Thursday, February 25, 2010

Planned Obsolescence

*This is a long one. You might want to get a cup of tea before you start.

I was thinking about this phrase, brought to my attention by B. Dolan and invented in the 1930s as a way of boosting the economy and I realised that from the moment we started planning the new studio, currently being built messily downstairs, there has been a constant flow of objects outward, as things are agreed upon as surplus to requirements, better suited elsewhere or become superceded.

We always knew there would be some serious 'cleansing' to do; for years we've kept a charity bag on the go, regularly taking it stuffed-full over to the Mind shop where I am a Gift Aider and from whence I receive regular letters telling me how much money my unwanted things have raised. We were aware there would be an escalation of things leaving the house as we cull the studio, kitchen and living room contents, and look objectively at what we have. Although we live fairly minimally, not having a loft to use as a convenient 'disappearing space' for things we can' decide on, or a parents' garage, there are still too many things to potentially litter our new space.

No; everything we have has to earn its keep. Do we need it? Can someone else re-use it? Can it become something else? If not, where do we take it so that it's responsibly disposed of? Questions like this have, over the last few weeks, thrown into sharp focus the difficulties of 'getting rid' in a responsible and ethical way.

We've had a skip outside for weeks now, and I can see why humans see these as convenient yellow and black holes which make nasty or dirty things magically go away. Just bung it in. The temptation to hurl things in and close the front door is strong - but passers-by have done that for us, adding the obligatory pizza boxes, chip papers, plastic bottles and and fag packets. The thing is, they don't 'disappear'; although some materials such as wood, hardcore and metals will be separated and recycled, much of what is thrown in can end up in landfill where they may or more likely may not break down, lurking ruefully for decades under the earth. It wears me out just thinking about it.

We now know just how much work it is to enable an object to leave us responsibly. But boy, it can be hard work. Here's a list of what's gone, and how we 'got rid' of it:

-The piano was sold to an eBayer who bought it for his little girl, learning piano aged 11. Her Dad's a singer in his spare time, and I couldn't have wished it a better home, though it took huge amounts of perseverance to get it sold (and a tear or two when it finally left).

- Our gas boiler, no longer needed but in full working order, was given to friends whose recently-purchased house is still without central heating. Mmm, warmth! We had to pay a plumber to remove it, and it was our dinner guest in the living room for some time, sitting disconnected on the floor, but it was worth the wait.

- The cooker has followed it, replacing theirs which had a silly non-closing door. It took chums to helps us lug it out it, and take the two items to the next town - but they've got a new home.

- Our two removed windows were sold on eBay to a man in Bristol, who's building his own house. We've lost a handsome amount of money on them, but Mr Builder will look out over the Avon through two beautiful sash double-glazers, and he'll send me a picture. That's good enough for me. The alternative - firewood? Giving them back to the carpenters for dismantling? Not for us.

- My first Mac, blogged about in a previous post has, for the princely sum of £17 and an hour spent on eBay, gone home with the wonderful Graham, Mac collector and Apple geek, whose boyish smile betrayed his excitement at the latest addition to his collection. Strangely I couldn't give this away, not even to charities pleading for old computers, but once on eBay, it was snapped up.

- The carpet was a different matter. Now at Worklink, the reaction I got from the carpet shops I called to ask about recycling had me double-checking I hadn't just asked them what to do with a sack of dismembered puppies. I could feel them recoiling. Recycling? Not our problem, they said, throwing me at arm's length - we don't need to recycle, we leave all the bits with the customer. Oh, for them to recycle? Yes, they said. And where do we do that then? Erm... they said. In fact, carpet retailers can join this association.

- The new washing machine in the flat we're having to stay in wasn't wanted by the previous tenant, and the landlord didn't want it either, so that's gone to a family somewhere in Leicestershire. The sofa, armchair, dining room table and chairs went to Worklink. Their fridge will follow, as our own inherited 1956 Frigidaire is still doing its job handsomely.

- Two old mattresses are the only thing the council has had to collect, but the sum of £20, and the amount of hassle saved by not taking it ourselves, is worth it.

- Our builder's had the antique radiator (we kept the big fat one in the bathroom), and the living room radiator's gone to a friend with a freezing cold house (another friend with a freezing cold house).

- ...she had the TV, too (Mark the builder's given us our first flat-screen. Yay!)

- Mind had about 30 DVDs. Some bloody good ones too. But you can't keep everything.

- The original lath ceiling is stacked and ready to be burned in the yet-to-arrive woodburner.

- The cast iron fireplace (we've opened up the original arch behind it, before you panic!) is going to the bloke who supplies our reclaimed bricks and iron columns. Nice.

- The same man's had our 50s kitchen cabinets by Daintymaid - someone's going to go bonkers with excitement when they see those.

- Even my old studio phone has found new employment at the builder's house.

There's more, but you get the idea. It looks like a huge amount of hassle that we could easily have chosen to avoid by going the 'skip' route, but despite the dust and muck we breathe easily that we didn't add to the piles of decaying crap in the process of giving the house its next lease of life. More money has left the house than has been generated by parting with these objects, and it's a cliche, but we feel we're really lived the 'reuse, reduce, recycle' mantra. We're so relieved about that it almost makes us want to lie down.

Despite the effort, it's completely possible not to fill the skip, and to send things onto gainful employment somewhere else instead. It's not difficult, but you have to be dogged in the face of challenges like terrified, cornered carpet retailers and the desire to just...'bung it in the yellow hole'.

There's an entirely separate blog on the raw materials we're building with, and how we've swapped and traded for some of the things we've needed. But that's for later. In the meantime, please marvel at the current state of the kitchen.

And the same corner before:

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