Dear Readers: The theme of this blog is things--things that tell a story about life, relationships, society, culture. Things that are in some way significant, beautiful, historical, necessary, or useful. But the fact is, some things are just things. (Or, as George Carlin would say, “stuff.”) And some stuff is, quite simply, annoying. This is a rant about annoying stuff. If rants aren't your cup of tea, I hope you'll scroll down and check out some earlier posts. :-)
A week or so ago I got a new frying pan. Our old one, a copper-bottomed pan that belonged to my mother, had become warped and didn’t cook evenly.(I have a theory that there are two kinds of people: the Matching Pan People--who refer to it as "cookware"-- and the rest of us. We are proud to be among the Unmatched Pan People.)
So anyway, I bring the new pan home, remove the cardboard covering, and peel off the label, which is taped smack in the middle of the pan. I start washing it so I can make a nice veggie and scallop stir-fry. A full thirty minutes later, after scrubbing with boiling water, soap, a scouring pad, and Comet cleanser, I have finally gotten rid of the sticky residue left from the tape, or at least enough of it that I am fairly certain it won't form a chemical reaction with my ginger sauce and kill us. I fail to notice that the pan also has tape on the bottom, so now it is permanently scorched in.
Which leads to one of the vexing enigmas of modern consumption: Why do stores ruin products by attaching labels that damage the things they are selling? For example, those little T-shaped plastic strips holding price tags on sweaters and socks that pull the threads when you try to remove the last little sharp bit that is always buried in the fabric.
Even more annoying are the deliberately shoddy products, where the manufacturer’s only goal is to get you to buy the item, like a fly-by-night snake-oil salesman who will be in the next county by the time your hair turns green and the diarrhea sets in.
Such companies put all of their effort into marketing. What do they care if the thing falls apart or doesn’t work after you’ve paid for it? How many people will take the trouble to return a $1.99 utensil? Example: We have a pasta spoon that is so heavy on the handle end that if you rest it in a pan or bowl, it flips out, flinging sauce and noodles everywhere.
The most annoying of all are the stealth-crap products, those whose shoddiness doesn’t become apparent until a few days or weeks after you buy them. The pants with the hem that falls out after the first washing, the jackets that lose their buttons, the new shoes that lose a heel when you're walking down a flight of stairs (it happened to me).
Case in point: I bought a silver metal bathroom set that included a soap dispenser (the spigot broke in two weeks), a toilet brush and a toilet paper holder. Now, I may be missing something here, but what is the one purpose of a toilet brush? To scrub the toilet. And what is one thing that is always in a toilet? It doesn't take Helen Keller and Teacher to spell out the answer: W-A-T-E-R. So wouldn’t you think a container designed to hold a dripping toilet brush would be made of stainless steel? No such luck. It is made of a metal that rusted through in just a few months, leaving marks on my floor. (I apologize for this graphic photo. I swear the stains are nothing but rust!) Of course, it has no manufacturer’s mark and I can’t remember which of the ubiquitous box stores sold it, so I can't file a complaint or get a refund. Instead, it is one more piece of trash for a future Wall-E to compact and stack into a massive pyramid of waste.
Such experiences have led me to create the Four Commandments of Consumption:
The First Commandment: Thou Shalt Buy No Crap. I will buy quality things that will last, or I won't buy them at all.
The Second Commandment: When Possible, Thou Shalt Buy Used. It's better for the environment -- no packaging to dispose of and it keeps perfectly useful stuff from ending up in a landfill. Best of all, there are no labels to remove!
The Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Ask 'Can I live without it?' Shopping for shopping's sake seems to be the new national past-time, encouraged by shows like Sex and the City and stores piled with doodads so cheap that we figure, well, why not? But a little item that seems to cost just a dollar has hidden costs, from cluttering the house to clogging landfills.
Which brings me to the Fourth Commandment: (non)-Garbage In, Garbage Out. For each new item that comes into the house (excluding groceries and cleaning supplies), at least one object must go, either in the garage sale, Ebay or charity pile, or in the trash. The result? Equilibrium, Koyanaskatsi, Life in Balance, Less Stuff to Dust.
Do you have any Commandments to add? What is your most frustrating product story? Post them in Comments