Ecofeminism, Subsistence Living & Nature Awareness

May 6, 2009

Durable Goods Can Last a Lifetime!

Filed under: Economics,Homestead garden,Paula Mariedaughter — Paula Mariedaughter @ 4:52 pm

The concept of “durable goods” has been on my mind. I remember my shock when I realized that economists defined durable goods as something that lasts three years or longer. How did this come to be? As buyers we want excellent quality and a long life for our purchases whether it be a refrigerator, a wheelbarrow or a garden fork. Sellers tend to want to sell us products of poor quality needing replacement as soon as possible. In fact, economists have coined the term “interpurchase time” to describe the time between two successive purchases. The seller wants you to replace your purchase as soon as possible. Planned obsolescence can produce profits, but assaults the planet.

This desire for short term profits controls many business operations in a way not known in previous decades. As consumers and citizens we can be trapped by this perverse and shortsighted goal. Unless we actively resist we will be trapped into participation in the assault on the planet. Durable goods that are not durable are the norm. I believe we need to evaluate every purchase or acquisition we make by considering how long we can expect the item to remain useful. This is the opposite of a throwaway mentality. Authentically durable products are “green “ by definition!

Nikki lounging on the mulch

Nikki lounging on the mulch

Last weekend my neighbor and I hauled two loads of wood shavings from a local handle factory to use as mulch for our yard and garden. We borrowed a pickup truck and drove 23 miles round trip to haul the shavings which are a byproduct of making ash handles for tools. I have been mulching with these shavings for almost twenty years. I enjoy working with the shavings because they are a long-lasting mulch and bring no weed seeds and because theysmell of freshly cut wood. The blond color of the shavings help us to see any snake visitors we might have moving in the yard. We have been able to eliminate any lawn mowing by laying down the shavings. We do use a person-powered weed wacker to keep grass down on the outskirts of the homestead. I feel like a sculptor as I spread the hardwood shavings in paths and around beds.

Our ash shavings will last between six months and one year depending on how thick we spread them, how much traffic they receive, and how wet the weather is that year. The ash shavings would be considered a nondurable goods or soft goods because they are used up in less than three years. In previous years, we have had the luxury of having a dump truck deliver a huge pile of shavings about every eight months paying $100 for the delivery. This service is no longer available. The shavings are free when we haul them, but cost us in gas and in our time and put wear and tear on any vehicle we use. Our shavings do not come packaged in plastic.

I use Jeanne’s vintage pitchfork and vintage wheelbarrow to move the shavings to every corner of our homestead. This wheelbarrow and pitchfork were first used by Jeanne twenty-five years ago to muck out stalls when she had horses. Jeanne purchased both tools in 1974 and both are valuable and durable goods to us. We have replaced the hardwood handles of the wheelbarrow twice and had the body repaired once. While waiting for repairs we were forced to buy another wheelbarrow. Searching for a sturdy well-balanced wheelbarrow made us realize once again what a treasure we have. Everywhere we looked the quality was inferior. Planned obsolescence plagues our society–this is one of the reasons I haunt and hunt in thrift stores.

All of us serious about living as if the earth matters want to minimize our participation in consumption. Acquiring products you intend to keep for a long time makes sense. I propose that we the people redefine durable goods. When Jeanne and I bought our garden fork and shovel in 1985 we focused on securing lifetime tools. We have dug our garden beds in the rocky Arkansas soil and cared for those tools. We still use them and I believe both will prove to be lifetime tools. One of the reasons our tools are not broken is because we were given a pry bar to help forcibly lift the large rocks we encountered. Our pry bar was a gift from a friend who is an Arkansas native. She informed us when she appeared one day with this tool that it is a modified axle of a Model A Ford first produced in 1927. Now that is what I call durable!


  1. Love this one, too,. It reminds me again of the great short film, The Story of Stuff, which at least used to be and probably still is available free on as a download or for a nominal fee. It puts together so many of the concepts these blogs are addressing an excellent way. I recommend it to anyone reading. For instance, it names the person who dreamed up planned obsolescence.

    Comment by Susan Wiseheart — May 22, 2009 @ 6:13 am

  2. I like this blog. My suggestion is try to optimize more your blog so more people can visit here and enjoy your nice blog.

    Comment by rachel ray cookware — March 22, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

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