Things Fall Apart: What We Do When Something Breaks

My coffee maker broke. As fate would have it, I’d stayed up too late the night before and my toddler woke up an hour early. She then proceeded to poop her pants while I took a quick shower. After cleaning up that mess, I frantically pushed the coffee maker’s power button. I fiddled with every moving part, turning the machine in various positions like a woman in labor. Alas, nothing happened.

What do you do when something breaks, and can’t be fixed?

  1. Go to the nearest store and replace it immediately.
  2. Buy one on Amazon that day.
  3. Compare prices on several web sites and order one later in the week.
  4. Search Craigslist and buy-sell-trade pages for a couple weeks.
  5. Hope you find it at a garage sale, hand-me-down, or in the trash.

Choices 2-5 are all pretty good options, in my opinion. But there is another, less considered option that we’ve found by practicing a wait period.

Why Wait?

We all know the importance of waiting to make purchases. Give yourself time to think it over, asking do I really need/want it? Can I really afford it? Is it worth the space it’ll take up, as well as the cost? Is it worth the opportunity cost?

When planning a new purchase, we often take time to research it. Maybe you ask around to see if anyone has a lead on a good deal, a giveaway, or feedback about the best brand or type.

But when something breaks, we often reflexively replace that item without thought. If I already owned it, I don’t need to go through the agonizing decision all over again.

Except, why not? There are certain possessions that I’m 100% sure I want to own. Coffee maker is certainly in that camp. Ditto for a phone. But when one of nine lamps in my house broke, I realized…I don’t need nine lamps. Maybe eight will suffice, at least now.

We’ve waited on replacing even big items like cars and furniture as well as smaller items like home goods, clothing, or toys.

Why Deflate?

Broken or worn out stuff is an annoying inevitably. Yet therein lies the perfect opportunity to minimize, simplify, or deflate your lifestyle. Rather than rush out and buy a new one that day, or asking Amazon to mail you one, implement a wait. Unless it’s super important, wait and see if you really need to replace that object.

Naturally, the very first step is trying to fix it. We love free and broken stuff, which means we love fixing stuff. Okay, Neil loves fixing stuff, and I love cheering him on. But if Neil can’t fix something (or doesn’t know someone who can), I know the object in question is probably a lost cause. The man has skillz.

Your ingrained consumer instinct is to get new thing ASAP. Maybe a better one. As per constant barrage of marketing, broken = opportunity to upgrade. It’s the lifestyle inflation that feels totally justified. After all, you need a new one!

Every time something breaks or wears out, you face a consumption crossroads. You can 1) inflate your lifestyle, 2) maintain your lifestyle, or 3) deflate your lifestyle. Discerning the right move requires a bit of time.

What if you waited? One of these beautiful things might happen:

You realize you don’t need it. One of our glass end table tops broke when a vase fell on it. First of all, who needs a decorative vase? That thing had to go. Secondly, who needs all these end tables? We didn’t replace our end table, and I can’t say I’ve missed it. (It’s twin is still going strong, far away from ceramics armed with potential energy.)

The bigger the belonging, the greater opportunity for savings or lifestyle deflation. Who knows? You might not just save yourself the initial cost of replacement, but the ongoing costs of maintaining and replacing in the future as well.

You get a free one. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted something and then I came by it for free or very cheaply. It happened just last week, though I was replacing broken toys for our church nursery, not my own home. Whether it’s replacing an item, or just a new want or need, free rules! There’s hand-me-downs, gifts, give-aways, and tree lawns. Because we’re not above trash-picking.

You get a great deal. We all know how sometimes during that wait you find a better deal than you ever would have at traditional retailers. When one of our cars broke, we waited a month to buy a new one. While this arrangement might not work in our current situation as it did then, it allowed us to find a great deal on a (very) used car which cost us only $5/month to drive.

You get creative. When I suggested we buy our son a CD player for his audio books, my husband thought he had an old one in his “electronics lab” (read: boxes of cords and broken electronics collecting dust in my basement). He fixed it up by adding a second power plug.

This is just a smattering of examples, and I know I’m not the only one who waits on purchases. Who’s realized they didn’t need something, or found a freebie, great deal, or creative solution rather than going the traditional retail route? Share your stories!


33 Responses to “Things Fall Apart: What We Do When Something Breaks”

  1. Amanda says :

    I’ve got the coffee maker covered. My parents bought a new one, so I took their old one and have it on a shelf (in the original box) in my basement waiting for the fateful day my current coffee maker dies. This can become a fine line, though – keeping too many “just in case” items can lead to clutter, so I try to keep it in check.

    My daughter needed a chair for her desk in her room, but we had her use one of the dining room chairs for a while. Several weeks went by (honestly I hadn’t even looked for a chair) and, one day, my mom found a really nice office chair in the storage room where she works. She asked if she could take it and they said she could. My daughter now has a cushy, rolling chair for her desk (free!).

    • Kalie says :

      The ironic thing is that my broken coffee maker was a hand-me-down from my mom, but she had only used it twice & it was an expensive one. After storing it for some time, I decided to retire my still working, but very old, hard to clean, rusted burner coffee pot (also a hand-me-down!). So when the “new” fancy one died within 6 months I was kicking myself. My husband forbade me from feeling guilty for offloading the old nasty one, though! I know what you mean, it’s hard to decide what to store and what to declutter.

      That’s awesome you got a free desk chair for your daughter by waiting! This has happened to me so many times that I know it’s worth waiting a bit to see what happens.

  2. Catherine Alford says :

    Oooh I give you a lot of props for waiting on the coffee machine, girl. That would have been an immediate same day replacement for me lol. Also I feel ya on the toddler poop woes. Good times. 😉

    • Kalie says :

      Oh no, I had an alternative brewing method (French press). Which I love but the grounds cost more and it’s not great for all the hosting I do. No coffee is not really an option! They don’t have to be expensive, either.

  3. Cheryl says :

    Our french press broke some years ago and we have never replaced it, despite our love for coffee. Then we managed to find a plastic-free way:

    It is always good to adjust to a “broken-down” situation and make sure you really need something before investing in more. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Kalie says :

      Very interesting that you found a way to brew coffee without a machine. I do use a pour over for camping, but I regularly host large groups so a coffee maker is great for me. But the principle of waiting helped me decide whether I really needed one.

  4. DC YAM says :

    I like how you applied this to everyday things. I’ve written a post or two about this approach with bigger things. For example I love the idea of having a tablet. It would be easy to throw in my work bag (instead of two laptops – sometimes I work on my side hustles after work at the coffee shop). The touch screen could work well for working in apps, and the bigger monitor could help me get things done more efficiently than using my phone. But I’ve delayed that purchase for over 3 years and it’s clear I don’t NEED it. It’s a nice to have, but that money can be better used elsewhere. We also delayed our bathroom remodel for 4 years. Having an old outdated bathroom whose tile needs replacing isn’t fun, but the more we delayed the more our finances could be diverted to other things.

    • Kalie says :

      Great examples, DC. We certainly have delayed those bigger items like technology and home upgrades, and the savings are substantial. There is a time and place for those purchases, but I don’t think they need to be nearly as often as advertisers would have us think!

  5. Tonya says :

    I try to do this too but occasionally I still make the spontaneous purchase and I always regret it. Ugh! 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I often regret it when I make a purchase too quickly as well. Even if it is something I’ve decided I need, it can be hard to choose the best one on short notice.

  6. Brian says :

    We had a second freezer, until it died. We found that we just didn’t need it and help keep our grocery bill a little bit under control. I wish we could do that with everything the broke down. 🙂

  7. Mustard Seed Money says :

    I am guilty of running to Amazon way too quickly. My wife on the other hand is awesome scouring Craigslist before buying things. Normally if it’s a large purchase, over $100, we normally think about purchase for 24 hours before buying. That allows us to sleep on it and make sure that it’s really important and pertinent to buy.

    We will definitely need to check out the free section and I would love to try my hand at fixing up some old things to improve my skills.

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sure I sometimes spend too much time comparing prices, but I think having a $100 threshold for a defined waiting time is a great idea!

  8. Michelle says :

    I’m a pretty frugal person, so I like to wait a loooonnnnggg time on purchases to make sure that I actually need the item. For the most part, I usually realize that I don’t need a replacement.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s the best–I love how that wait time allows you to decide whether you really need/want the item. And it’s ultimately easier to not have to replace it, so that’s a perk if you can do without it.

  9. Harmony says :

    We definitely used to be “go out and buy a replacement” people. Now, we’re a lot smarter and creative with how we spend our money. When the cars have issues we will borrow my father-in-law’s car until Mr. Smith figures out how to fix the problem and searches for the very best price on parts.

    I had this really nice travel mug for my coffee. The seal broke and it’s been leaking. I had trouble letting go, so I just wrapped a towel around it for a while. Finally, it became clear that there was no hope for the coffee mug. Did I go out and buy a new one? Nope, I dug through some boxes and found another mug (handed out for free in college). It’s not as nice as the other one, but it works and didn’t cost me anything.

    • Kalie says :

      That is awesome that you can borrow your father in law’s car while fixing yours. I’m sure that’s saved you a lot. Props for making do with an older coffee mug. Those fancy ones are nice, but pricey! I’m assuming you tried contacting the manufacturer?

  10. Emily says :

    Our bread machine died recently, and I’d pretty much decided to try more from scratch methods (after getting our noble blog readers to comment on the situation) when someone offered me a free one.

    On a lot of other things, my husband has scrounged up a spare. Like our coffee maker and grinder. Like Neil, he has a fair amount of stuff he’s picked up that other people call “broken” and he calls “project.” It helps a lot, particularly when we need to get things ready for rental properties.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s great you got a free bread machine after waiting and tying other options. Neil will come home with things we need from yard sales or sometimes the curb. Sometimes they need to be fixed; other times they’re still in working condition. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure!

  11. Amber from Red Two Green says :

    Love this! Waiting really gives you time to reflect. Do I actually need this? Is this actually doing anything for me? That time is so valuable. It totally helps you think about what you have and why. I’ve also found that I don’t waste time pouring over what item I wil replace it with, with a painful cost analysis and pros and cons list of each thing. Waiting is a lot more simple and a lot less time consuming.

  12. TheTirelessWorker says :

    Hey Kalie, this is a great way to be more aware! We tend to rush into replacing something that we frequently use when it broke. At least I know I do it. But so often if I were to wait, I would be able to save some money because a great deal is going to present itself. Patience is indeed a virtue.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, it depends what it is, but if possible I think it’s worth a bit of a wait to make sure you want it, and see if you can get a better deal.

  13. Josh says :

    Craigslist is our best friend. If it’s more urgent we scour the internet for the cheapest replacement. As you mentioned, if you wait long enough or are blessed to be at the right place at the right time, there is always family and friends looking to get rid of similar items for free or dirt cheap.

    We try to go the secondhand route as much as possible to save money & not feed the “throw away society” mentality where everything is magically designed to last the length of the fad instead of a lifetime.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I love secondhand for the environmental benefits as well. And it seems that older products tend to last longer than their brand-new counterparts, so sometimes you can get a really durable item if it’s used.

  14. Carrie says :

    We have not had a microwave for at least 10 years because we did not replace it when it broke. I don’t miss it and love the extra counter space. However our dishwasher broke and we didn’t last 6 months before replacing it 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Wow, I know people who do not have a microwave but I’m not sure I’d want to! Mainly because I think that would involve more dishes. That’s cool that yours breaking helped you realize you didn’t need it, though. Our dishwasher broke over the summer and we waited a little while so that we could get the part cheaper and fix it ourselves. But I don’t know how I’d fare long-term without one.

  15. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    Waiting is perhaps the single best strategy to gain for anyone trying to gain financial health. More often than not, there is no need to buy, and the item/experience is not missed. I’m so curious though: What did you end up doing about the broken coffee maker?

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that it’s a great strategy for financial health and lifestyle change. I was able to get a replacement from the retailer. It just reminded me of so many other things that have broken, that we simply never replaced.

  16. Anne says :

    I’ve been decluttering again and lately I just feel relief when something breaks. Decision made… I can probably get along just fine without it.

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