This little object lives in your home.
Or, at least, it does for the purpose of argument today. It’s small, weighs about a pound, is made of plastic, and you had to have it.
One night, you were watching television, and an ad came on for the AMAZING, REVOLUTIONARY FICTIONARY!!!. The ad told you that this time-saving device was awesome. It peels rutabegas in a fifth of the time. And since you love rutabegas, you were intrigued. You eat rutebegas once a week or so, and while you already have a peeler, it’s not an Amazing Fictionary peeler, and only peels the rutebega at normal speed.
This simply will not do.
You decide almost immediately that, for $19.95, this thing has to be in your kitchen. Moral imperative. You’ve spent more than $19.95 on lunch before. You spend more than that on coffee, and all coffee does is give you the jitters after the third cup. You’d be out of your mind not to buy a Fictionary.
So you head to the local big-box store to get one.
Since the local big-box store is about half-an-hour away, you get in your car, stop to get gas (it takes about two gallons to drive an hour, round trip, so you spend the $8.00 for premium unleaded), and spend ten minutes getting parking. (You make roughly $15 an hour, so you’ve just spent an additional $7.50 of your time.)
Once inside, you find the aisle with the gadgetry, and find a whole wall of Fictionaries. They look so amazing, all lined up like that. And you’re a little surprised by how light the box is — that revolutionary plastic is lightweight and durable. Rock on!
But you can’t drive that whole way and not just take a look around, right? So you wander the aisles for another hour or so ($15), and head to the grocery side of the store to get some more rutabegas, since you now have the niftiest gadget in all the land. It peels so fast, you have the intention to eat way more rutabegas than you do now. I mean, it’s so convenient and all. So you buy a bag of them, instead of the one or two you’d normally buy during your weekly grocery shopping.
Checkout takes another fifteen minutes.
It always does.
But at the end of that fifteen minutes, you stumble through the parking lot looking for your car and drive home as fast as you can. (Another $10.25 in time.) You’ve got to try this thing out!
You stuff the copious packaging in the garbage (service: $20/mo.) and marvel at how small the Fictionary really is. They weren’t kidding when they said this thing would be a space-saver in the kitchen — it’s only half the size of your coffee maker! (Granted, it’s still ten times as large as your regular peeler, but that’s so slow.)
Immediately, you unwrap the rutebegas and give it a whirl.
It. is. amazing.
You can do five rutebegas in the same amount of time it used to take you to do one. You only eat a rutebega or two a week, but now you have five of them. You figure you’ll just either eat more or have them pre-peeled for next week. After all, it’s so much fun, you can’t help yourself. The Fictionary has captured you, and you end up peeling the rest of the bag, one by one.
You notice that the fifteenth rutebega doesn’t peel nearly as easy or as fast as the first one, but you barely notice. I mean, it’s peeling your rutebegas for you!
A week later, you’re trying to get to the toaster.
The counter’s a little cluttered, though, since the Fictionary takes up more space than you thought it would. That crank handle on the back makes it stick out awkwardly, and you have to rearrange every time you want toast. Plus, you’re damn sick of rutebegas. You’ve eaten one every day, still have eight left in the fridge, and they’re starting to get slimy. Apparently, peeled rutebegas don’t have quite the shelf-life of their unpeeled cousins.
While getting your toast, you knock into the Fictionary and bounce off the handle, burning the snot out of your right hand. After visiting the doctor ($80, or $20 copay), you’ve missed a full day of work, and the doctor tells you to take an additional day to let the burn cream do its magic. ($120 x 2)
When you get home to your dinner of rutebega stew, you’re miffed.
So you grab the Fictionary, and put it in the hall closet until you need it again. (You’re not sure when that might be, though, because, frankly, rutebegas are about as appealing to you as a root canal right now.)
The Fictionary begins to collect dust.
Two years later, when you are cleaning out the overstuffed closet, you find the small, plastic gadget and have largely forgotten what it’s for. It hits you that, yes! this is my Fictionary! I could totally go for a rutebega right now…it’s been two years since I had one! I can’t even remember why I stopped eating them now.
So you drag the Fictionary out of the closet, abandoning your quest for the guest towels you know are in there somewhere, and grab a rutebega out of the fridge. (It’s just dumb luck that you happened to pick one up at the farmer’s market this past week. It was in your CSA box.) You put the rutebega into the vegetable-shaped slot, and crank with all your might.
There’s a slipping noise, and a clunk. And when you look inside the machine, you find that the Fictionary didn’t so much peel the rutebega as it did mangle it. Apparently, your crazy peeling spree two years prior had been all the device could handle. It’s given up the ghost. Done. Kaput.
So you toss it in the trash, and sit down to watch TV, where you see a commercial for THE AMAZING WHIZZBANG!, which will steam a single carrot right on your kitchen counter for only $19.95. You are totally intrigued.
Thought it might.
Let’s look for a second at how much that plastic, single-use gadget really cost:
- $8.00 for gas
- $19.95 for the thing
- roughly $30 for the time getting the thing
- a percentage of garbage service (packaging and the object, later), home space (your rent x number of months x whatever fraction it takes).
- your attention (which is beyond price)
So your cheap single-use item actually cost you $58, plus a bit for the percentages, and your attention.
That’s not even going into the actual costs of production, shipping, packaging, marketing, and landfill space it’ll use up. (Environmental impact from one thing may be small-ish, but it’s compounded by volume.)
Are a dozen peeled rutebegas even worth $58+change?
Everything you own, hold onto, or inherit has a cost. It has a cost to purchase, and it has other costs that aren’t always as apparent. Costs that can take your cheap item and make it not-so-cheap.
The next time you’re seduced by something that has a single-use, or isn’t all that necessary, ask yourself: Is this worth the rutebegas?
Nine times out of ten, it’s not. (And even if it is, those cheap things break much more often than more quality items, so plan on rebuying it sooner than you think you’ll have to.)
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
Go through your house or apartment (or yurt or whatever) and scan for single-use items you aren’t using. (Or ones you are that can be done with other tools you already have.) Do they work? If they do, and you haven’t used it in a year (or less), see if you can’t donate them somewhere. If they don’t work, don’t let them take up space in your brain or your home any more. Dispose of them, and vow to save the rutebegas next time.
Clutter has a cost. And that clutter came from somewhere.
It’s time to think before you buy, and remedy mistakes if they’ve already been made.
Think of the rutebegas.