Five Hammers: Quantity over Quality

by Robert

I can never find a hammer. Or a shovel, for that matter. I've got one around here someplace, but that doesn't get the ditch nailed.

One day I couldn't stand it anymore -- I was spending way more time looking for hammers than I was using them. So I went down to the hardware store and bought five hammers: four unpretentious Chinese hammers that they were practically giving away, and one nice American one. (This was in the days when the Chinese could build hammers but not crescent wrenches. Things are a lot better now.)

This plan worked great. It's hard to lose five hammers. It took years!

The same is true for shovels. Actually, it's worse with shovels. Hammers last forever: you just can't find them. Shovels break eventually, especially if you run them over with the tractor. "Oh, there it is!"

So is it moral, frugal, or prudent to buy many more tools than you really need? Define "really need," bucko. Before I bought the five hammers, it wasn't working. Afterwards, it was. I rest my case.

I had a similar experience with cell phones. My son Dan has trouble keeping track of his cell phone, and every few months he runs one through the wash. Lecturing has proven ineffective -- and you couldn't pay me to become his laundry maid and go through his pockets. What to do?

Often the first step is to say, "Suppose the problem never gets better. What's the cost?" It turns out that you can buy used cell phones (just like his old ones) on eBay for almost nothing. I just bought two for a total of $16.00, including shipping. So I gave him one, and he owes me $8. And when he runs it through the wash, I'll give him the spare for another $8. After that, he can buy his own replacements directly.

He can afford this tiny expense, so who cares? Not me. It takes a couple of minutes for me to log onto Verizon Wireless and activate a new phone, but that's it. It's not enough to worry about. We've all got bigger fish to fry.

So my advice is: let's not worship our tools. Sometimes they get lost or broken prematurely, but if this isn't not expensive, forget about it. Manage your time. Stop obsessing about your stuff.

Also, it's worth recognizing that expensive possessions are a burden. You feel compelled to protect and nurture them. There are better places to invest these feelings.

Now, I'm not saying that someone who uses a hammer all day long should use a cheap one. The best hammer you can buy is none too good under these circumstances. But it's still just a hammer -- mass-produced, identical to a zillion others, easily replaceable, and affordable. I'll bet the best hammer you can find is cheaper than taking the family out to the movies. So buy two hammers while you're at it, and don't freak out when someone wants to borrow one.

Sure, some tools are fragile or customized, and we need to keep other people's mitts off them. But this is a bug, not a feature: a burden, not an advantage. We should keep this sort of thing down to a minimum.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some more hammers.

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Comment from: John Sealander
5 stars

Yes Robert, I had the same realization a few years ago after spending several hours each day ‘huntin up’ tools on some other part of our little farm. Out in the barn I need the hammer..oh its over at the house. Down in the pasture/garden I needed the shove…oh, its up in the barn. Nope, not there must be over at the house…GAWD! Plus I live in the mountains but I swear, 75% of those hikes were all up hill!
Now I have a cheap copy of each tool I use frequently in all those places where I usually work. I don’t get any more work done, but now I spend my breaks sittin and thinkin rather than hiking all over the mountain side. I may have to join a gym!

05/10/09 @ 03:58