Why Everything We Buy Seems Worse Than Before

Have you ever felt like the things you buy just don’t last as long as they used to? You’re not alone. Many of us have noticed that our stuff—whether it’s clothes, gadgets, or appliances—seems to fall apart much faster than it did a decade ago.

Let’s dive into why that is and what we can do about it.

The Tale of the Disappearing Quality

It all started when my coworker Izzie mentioned that her new bra, bought from the same store and brand as always, fell apart in just a few weeks. This got me thinking: are all our things just worse now?

From coffee machines to sweaters, it seems like everything breaks or wears out way sooner than it used to. So, what’s going on?

The Big Three: Functionality, Appearance, and Manufacturability

When companies design a product, they balance three main factors:

  1. Functionality: Does it work well?
  2. Appearance: Does it look good?
  3. Manufacturability: Can it be made cheaply and easily?

In the past, products had a good mix of these factors. But recently, this balance has shifted.

From Tailors to Online Shopping

Once upon a time, if you needed a new jacket, you’d go to a tailor, get measured, and pick your fabric. Then, department stores took over with mass-produced options, giving us more choices.

Now, many of us just click “add to cart” online without seeing the product in person.

But it’s not just how we buy—it’s how often. Fast fashion and constant new tech releases mean we’re buying more frequently than ever before.

A study found that nearly 40% of UK consumers buy clothing at least once a month. Between 2000 and 2014, people bought 60% more clothes but kept each item for half as long.

Planned Obsolescence: A Sneaky Strategy

Back in the 1930s, a man named Ernest Elmo (yes, that’s his real name) introduced the concept of “consumer engineering,” now known as planned obsolescence. The idea?

Make products go out of style or become outdated quickly so people have to buy new ones. This mentality has stuck with us, fueling our desire for the latest and greatest.

Technology: The Quick Upgrade Trap

When computers and smartphones first became popular, it made sense to upgrade often. New models had major improvements.

Remember the leap from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4 with its better resolution and front-facing camera? But now, changes are smaller and more incremental. Your new dryer might play a song instead of beeping, but it’s not a huge upgrade.

The Repair Problem

Modern devices are often designed to be thrown away rather than repaired. They contain computer chips and circuit boards that are hard to fix without special tools and parts, which manufacturers often don’t sell.

This “disposable” mindset has spread from tech gadgets to everyday items like toasters and blenders.

What Can We Do?

It’s easy to feel powerless, but we actually have a lot of control. Here are a few steps we can take:

  1. Support the Right to Repair: Advocacy groups are fighting for laws that make it easier to repair our devices. New York State passed a right to repair bill in 2022, and other states are following suit.
  2. Avoid Fast Fashion: Stay away from quickly changing fashion trends and buy quality items that last longer.
  3. Take Care of Your Stuff: Follow care instructions and maintain your items to extend their life.

Get Involved

If you’re passionate about making a change, visit repair.org. They have a map where you can find your state and send a letter to support the right to repair.

Over 100,000 people have already done this, with significant success in New York.

In the end, we have the power to demand better quality and longer-lasting products. By making informed choices and pushing for our right to repair, we can take control and reduce the pile of consumer trash we’re all buried under.

After all, our stuff should be made for us, not the other way around.