Saturday, August 27, 2011

Repair or replace, part 2

The ecofrugal lifestyle rests on a few basic principles, one of which—to invert a phrase from Aldous Huxley—is "mending is better than ending." In other words, repairing an item is usually both cheaper and greener than replacing it. Usually. But as I noted a month ago in my "Repair or replace?" post, the decision isn't always that straightforward. Sometimes the cost of repairing an item exceeds that of a cheap replacement, causing the "eco" and "frugal" halves of ecofrugality, which normally go together like chocolate and peanut butter, to come into conflict.

This week we came across another example. My husband's sturdy workboots became damaged beyond repair—the sole completely split in half, and since it's a molded sole, we couldn't just resole them. We couldn't complain too much, since the boots were free in the first place (gleaned from a pile of stuff our former neighbors discarded when they moved), but since they were his everyday footwear, he needed something to replace them. So our first thought was to try repairing an old pair of shoes that he'd owned for nearly 20 years but had worn very little in the past ten because all the tread had worn off the sole, making them slippery in the rain. I figured that for around $20, we could resole these and possibly make them last another ten years.

Ha ha, silly me. When I took them to our local shoe shop, they informed me that this type of sole cost $60 to replace. I might have thought it was worth the money to extend the life of an otherwise good pair of shoes, but we'd already done a little poking around in a Famous Footwear and found that a new pair of shoes in the same brand and similar style would only cost around $70. So the cost of repairing a 20-year-old pair of shoes, with who knows how much life left in the uppers, would be 85 percent as much as a whole new pair. Eco says repair, frugal says, mental overload!

In the end, we went to Sears and bought him a new pair of sturdy work shoes, which cost $35 on sale and have proved to be very comfortable. But we still haven't come to any firm decision about what to do with the old pair of shoes. Since they have sentimental value as well as usefulness, he doesn't want to throw them out, so it seems like we might as well repair them so they can be used. But on the other hand, is it really worth $60 to give him what would now be only a secondary pair of shoes, since he has a decent pair for every day? Will spending the $60 now save us money in the long run, eliminating the need for future $35 stopgap shoes that might only last a year or two? Or will it be money down the drain, since the uppers will soon go the same way as the soles? Is it truly ecofrugal, in this case, to repair them, or are we better off just keeping them as an extra pair to be worn on sunny days only until they finally fall apart completely?
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