After 8 years of usage, my cot broke. The MDF sheet on which one sleeps cracked and gave away. Sleeping on it started giving me backaches (rather exacerbating my existing backache I should say), and I started sleeping in the other room on the old 90s cot which is just wood and plywood.
I called the Carpenter over, who took one look at it and said it’d cost a few grand to fix. That evening I walked around checking new cots. The gist from that walk was that cots cost a pretty penny, are all made of MDF which will wear out pretty soon, and the crucial thing: they don’t take the old ones, even for free. The ‘take away the one I have’ was my most important requirement as I didn’t want to have an unusable cot taking up space in the room.
I called the carpenter again. This time he suggested a quick fix. Take a couple of plywood sheets and lay them on the cot. The base skeleton could still take the weight. And we wouldn’t have to remove the existing sheet either. So a week later he brought a couple of sheets of plywood, measured them, cut them and just laid them on the cot. Matter over. It cost me Rs. 3000, with Rs. 2500 for just the plywood sheets. I also showed the carpenter the other cot that we have, to see if it needs any fixing. He laughed. That’s wood. Me: ‘isn’t this too?’. Apparently not. The old cot has lasted from the 90s.
Any furniture that you touch is now MDF. If you want higher quality stuff, get it made. When Urban Ladder launched some years back, I was surprised at the high price they were quoting for even basic stuff. I actually thought they were made of good wood. Turned out, the price was for the fancily named ‘design’ and the ‘finish’. The guts were all MDF. What about longevity? Again, turns out I was living in the last century. You have to keep refreshing your furniture and interiors, like you do with your wardrobe. No one expects to keep that furniture for more than 3-5 years.
And then again, to the point of exchange. The way I used to buy new furniture was, make a deal at the shop which would include the price for the old piece that this would replace. The amount would be nominal, and its whole purpose was only to get rid of the old stuff in a sane way. The assumption also was that these guys would know how to deal with them, and were probably recycling them. But then again, the key here was out of sight, out of mind.
Now, that exchange market has fallen through. Even if you want to replace your mattress, there is no exchange. So what do you do with a large unwieldy mattress which the new seller won’t take away? That’s where the city outskirts come in. My cycling route takes me through Vishweshwaraiah Layout(assuming that’s the latest spelling). Earlier they used to be empty roads with empty sites all around. Now it is empty roads, then garbage and then empty sites. Why take the trouble of dumping into empty sites, when just the road side will do?
Why it was empty earlier? That was because the outskirts as they were were much closer to me. Before hitting VW layout, I had to cross places closer to my home. Those had fewer houses and more dumping. Now, as houses creep farther out, the garbage line of the city moves farther out.
So this is where everything that you don’t see ends up – old mattresses, commodes, broken furniture, beanbags with their thermocol beads, you name it! A few years back the main garbage was chicken feathers dumped all over in sacks; now they are barely seen. Not that they are not there, they are just part of a bigger dump of garbage!
And today, the whole thing hit closer home. As I headed out early morning, I saw that the opposite site had what looked like a large bed/cushion. On closer inspection, it turned out to be some dumped bag with a lot of cushion inner material. There were two more pieces of furniture lying around in the same site hidden in the undergrowth. How much can one deal with! I managed to extricate the first bag, and have the garbage auto take it away (after paying a small fee). What he will do with it is anybody’s guess, and most likely it will end up somewhere else, just not my immediate problem anymore. In a normal scenario where a seller exchanges the old product, it would probably still have ended up in the same place as this will now. Either you get your hands dirty, or someone else does it for you.
It feels like a constant battle against a system that insists on piling up more and more stuff without providing a mechanism to remove the existing ones that get replaced. I used to believe in not replacing stuff that is not broken. But how much does that make sense in a system where things are made to fail/break periodically, so that you end up having to replace them?
I did not bargain to replace a TV 1.5 years into its life. Neither did I bargain to replace the smartphone, whose battery is fixed inside and costs a bomb, in 2 years after its battery started swelling. Even if you don’t want to replace things, you end up having to whether you like it or not.
The solution seems to be to not have stuff. Remove dependency on TV, you end up not having a TV. Remove dependency on car, you end up not having one. The direction might be not towards replacing stuff when it breaks, but towards stop needing something when it breaks.
The softer option is to buy used. You might not end up saving the world, as the problems with quality still remain, but in some cases it can help. A phone that is built to last 3 years, if bought used after 2 years will only last you an year, whereas gently used furniture can probably last you a lot more, if they are built to last. Again, everything comes down to the quality of stuff. Given that some people buying used stuff will directly affect the margins of the producing companies, it only makes sense for them to lower the quality and increase the marketing, like Urban Ladder, or name your favourite smartphone brand.
I have been trying the used mode for years now. It is not only cheaper, it is insane the way people buy and sell! I got a sigma lens for 80% of the cost, and it was unused too. Reason? Man bought for his wife, and she found it too heavy; the lens is 2 kilos and cost him 65K! I got a phone, again brand new for 75% of the MRP. Reason: Guy does not like the concept of e-sims. An iPad for less than 80% of the price. Reason: Man got a gift from company, and does not want his child to get addicted. The only sane reason I found. But then, why are companies randomly gifting gadgets? For furniture, there is gozefo which offers products at different stages of use, and give you an offer to sell it back in a year (hint, hint). They also offer refurbished phones and other electronic devices.
But at the very end, the only real solution is to not need stuff. To not need big lenses, or iPads or expensive smartphones.