BREAK, REPLACE, REPEAT: the telltale signs of a disposable society

I grew up in the 1960’s/70’s. I am the last of the boomers. We were a nuclear family: four kids, a dog, my father worked and my Mum stayed at home looking after us. We always had food, shelter and clothing and we had plenty of other things as well: black wall mount phone with dial and while we were well into the period of cable and colour TV, we used bunny ears on the black and white with three channels (Dad finally broke down to basic cable and a first generation color TV when I was a teen). Our clothes had patches on the patches; we had a push lawnmower well after gas and electric mowers were available. And of course we had simple appliances in our home. It was a time when things just weren’t replaced until they were absolutely irreparable or so outdated that they weren’t usable anymore. But it was a time when nothing was disposable.

I remember a toaster that sat on our kitchen counter when I was growing up. It wasn’t fancy, the standard two piece bread setup (note: bread only no bagels.) It was easy to use: push start, choose one of two settings (light or dark) and it connected to the wall with a long black electrical cord and big plug on the end. Each year it seemed that the plug changed color and the cord seem to change as well; sometimes long and sometimes shorter. In fact, the front push start button and two-stage adjustment setting button would change every now and then as well. As you may have guessed, the toaster was old and repaired often but it worked!

Mum and Dad kept that toaster working no matter what. They cared for it, cleaned it regularly by undoing the bottom lid and tapping it lightly to get all the crumbs that had collected inside to fall out into the garbage; when the plug or cord needed replacing they attended to it. I can’t tell you how many times it was fixed but I can tell you that that toaster was nestled on our kitchen counter my entire childhood, like the matriarch of the family – going nowhere!

Today, society seems to replace and throw everything out. If an appliance breaks, toss it. Our cars are replaced every few years. Clothes worn a few too many times are transitioned out (most times to goodwill or donated) but are still in exceptional condition. Luxury items are purchased to replace other luxury items because there is something faster, shinier and brighter, or an option that ours doesn’t have. It doesn’t end with appliances either. It seems that if you’ve got relationship problems we toss and replace. Issues with children? Drug them with medication that we find out later causes even more serious problems or blame the day care until they are old enough (18) to fend for themselves. Problems with our community (friends, family, neighbors, circle of influence) find new ones. We don’t seem to be in a world of accountability. If things are not going the way we want them to, we throw them away and replace. We no longer work hard on problems to find the solutions that lead to longevity and sustainability. The inherent problem with that approach is the real issues don’t get fixed and we pass them onto the next generation. The skills of problem resolution become lost.

I enjoy the luxuries in life; I believe if you work hard there ought to be rewards. So I’m not saying I would fix a toaster hundreds of times rather than replacing it either, but I’m suggesting we take a serious look at how we’re carrying on. We’re all accountable for how we react to everything in life. Whether a broken appliance to a difficult relationship, we are accountable for our reactions and actions. And you really have control over; “how you react.” Take time today to give serious thought to the things that seem broken in your life. Is this a disposable day? Or is this the day you will take accountability and repair, replace or recycle.

Power is in choice. And we all have the ability to choose.

© 2013-2014 R. Todd Millar. All rights reserved.

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