one is in Port McNeill! 

I'm not thrilled at the expense, but to us this is a no-brainer. What's the point of spending $600 or $800 on a washer that will last less than 10 years? 

My only hesitation was that the capacity of these washers is much smaller than those of the popular brands: 3.2 cubic feet, compared with 5 cubic feet or higher. Here's what I've learned. The other companies have competed to offer more and more capacity -- without improving the internal works. The motors of these large-capacity machines can't handle the loads, so the machines are destined to break down quickly. Huebsch has avoided this by sticking with the old-fashioned 3.2 capacity.

I wasn't completely sure that the Huebsch could accommodate our largest item, which would be a queen-sized comforter. I read online that 3.2 cubic feet was enough for a queen comforter -- but I couldn't take a chance. There's no drycleaner in our area, so if I couldn't wash a blanket -- including old blankets that certain dogs like to snuggle in -- I'd be out of luck. So just to be sure, we brought a (fur-free) blanket with us to try. It fit. End of story.

This is how we ended up spending $1,750 -- tax and delivery putting us at about $2,200 -- on a washer. According to everyone, it will run smoothly for at least 25 years.**

I'm fortunate, I'm privileged, we can handle this. But it is so wrong.


* Repair Person is disabled, and I'm guessing that only working out of his shop eliminates accessibility concerns. I didn't know this until we met him. It was great to see a wheelchair-user running his own business -- and he's quite senior, too. He sells mobility scooters and repairs computers, too. And in the summer lives on his boat. In my old writing life, this guy would make a great story.

** Next year, we are probably going to buy the matching dryer, to reduce our electricity use with a more efficient machine. 


my experience working with a personal trainer, plus trying to find the next step

My history with strength training has been fraught with failure and injuries. Time and again, I would be highly motivated, armed with a book or set of videos, only to end up worse than when I started. Back spasms, severe muscle strains, deep joint pain, all requiring long periods of rehab -- not the results I was looking for! 

In early 2020, a union sister turned me on to Katy Bowman's Nutritious Movement. Using Katy's methods and stretches, I was able to reduce and then eliminate the lower back pain that had plagued me for decades. I increased my range of motion and felt much looser and more fluid. Hurrah! I wrote about that experience here.

I kept up with the stretching, but as motivated as I am, if I do it on my own, I end up rushing through, doing the bare minimum. Katy's philosophy and exercises are amazing, but they can be very time-consuming. Also, her workouts are not aerobic. I already dedicate about five hours a week to cardio exercise. Adding Nutritious Movement becomes a prohibitive time commitment.

Early last year, the wonderful folks at truLocal were promoting Nielsen Fitness, a personal training company based in Toronto. Like so many businesses, Nielsen converted to a virtual model during covid -- one-on-one sessions via videoconferencing, with a free assessment and trial session to start. I decided to try it.

Nielsen had a good and detailed intake questionnaire, where I was able to specify my goals: I want to improve strength, balance, and flexibility. The end. Just as importantly, I was able to specify my not-goals: no weighing, no measuring. 

I signed up for 12 lessons. The consultant tried to sell me on three times per week, but there's just no way. I wanted one weekly session, and kind of got pushed into twice weekly. As it turned out, because of scheduling, I often ended up having one session per week -- and I enjoyed that the most. 

Incidentally, I think "three times a week or you don't see results" must be another fitness myth. It should be chucked in the bin, along with 10,000 steps, eight glasses of water, and "no pain, no gain". With either weekly or twice-weekly sessions, I absolutely saw progress. My strength, flexibility, and balance all improved. And this included a six-week break.

I had a great experience, one that confirmed everything I have heard about working with a personal trainer.

* She knew a wide range of modifications, so I could progress through different exercises at my own level.

* She designed workouts that were more challenging than I would do on my own, both in skill level and duration. 

* She challenged me to go further than I thought I could, while always respecting my limitations.

* She was highly encouraging and motivating. This isn't a must for me, but I enjoyed it and found it helpful.

* The workout was dynamic and aerobic, so I felt that I had gotten a very complete hour, even more than I do on the treadmill. 

* It was slightly awkward to do this by video. I had to tilt the laptop camera up or down for each exercise. But it wasn't a big deal, and certainly worth it to have a great, personalized workout without leaving the house.

* Nielsen sent me a set of resistance bands, both "mini bands" and "super bands", along with a set of handles and a nice bag, pictured here. These are really useful and they threw them in at no extra cost.

The result: I worked hard, saw progress, went further than I thought I could, and had no injuries. 

I enjoyed the experience very much -- but it is out of my price range. The 12 sessions were a gift I gave myself, an investment in my health. But this is not something I can work into my budget long-term. I don't think the industry's prices are exorbitant, considering it's a personal service, using someone's time and expertise. It's just not in our budget.

So where to go from here? I think my best bet for expertise with affordability is a fitness app. I don't mind paying for a good app; the price for a full year may be less than one personal session. But there are so many fitness apps, I find the field overwhelming. Most seem to emphasize weight loss, or on the other end, body building. I take one look at the choices and run screaming.

This listicle from Forbes reviews several apps, rating pros and cons for each. I'm going to use it as a base for discovery. The trainer recommended one that is on this list: Nike Training Club. I'll report back.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #35

This TIHATL is a hybrid of two well-trod library tropes: The Customer Who Refuses To Be Helped and Left Behind By Technology. It makes for sad, frustrating interactions and irate customers.

R needs to do something on the internet. He hates the library's computers. He hates Windows 10. He is convinced that our public computers and Windows 10 are the causes of his problems.

He marches triumphantly into the library with a used laptop that he purchased, announcing that, at last, he has a copy of Windows XP. He also has a newly purchased ethernet cable. And he's convinced that this combination -- both, unbeknownst to him, outdated -- will solve his problems.

I explain that we have no way to use the cable, that we can only connect to the internet wirelessly. This infuriates him. "Why not? What kind of crap operation are you running here? What is wrong with this library?"

I try everything I know to get his laptop to pick up the library's free wifi, but it will not. This also infuriates him. Fortunately -- and a bit surprisingly -- he does not blame me. 

After a while I convince him to move to one of our public computers. This also involves getting him to pack up his laptop, his jacket, and all the papers he has strewn across the table. It's like dealing with a 5-year-old, with none of the cute factor.

He sits at the computer for about five seconds before he starts complaining. "Where's the search box on this crappy thing?"

Incidentally, R is hearing-impaired, so we're both shouting. He also has very bad body odour, and I am highly sensitive to smells. He looks disheveled and unkempt. 

I show him how to open a browser and find Google. He tells me what he's looking for, and waits for me. I explain that I won't be doing this for him. He angrily types in his search, bashing the keyboard, then clicks on the first link without looking at it. "What am I supposed to do now? These damn computers! Windows 10 garbage! What kind of library is this, anyway? Why can't I use my laptop! What kind of garbage is this!" and so on.

At one point in his rant R says, "I ran my own business for 40 years! I never had these problems!". This gives some insight into what he may be experiencing. Presumably, he's been competent and independent in the past, and now finds himself helpless and frustrated in a world that has left him behind. Unfortunately, my empathy for him cannot help him. I also wonder if this is actually true.

Also while ranting, R says he wants to buy a typewriter and use Canada Post. He has said this several times at the library. It must be an expression of frustration and a longing for something simpler. He hasn't actually tried to buy a typewriter, or asked us how he might go about that.

When I last saw R, he was using Google and writing down whatever he found, with pen and paper. His handwriting is illegible and his grasp of written English is marginal.

Based on his searches, I think he may be sending some kind of promo or advertising to various companies -- which is even sadder, as I can't imagine what this would look like. 

I really want to help this man. But he is so invested in being right, and so frustrated that he cannot navigate the world, which now feels so foreign to him, that he refuses to be helped. Instead, he wastes money on an outdated laptop, and ends up feeling more aggrieved than when he started.

* * * *

Before writing this post, I checked the things i heard at the library label, to see when I last wrote about this issue. I came up with this similar story, written in March 2020. 



Revolutionary thought of the day:

I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle your kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say, nope, I aint a gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns.

Woody Guthrie


i need something lighter: my two favourite dog vids plus a golden oldie

Being confronted with pit bull bigotry has triggered a lot of sadness for me. To feel better, I am sharing my two favourite reels. These make me laugh every single time.

Bonus round: a blast from the past. 

It occurs to me that the expressions "blast from the past" and "golden oldies" are themselves golden oldies. We said these things "back in the day" -- an expression I hate and try never to use. 

Many thanks to my esteemed partner for always knowing what will bring me joy.


something new: in which i defend pit bulls challenge bigotry without losing my cool

I was at a nail salon. Not an upscale spa, a loud, basic, ramshackle kind of nail salon. Two women sitting side by side for pedicures were speaking loudly and drowning out all the other noise. 

Loud Woman One was telling the whole salon about her upcoming trip to San Francisco, where her grandchild lives. She was listing all the things to do in San Francisco. Then she was telling the whole salon about traveling with her dog.

Loud Woman Two says, loudly, "You know what dogs I hate? I hate pit bulls. They are horrible dogs. They bite people. They kill people."

My head jerked up. I stared in their direction. 

San Francisco Tour Guide said, "Well, the thing about pit bulls is, sometimes, if they have good parents, they might be OK. My daughter's ex-boyfriend had a pit bull. He got him when he was a puppy, and he trained him very well, and it's a very sweet dog now. He also has a Min Pin, and the Min Pin weighs 12 pounds, and you know what, that little dog is the boss."

Breed Bigot says, "That dog is probably not really a pit bull. If it was, it would be horrible and vicious."

I tried to look away. 

I wasn't sitting near them and I wasn't involved in the conversation (although they were talking loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear). 

I tried to look away. 

But I felt sick. I literally felt sick to my stomach. I knew if I didn't say something I'd feel sick all day.

I called over to them, "Pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other dog. You're repeating myths and lies."

They continued talking, oblivious.

I tried again. "Excuse me! Excuse me, what you're saying about pit bull dogs is not true. It's bigotry. It's like saying, 'All Koreans are this,' or 'All Black people are that'. Pit bulls are ordinary dogs. They are often the victims of abuse."

Breed Bigot wouldn't look at me. She turned her face away.

Tour Guide said, "It's like I was saying, good parents make good dogs."

I said, "I hear what you're saying. I agree." I looked at Breed Bigot, but she was refusing all eye contact. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but you're repeating lies. What you're saying is bigotry. It's wrong." I stared at her. "Statistics show that pit bulls do not bite more than any other dog."

Tour Guide said, "Do you know down in the US, which dogs bite the most? Golden Retrievers. It's because there are so many of them there, so they are where most of the bites come from. So you see, statistics can say anything."

Ignoring the idiocy of this statement, I said, "I hear what you're saying. Thank you."

Then I stopped.

I let Tour Guide have the last word.

I apologized to the person doing my nails, and ended the conversation.

So what's new?

In the past, I would have gone right over to them, gotten in their faces. Raised my voice. Expounded on the virtues of pit bulls and their victimization. And I don't know what else. Because when I'm in that zone, I can't think. I'm pure anger.

Then in those old days, I might have been slightly (but only slightly) embarrassed afterwards, depending on how far I went. I might (or might not) apologize for going too far. But a younger version of myself could be counted on to let loose. It never felt like a choice.

So here I am. I'm 61 years old, sixtyfuckingone years old, and I have finally figured out how to speak up without attacking. I can finally control my emotions enough, manage my anger enough, keep my composure enough, to speak up without making a scene. 

I still haven't figured out how to shut up completely, and I'm sure I never will. But at least I didn't bite her head off.


what i'm reading: the night watchman by louise erdrich

I read Louise Erdrich long ago, in the 1980s and '90s, devouring several titles, including Love MedicineThe Beet Queen, and my favourite, Tracks. Erdrich remained on my radar, but somehow I didn't pick up another of her books for decades -- until now. And I'm so glad I did.

The Night Watchman, which won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is a captivating, transcendent novel, a book that does many things at the same time, and all of them achingly beautiful.

Although the story takes place in the 1950s, and was inspired by Erdrich's grandfather's papers -- and his activism on behalf of his people -- this book doesn't have the feel of historical fiction. To me it reads more like a story of personal journeys and relationships, against a backdrop of reservation life.

Thomas, who works as a night watchman, is organizing to defend his people from the federal Termination Bill, that -- quite literally -- will make his tribe disappear. Patrice, Thomas' niece, is trying to locate her sister, who has also disappeared -- into the city, whether by choice or against her will, we don't know.

The story follows both these struggles, along with pieces of the journeys of people in Thomas' and Patrice's kinship circles, seen in varying degrees. There's a lot of humour, not a little sadness, and richly drawn portrayals of iron-willed love and throat-catching intimacy. Hardships are presented matter-of-factly, without melodrama; they are just the fabric of life. The characters are vivid, the relationships are complex, and even the less likeable community members are seen through a compassionate lens. 

As with most Indigenous-created fiction, there is a spiritual or mystical element, too. Erdrich skillfully weaves this into the plot and allows its meaning to remain ambiguous.

There is also the spectre of violence against women, especially missing and murdered Indigenous women. Erdrich lets us bear witness to this grim reality, in a way that is highly effective and memorable, but not graphic.

I closed this book feeling that the author had guided me through a journey. I had that feeling that is my greatest praise for any novel: I was sorry it had ended.