Living behind the cutting-edge.


By Brad Beckstrom

There were 38 different types of cables and chargers in the box. Some of them were probably over 20 years old. Things like monster cables for stereo equipment, firewires from old hard drives, various USB cables and splitters, ethernet cables and about 10 different AC adapters from games, various peripherals, and crap from former cable providers. For the last several years, I’ve been at war with stuff, investing some time to simplify my life. I’ve recently kicked this into high gear. Kelly and I are playing the minimalist game. We will be giving away nearly 1000 things this month alone. I’m constantly amazed at how much crap a family of four can accumulate over the years. Sadly, some of that stuff ends up in a landfill, benefiting no one.

I’ll avoid these mistakes again. The best way to do this is by not replacing the things that we get rid of. I’ll take a hard look at cheap products that are built to be discounted then discarded. I’ll skip the next upgrade cycle on my mobile phone and my computer.

Why can’t more things work like our blender or the microwave? We’ve had both since 1996. Over the years we’ve been tempted to replace them with newer versions but we stuck with them, even repairing the blender once. It’s funny, we probably use these two appliances more than any of the things that have become obsolete. So, my theory now is, if it’s not being used regularly we can probably get rid of it and not replace it.

First world problems

The first world problem with having interests is there’s often a lot of stuff (accessories) that go along all that. “Sorry, sir. Those ski bindings are no longer supported.” “Sorry, sir. Your old lenses won’t work with the latest camera sensor technology.” “ Sorry, you’re going to need another adapter so your 20 year old stereo will work with digital cable.” Screw all this. Do I really need the cable box at all? Turns out I didn’t.  

If we’re truly interested in something like cooking or photography, we should be able to enjoy it immensely without the latest gear. In fact, I believe many of us, myself included, have purchased things in the past without ever reading the instruction manual, then go on to replace them with newer shinier items that we don’t learn how to use either. If we’re truly knowledgeable about something we should be able to make the most of whatever we have, regardless of its age or obsolescence.

Here are a few other ways to live behind the cutting edge.

We all use computers and learn how to use software but often don’t take the time to understand how to keep the computer running for years without having to replace it.  The same goes for smartphones and all kinds of other time-saving devices. I’ve kept my 6 year-old MacBook Pro running fast by adding RAM and using browser-based software like Google Docs. Google apps are free and do not require constant upgrades. I use the utility Clean My Mac to keep it running smoothly. It turned out my Mac was also weighed down by stuff.

Avoid prestige syndrome.

People really don’t care about your stuff, they’re too busy dealing with all their own stuff, maybe even hoping you’ll notice it. It’s funny, sometimes the most interesting people are the folks in a 30-year-old car, who still use film and their camera and listen to vinyl records. But, in the end, not even the old stuff matters. Be you, not your stuff.

Don’t be a beta tester.

It happens all the time. Companies release new operating systems, updates for smart phones, self parking cars.  A lot of these products are going out to a mass audience for the first time. Sure, they’ve been tested but there are always bugs in the latest release that aren’t discovered until people are screaming about it in help forums. Do yourself a favor and wait. With computers and phones I don’t install a new version of an operating system. I like to stay one full upgrade cycle behind. I really love the fact that my 12-year-old car has no built-in technology or GPS systems to break. Most of this stuff is on my smartphone anyway.

Wear stuff out.

Think of something you own, that you’ve had forever. What is the oldest thing that you continue to use on a regular basis? What’s great about it?  Probably the fact that it was made so well to last as long as it has. If I  run out and replace something in a big box store, I’d immediately get that sinking feeling that it won’t last. It doesn’t matter If we’re talking about expensive appliances, clothing, or furniture It always seems easier to replace something at a big box store sale than to repair it. In reality, you’re buying something that will not last as long as the item you’re replacing. Think about joining the fixer movement, either fixing things yourself or finding the right appliance repair shop that can keep things going.  I remember taking a 30 year old lawnmower into a repair shop. The attendant said “Wow, I haven’t seen one of these in years.” Music to my ears.

Focus on similarities not differences.

A good salesperson could probably point out all the things that the new Audi has, that my 12 year old Audi does not. However, if I focus on the similarities, I see that both cars can get me where I need to go, have nice interiors, sound systems, air-conditioning, and a good set of tires. In the end, the only significant difference is that mine is paid for.

Focusing on similarities, not differences is also handy advice for any relationship.
The Frug

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