Why Do Old Things Last Longer Than Today’s Stuff?

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair standing at a large white workspace with a pile of denim jeans. Behind her are sewing machines. She is repairing and upcycling the old jeans, which have a long lifespan.
The secret to why old things last longer? Quality materials and craftsmanship. In a world of fast fashion and disposable products, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when stuff was made to last. But by looking to the past, we can gain insight into what made certain products stand the test of time. Quality materials, craftsmanship, and a culture of repair and maintenance have all contributed to the longevity of many old items. By understanding what makes them last, we can take steps to extend the lifespan of the things we use in our everyday lives.

Last Updated on 22/07/2023

When we think of old things, we often picture antiques, family heirlooms, and relics from the past that have somehow managed to survive the test of time. But have you ever wondered why these old things last longer than many modern products?

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From art nouveau furniture to vintage cars, it’s not uncommon to find items from decades or even more than a century ago that are still in use today. This raises the question: why do older things last longer? In this blog post, we’ll explore the manufactural reasons behind the durability of old things and examine some of the factors that contribute to their longevity. We’ll also look at how you can extend the life of your belongings to get the most out of them.

Material Quality

One of the main reasons why old things last longer than their modern counterparts lies in the quality of the materials used to make them. Most products that were made in the last century featured high-quality materials. Things like wood, stainless steel, bakelite resin, and聽leather simply stand the test of time. They’re inherently more durable than many of the synthetic materials commonly used today.

An AI-generated drawing of household appliances from the 1950s, in pastel colours.

Nowadays, manufacturers use cheaper materials that just don’t hold up as well over time. They do this for two reasons. For one, they’re endeavoured to keep their manufacturing costs down so they can cut a larger profit.

Second, they don’t want you to only have to buy something once. They want it to break after the warranty expires so that you buy a new one.

These cheaper quality materials lead to a shorter lifespan of most products and an increased chance of wear and tear. And this quality of the material used in manufacturing has a direct impact on how long the product will last.

Materials used in the past were chosen for their strength and resilience. This made them inherently more resistant to wear and tear. Yet most products today are made from cheap, low-quality materials that are designed to be disposable and quickly replaced.

Craftsmanship

Another factor to consider when it comes to the durability of old things is the craftsmanship that went into making them. In addition to high-quality materials, old things last longer because they were often handmade with great attention to functional detail.

Before the advent of industrial mass production, products were designed and crafted by skilled artisans who took pride in their work. These craftsmen had a deep understanding of the materials they were working with. They usually did one thing, and they did it right.

The products produced were not only functional, but often very beautiful and durable. Handmade items were built to last, with a level of care and precision that’s absent in modern mass manufacturing.

An AI-generated drawing of household appliances from the 1950s, in pastel colours.

With few exceptions, today’s products are made by machines. The modern-day manufacturing process is designed for speed and efficiency, rather than quality and longevity. As a result, modern products are more prone to defects and they wear out more quickly than their older counterparts.

When something did break back in the day, you got it fixed. Now we toss things out when they break or rip, or even when we get tired of them. They were cheap after all, so it’s easier to order a new one. The upshot of this throwaway mindset is that we’re using more resources and energy to make more stuff.

In turn, we’re creating more waste, pollution, and harm to the environment.

A Culture of Maintenance and Repair Meant Old Things Last Longer

Household belongings and garments were precious and highly valued before the days of mass production; their purchase often signified something very special.

If you bought a coat, a chair, or a pair of shoes in days yonder, you had it for years, if not decades. You cared for the item, maintained it, and if something became threadbare or broke, you repaired it. And if it was beyond all repair, you still didn’t simply toss it in the bin. You salvaged the parts that were still good and re-used them.

Furniture was typically kept oiled and worm-free, perhaps re-stained or re-varnished, and passed down to the next generation. Similarly, household items like tools and appliances were repaired instead of being replaced. And, of course, garments and shoes were mended. It was simply more economical to repair an item than to buy a new one.

As a result, many old things lasted for decades or even centuries. This is a stark contrast to today, when most modern products are conceived to be tossed out and are often even made impossible to repair. We’ve witnessed the warp-speed rise of a culture of throwaway consumerism (especially in fashion!) over the last two decades alone. One in which items are used or worn only for a short period of time and then discarded.

This isn’t sustainable, and we’re reaping the consequences already, with our oceans full of plastic, massive climate change, and more than one in four species at risk of extinction right now.

It may seem like a drop in the bucket, yet focusing on the repair and maintenance of household items and clothing can be a good way to promote sustainability at home while also contributing to the longevity of your things.

Sustainable Minimalism vs. Convenient Consumerism

Many people are choosing to go minimalist these days, and I think that’s a good thing. They’re accumulating fewer, yet higher-quality possessions. In the process, they’re reducing their overall environmental footprint.

An AI-generated drawing of household appliances from the 1950s, in pastel colours.

As mentioned, the throwaway culture of modern consumerism has contributed to waste and environmental degradation. The emphasis on convenience and speed has led us to buy things we don’t need, and these things often end up in a landfill not all too long after purchase. Fast fashion is one of the more well-know culprits with a detrimental impact on the environment.

By comparison, minimalism and sustainability promote the idea of living with less and making conscious choices about what you consume. By make more mindful purchases as consumers, we can reduce waste, save some money, live more sustainably. Not to mention focus more on things that really matter, like our relationships, our health, hobbies and passions.

Embracing minimalism and sustainability can be challenging though in a world that values material goods and convenience. Having such a degree of choice as we do is in of itself a colossal display of privilege.

Simple Ways to Make Things Last

If you’re keen on making your household items and clothing last longer, there are a few simple steps you can take 鈥 even in this day and age of mass production.

  • Take care of your items. Proper care and maintenance can go a long way in extending the lifespan of your apparel, footwear, electronics and household appliances. Follow manufacturers’ care instructions and store your items properly to prevent damage.
  • Repair instead of replacing. Instead of tossing out damaged or broken items, see if you can repair them or have them repaired. For items in a mid-range price category or above, this is a cost-effective way to extend their lifespan of your items whilst reducing waste.
  • Buy high-quality items. Opt for quality products designed to last when you make new purchases. While they may be more expensive initially, they can save you money in the long run because you get a far better cost-per-wear/use ratio out of them than you would with cheaper items.
  • Invest in good footwear. Shoes take a lot of wear and tear, and investing in a high-quality pair can make a big difference in how long they last. They’re also better for the health of your feet.
  • Be mindful of how you use your items. Using items as intended can also help to extend their lifespan. Always overloading your washing machine, for example, can cause issues. Wearing a lambskin handbag in the rain will ruin it. Putting a wool jumper in the dryer will turn it to felt. And so on.

There are many simple ways to lead a more minimalist and sustainable lifestyle. By making small changes to your daily routine and largely buying only what you need, you can reduce the amount of waste your household produces, and save money in the process. Win-win, right?

Embracing Minimalism and Repair Culture: The Key to Sustainable Living

Some people may view sustainability and minimalist living as restrictive or faddish. Yet for those of us who are passionate about these issues, it’s a way of life that’s deeply rooted in our values.

An AI-generated drawing of household appliances from the 1950s, in pastel colours.

In conclusion, the question as to why old things last longer is more complex than I’ve outlined here. Lobbyism, politics, human exploitation and many other factors play a role in today’s industrial production of goods.

Generally speaking, the use of high-quality materials, craftsmanship, and a culture of repair and maintenance all contributed to the longevity of items of the past. Looking at our consumer habits in that light can help take steps to extend the lifespan of the items we use in our everyday lives.

Living sustainably and minimising waste is crucial in today’s world. By repairing and caring for your stuff, buying high-quality products when possible, and being mindful of spending habits, we can have a positive impact on the environment. And whether you’re ultimately looking to save money, reduce waste, or simply live a more intentional life, embracing minimalism and sustainability is a great way to achieve it.

So next time you find yourself wondering why your mother’s washing machine lasted over 20 years while yours broke after just four, remember that there are still some things you can do to extend the lifespan of the stuff in your home.

With a little bit of care and attention, you can make your household items and clothing last longer 鈥 and live more sustainably.

Picture of a woman from the late 1970s sitting in her brightly colored kitchen at a black resin table, talking on a a dial phone. Walls are bright yellow and flooring is black and white checkered. Old things last longer.
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