Dmitry Orlov points out that one of the consolations of Soviet society was that it inadvertently instilled resilience in its citizens:
Soviet consumer products were always an object of derision – refrigerators that kept the house warm – and the food, and so on. You’d be lucky if you got one at all, and it would be up to you to make it work once you got it home. But once you got it to work, it would become a priceless family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation, sturdy, and almost infinitely maintainable.
In the United States, you often hear that something “is not worth fixing.” This is enough to make a Russian see red. I once heard of an elderly Russian who became irate when a hardware store in Boston wouldn’t sell him replacement bedsprings: “People are throwing away perfectly good mattresses, how am I supposed to fix them?”
That mattress anecdote has stuck with me for a long time. While on the farm we slowly and sometimes painfully cultivated this sort of resilience—and were often blocked in our efforts by the status quo. Sometimes we would figure out what we needed in order to make a repair, only to find that the parts were sold only to people “in the business”, appliance repairmen and such. Occasionally I resorted to making up a business name to have parts sent to, and I returned suspicious looks with a smile at the appliance parts wholesaler.
A lot has changed in fifteen years. Selling strictly to the trade is a thing of the past, at least for the things I want to buy. And the diagnostic information available on the internet—astonishing! A few weeks ago Debbie noticed that our dryer was struggling with heavy loads that previously had caused no trouble. It took less than 30 minutes to search for answers, learn a bit about how electric clothes dryers work, find and glance at videos and webpages identifying the likely problem, find the best price on the necessary replacement part, and order it.
Same exact process a month earlier when our gas oven had finally gotten to the point where it took much too long for the gas to ignite. Who knew there was a ceramic gizmo that did this by getting extremely hot very quickly while a little bit of gas trickled out, and over the years had increasing difficulty getting extremely hot? Not me, until I started googling around. Nice enough that this explanatory self-repair video was provided by Sears itself—but not as nice when you learn that their goal is to sell you a part for $165 that you can get much cheaper elsewhere (after more googling, we bought one for $24). Chris took fifteen minutes to install it (and to adjust the gas/air mixture), and now the oven not only lights after a few seconds, it performs much better overall, I assume because the flame comes back on faster when the thermostat tells it to.
My mindset on this still has a long way to go, but I’m getting better. I use an Aeropress three times a day to make coffee, basically a tube in which the coffee is brewed plus a plunger to press the brew out once it’s done. After five years the plunger was no longer sealing well, irritating me enough to decide I needed to replace it. After all, $25 for five years of daily service, not a bad deal. But for some reason I started googling Aeropress, and discovered a store that sold not only the entire apparatus but replacement parts. Replacement parts for a $25 gizmo? It hadn’t even occurred to me. But sure enough I could buy a rubber stopper to replace the one that had finally gotten too loose—for $10, which seems a bit steep, but no other part of the Aeropress is likely to wear out, so I bought one and expect another five years of faithful service from it.