Sunday, June 19, 2011

Make it do or do without

First of all, apologies for being incommunicado for the past couple of weeks.  We've been doing an unusual amount (for us) of traveling, and until this week we weren't home for more than a few days at a time—just about long enough to get caught up from the previous trip before leaving on the next one.  So it's taken me until now to scoop a free hour out of my schedule to attend to the blog.  I hope to make it up to you with a longish post today and a slew of short ones in the days to come.

An old saying from the Depression goes, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."  In today's "disposable society," where it's often actually cheaper to replace things than it is to fix them, that attitude has largely fallen by the wayside.  But just in this past week, I've had a couple of vivid demonstrations of how "making it do" can often be a better option than throwing it out and starting over.

The first occurred when my blue canvas moccasins—my go-to shoes for daily wear in the spring and fall—started to wear out beyond the point of repair.  At first it was just the soles, and I thought I could make them last another year by patching them with Shoe Goo; then the linings went, and I thought maybe I could come up with some way to patch them; but when I found holes in the uppers themselves, I reluctantly concluded that I'd have to give them up.  Unfortunately, I couldn't simply buy another pair just like them, because the manufacturer has discontined this style.  Shoes in this general shape are easy to find, but only in leather, which I, being an animal-friendly type, won't buy (except secondhand).

So I did a little searching online and found a slip-on shoe in synthetic leather at Payless, which I thought would probably do—but since I have hard-to-fit feet, I thought I'd better go into a store and try them on in person before buying.  Lucky I did, because once I got my feet into them I found that they were about the most uncomfortable pair of shoes I'd ever had on.  Every single bump and contour seemed to be in exactly the wrong place, and I couldn't imagine keeping them on my feet all day, let alone walking three miles in them.

Next I tried a Google search on "canvas shoes," and a brand called TOMS looked promising (though a bit pricy), until I found that (1) most of their canvas shoes have a suede lining, and (2) most of their vegan shoes don't come in wide widths, which are an absolute requirement for me.  Grasshoppers offered somewhat more selection, but nothing that was exactly what I had in mind, and I was still skittish about buying anything without being able to try it on first.

So I started wondering whether maybe, before spending $40 or $50 on a new pair of shoes, I should see whether there was any way to fix up my old ones—not the blue moccasins, but the brown suede pair I had before those.  I'd bought these secondhand at the local thrift shop for two bucks, even though they were about half a size too big, thinking, "Well, I might still be able to use them"—and I ended up wearing them regularly for about two years.  By that point, they'd gone through three sets of insoles, the lining was patched with moleskin, and the heels had developed holes too large for Shoe Goo to cover.  However, I'd held onto them anyway, using them for grubby jobs like gardening so that I wouldn't mess up my "good" shoes, and now I wondered whether I might be able to stretch them out a little bit longer.  So I invested $2.50 in a fresh pair of insoles, re-patched the lining, and found them wearable—certainly more comfortable than the ones from Payless.  I still haven't figured out what to do about the holes in the heels, but I figure I'll see what the local shoe repair place has to suggest—and even if they can't do anything, I'll still have something tolerable to wear until I find something better, which was more than Payless could provide.

The second example was our old bedroom windowshade.  It was obviously a veteran already when we bought the place four years ago, and by last winter it had frayed so badly around the bottom that we'd tried trimming off the last few inches and re-attaching the slat with hot glue—only to see the repaired shade fray just as badly in the same place.  So we figured it was time to give in and replace it.  We found one in Lowe's that was labeled as "room-darkening" and marked at $7.50, and after spending several minutes hunting down an associate who could cut it down to size for us, we took it up to the checkout.  There we encountered our first disappointment with our new purchase, as we found that the price marked on the shelf was apparently wrong and the real price was $20.  But we told ourselves it was worth it, since we clearly had to have a new shade.

So we got it home and encountered, in quick succession, three more disappointments.  First, although we'd measured the old shade very carefully, the new one—supposedly cut to the same size—wouldn't fit in the old brackets.  Brian ended up having to move one of the mounts, only to find that the shade was not in fact "room-darkening"—or at least, not nearly so room-darkening as our old one had been.  But the last straw came when he tried to open the shade and found that it wouldn't roll up.  It wasn't just that there was a trick to it; no amount of pulling, tugging, or twitching had the slightest effect on the thing.  Back to the store it went, and Brian set about trying to repair the old one.  First he trimmed several inches of material off the bottom—removing not just the torn part, but all the section that had become yellowed (and presumably brittle) with age.  He reattached the slat with hot glue, as before, and then reinforced it with a strip of duct tape running all the way across, which hopefully will prevent our fingers from poking holes in it when we miss the slat and grab hold of the thin plastic instead.  He also taped the top, which had come unstuck at one corner, securely onto the roller and re-hung it (fortunately, he was able to squeeze it in without having to move the mounts again).  The finished product is just long enough to cover the window, with only an inch or two to spare—but it blocks out the light and it goes up and down, which is more than the new one could manage.

Mind you, I'm not trying to argue that making do with what you've got is always the best policy.  One of the other purchases we made at Lowe's, a new laundry basket, is decidedly superior to our old one, which—in addition to having its handles held on with duct tape—was a big, unwieldy shape that I'd always had trouble wrestling up and down the stairs.  But it does appear that in some cases, at least, patching up an old piece of equipment isn't merely "good enough"; it's actually better than you can do by buying new.
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