Needs Are Problems Looking for Solutions, not Products

The marketing industry has trained us well to buy products that will supposedly solve all of life’s problems. But with a little creativity and resourcefulness, you may find more sustainable and less expensive solutions to your predicaments than shoddy consumer goods designed to break quickly and languish in landfill for an eternity.

Nothing is sometimes an excellent choice
A major appliance has broken? Maybe it’s an opportunity. For example:

Your microwave dies.
You really crave popcorn. You open a box of microwave popcorn, pull out a bag, tear off the plastic, throw that in the trash, place the bag in the microwave, press a few buttons and… nothing. You try again but cannot revive your appliance.

On first impulse, you may find yourself searching for a replacement on Amazon. Of course, you’ll want it delivered the next day to your front door. How about this Alexa-enabled model? It

simplifies cooking by letting you microwave using your voice and an Echo device. Just say, ‘Alexa, reheat one cup of coffee,’ and Alexa will start reheating with the appropriate power and time settings.”

But don’t you have to open the door of the microwave to put the cup in there? Couldn’t you just press the button on the panel next to the door handle? Really? This is a thing?

If your microwave breaks, you have no moral obligation buy a new one. You could instead:

Repair the microwave.
Look for a secondhand microwave.
Stop using a microwave.
But what about that popcorn?! Use the stovetop. Enjoy both your new status as the neighborhood rebel and your incredibly delicious, inexpensive popcorn without the chemical-laden, single-use throwaway packaging.

Your dryer dies
Every time I post pictures on Instagram of my laundry hanging outside to dry, the images enrage and horrify several Europeans and Australians, who rarely own dryers. They regularly ask in the comments, “Why are you posting this? Isn’t this normal where you live?” No, it is not. The vast majority of people living here in sunny Northern California use an electric dryer. Even on hot days.

Eschewing the dryer and hanging your clothes to dry:

Saves money.
Makes clothes last longer.
Liberates you from owning one more large appliance in need of space and infrastructure to accommodate it and money to maintain it.
In the winter, you can hang the clothes up around your home in the basement, in the garage, on a rack in the laundry room or wherever. If your clothes take too long to dry hanging up, buy enough extra clothes so you don’t have to go naked. Unless you’re into that.

Your car dies
When my car dies, I don’t plan on replacing it. Because I own a Toyota and drive little, it won’t die for a while. But when it does die, I’m done. No new-to-me used car. No electric car. No new-to-me used electric car.

Unlike someone who lives in a rural town, I can pretty easily go car-free. I dwell in a densely populated area with decent bike infrastructure and so I ride my bike all over. I buy most of my food by bike, I ride to the library, to my partner’s house and to meet my boss to work together (however right now, I’m mostly working on my cookbook at home).

After that inevitable day—the end of my car—I’ll continue to ride my zero-emissions bike. If I want a car for a trip, I can rent a car. If I need to get somewhere quickly, such as urgent care, I can always order a Lyft. (In other cities, cabs still exist but not here in Silicon Valley.)

Think of the money I’ll save on car payments, insurance, gas and repairs for a horrible investment that has ruined our cities.

After a certain point, more cars make the city a less congenial place for strollers, bicyclists and people who take public transit to their destinations. The cars push out frolicking kids, quiet afternoons reading on a bench and sidewalk cafes. So we give up our public space, our neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and ultimately our personal mobility for the next car, and the next one.

“Cars Are Ruining Our Cities.” New York Times

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