There's plenty of complaining about how things "aren't made like they used to be," about the frustrating trend of corporations building dishwashers, stoves and dryers for planned obsolescence. Catherine Housman, a commenter on The Story of Stuff's Facebook page speaks to our frustrations with the wasteful and expensive nature of modern appliances when she writes: "I still have my grandmother's space heater. It's at least 50 years old and works like a charm. Bought a new one for the office. It lasted one year."
Very few people are happy about this state of wasteful affairs, judging by the popularity of the article I wrote about a new website that stocks only products that last a lifetime. We are hungry to be able to depend on our "stuff" year after year — even long enough for it to gather a patina of wear.
So in the spirit of Tara Button, the enterprising and passionate young entrepreneur who is researching and stocking the Buy Me Once site, I've rounded up 7 products that I've used that have lasted me a lifetime (so far), and promise to do so going forward. I've also included other items that I've heard time and time again, hold up for decades.
1. Cast-iron cookware
This one's a favorite among Internet commenters, grandparents and young people alike. That's because cast iron is basically indestructible and cooks food beautifully due to very even heat distribution over its surface. I have four cast-iron skillets of various sizes, and I use them for everything from cooking omeletes to Chinese-style stir-fries with tofu (and my partner has one of his own for searing steaks). They can be a little heavy, depending on how strong you are, and you do have to "season" them every so often if you wash them with soap, so they require a bit more maintenance than other pans. I've purchased some pieces from Lodge, but I have other brands of cast iron that I've picked up at thrift stores (and even a tiny skillet I found by the side of the road once!) They all work well.
Honorable mentions: Also in the cookware category, Calphalon and Le Creuset both have lifetime guarantees from their respective companies, and I have my grandmother's Revere Ware pots, which are about 50 years old and still going strong.
2. Oreck vacuum cleaners
If you do the math on cost of ownership per year, these vacuums are really, really cheap. I bought a Classic Upright vacuum 11 years ago (for the same price as they cost now) and it still runs perfectly, even though I have rugs of various heights, wood floors and pets. I really like that this vacuum is made in the United States, and the company has stores in most states so you can take them in for repair or maintenance. It's also super-lightweight for an upright vac.
Honorable mention: I have used very old Electrolux vacuums at friend's houses and have also seen them widely cited as vacuums that go the distance. I would consider buying a vintage, small Electrolux canister vac because not only do they stand the test of time, they look really cool. (They still sell on eBay for about $100, which is amazing considering many are from the '50s!)
3. Doc Martens
I bought my Doc Martens in London the summer I was 20. It was my big splurge of the trip, so I made the pilgrimage to the original store and I walked out with blue metallic steel-toed ones that I thought were gorgeous. (I still do.) I will admit I don't wear my Docs every day, but I do still wear them pretty regularly, especially if I know I'll be walking a lot. I used to wear them to every mosh pit I jumped into. The Docs are almost 20 years worn at this point, if that gives you an idea. I fully intend on keeping my Docs another 20 years, and if anything goes wrong, I know I can get them repaired, or even replaced by the company, which still offers a lifetime guarantee.
4. JanSport backpacks
These backpacks have a lifetime guarantee that the company absolutely honors. From JanSport's site: "... if your pack ever breaks down, simply return it to our warranty center. We'll fix it or if we can't, we'll replace it or refund it." I haven't had to replace or repair mine yet, but the testimonials from other people abound on the Internet.
Honorable mention: L.L. Bean backpacks and Boat and Tote bags are also super-tough, and the latter are well known to last for 30 years or more. All Bean products come with a guarantee of replacement and repair.
5. High-quality vintage furniture
Just because furniture is vintage doesn't mean it has to look old-fashioned. I decided on a modern-fabric update for my grandma's 100-year-old chaise. The redesign is kitty-approved. (Photo: Starre Vartan)
Vintage furniture is something I was lucky enough to inherit — a beautiful 200-plus-year-old couch was brought over by boat from Lebanon in the late 1800s by my great-grandmother, and a 100-year-old chaise and chair set just keep going. I get them reupholstered every 20 years or so. (You can see here and above how I "modernized" the chaise with a striped pattern back in 2008, and it still looks gorgeous.) Furniture that's well-made can last several lifetimes and can also be resold at higher prices if you decide to change styles, so it's almost always worth the investment in quality. Ask family members if they have old furniture in storage and consider reupholstering it, and keep your eye out at garage sales, estate sales and Craigslist, where oftentimes people will get rid of high-quality furniture at very low prices. You can absolutely find great pieces even if you're on a budget; you just need to invest some time into the hunt.
6. KitchenAid stand mixers
These mixers are passed along in wills from parent to child because they last for so long. And if you're a baker (even a fairly basic one), you will get lots of use out of the trusty machine. Perhaps they stand the test of time so well because the made-in-Ohio mixers we use today are pretty much exactly the same as the 1937 design — save for a regularly rotating cast of colors. (Mine is orange!) Little known fact: Because the design has changed so little over the years, old attachments from the 1950s still work on new machines, like the one that shells peas, and another that will buff your silver!
7. Zippo lighters
These lighters are a favorite of mine, not only because they have a lifetime guarantee — "It works or we fix it free" is the company's motto — but because they reduce the plastic litter that disposable lighters create. I often pick up plastic trash on any beach I walk on, and lighters are definitely part of the top five items I find. If more people bought Zippos — and there are plenty of vintage ones on the market that are less expensive than new, there would be less plastic litter in our world. This company has been in business for 70 years, and there are lighters still being used today that are that old.