How To Buy Stuff That Lasts Forever
My husband bought a pair of gym shorts for my oldest son a couple of weeks ago. The shorts lasted for one day before having a small tear at one of the critical seams. Contrast that with a shirt that I’ve worn and washed almost weekly for over 15 years with no seams tearing or buttons missing. How can I tell if something will last?
I wish I could give a precise formula for projecting the lifetime of any given object. I can’t. But I will share with you what I have observed:
- Prices tend to be slightly higher on things that last forever, compared to their not-so-long-lasting peers; I have noticed a 10-30% price differential (more for furniture).
- Paying more for an item, compared to its alternatives, doesn’t guarantee that it will last forever.
- The more fashionable something is, the less likely it will last through several seasons.
- Mass merchants tend to offer items that meet short-term, rather than long-term, needs (the shorts came from Target) with the exception of Joe Boxer (Kmart brand) socks.
- If it looks cheap in the store, it won’t last long.
- Things that are orange or yellow last a long time (see below in reference to my rust-colored London Fog raincoat, orange Tupperware measuring cups, and deep yellow laundry basket)
- Companies known for quality usually make or sell things that last forever.
Here is my list of things that have lasted nearly forever.
- Hiking boots from L.L. Bean: 21 years
These are lightweight boots that have served me on mountain and forest hikes, traversing streams, keeping my footing on damp, muddy ground, and walking on gravel, on wet leaves, and over tree roots.
- Bookcases: 24 years
These are the heaviest, sturdiest particle-board bookcases ever; I bought them at my favorite home improvement store. Since then, I have purchased particle-board bookcases that have not held up and then moved on to real-wood bookcases. But none are as sturdy as my 1983 purchase: they just don’t make particle board like they used to.
- London Fog raincoat with wool lining: 18 years
I bought this coat at a Tanger outlet mall in Blowing Rock, thrilled to find a quality item of clothing at a great price. My mom encouraged purchase of classic, well-constructed clothing, calling such moves “investments." (see Jabulani's post on clothing )
- Knit shirt from J.C. Penney: 15 years
I received this long-sleeved, blue and white striped shirt as a gift. During the fall, winter, and early spring, I wear this shirt at least once a week (it’s very comfortable). Every button is still in place and no threads are loose.
- Oneida stainless flatware: 22 years
I became enamored with the Oneida brand when I did a research paper on the Oneida community in high school. (It was started as a utopian commune that made quality flatware; the commune did not last but the business did.) I have the Dover pattern and use these every day.
- Pyrex bowls: 22 years
I received these as a wedding gift – they have minimal decorative appeal but they last forever. Since then, I have received plain glass, truly elegant Pyrex bowls.
- Tupperware measuring cups: 22 years
Another wedding gift – I use these nearly every day.
- Keychain from UNC: 25 years
I signed up to become a member of the Alumni association before I graduated. The keychain was a joining gift – it has the university’s address and a code unique to me so that if I lose the keychain, the finder can drop it in the mailbox, send it to the alumni association, and the association will return it to me.
- Wine opener from a local winery: 15 years
I got this when I visited a new winery several years ago. It is an unusual design. Vineyards were new to my area then, now they are ubiquitous.
- Desk: 14 years
I acquired a large, extremely heavy desk from a former landlord. It was easier for them to sell it to me than to move it. Now, it is part of a home office.
- Clock radio: 20 years
My husband bought this item for me. It has two alarm settings (according to the sales associate, his and her settings); I have yet to use this feature.
- Large throw pillows: 27 years
I bought these at a furniture store to serve as cushions for a patio frame that I converted to a sofa when I was in college. I still use these in my home; they’re not elegant but they are functional.
- Laundry basket by Rubbermaid: 20 years (?)
I can’t remember when I bought this so it must have been a long time ago. I have 2 of these baskets; my other baskets have torn plastic but the deep yellowish square ones are still in perfect condition.
- Framed pictures: 20 years
I have limited edition prints made by the son of one of my dad’s former coworkers. I had them custom framed and look at them every day.
- Lane cedar chest: 25 years
I bought this chest with my first credit card. I store my wool clothing in it and use it as a table.
Having stuff that lasts forever can save money and time by avoiding replacement-item shopping and item disposition. Sometimes it makes financial sense to buy the less expensive item that lasts for a few years because replacement costs over your lifetime may still be less than buying the incredibly durable but pricey alternative. Doing an inventory of my forever items made me realize, though, how much I can save by buying the right stuff.