What do you do when you see the soles of your shoes starting to look worn? Do you take them to a shoe repair shop that will fix them for less? Or do you simply replace them? The latter is exactly what consumerism wants you to do.
Let me be the first to say I have never had a pair of shoes repaired. Though I do typically wear them until they nearly have holes in the bottom, I can’t say that I have ever gone the cheaper route. When they aren’t holding up anymore, I simply get new shoes.
A Dying Trade
I’m not alone, either. According to The State Journal Register, shoe repair shops are on the decline. There were 60,000 of them in the 1940s, but only about 7,000 remain today. That clearly suggests a dying trade, so it’s probably no coincidence that I have never used such a service.
I mean sure, it’s true that we can’t always repair shoes. In some cases, the soles are just too worn, or perhaps the outside of the shoe is so worn that they need to be replaced completely.
However, even in cases where we could bring our shoes to a repair shop, that isn’t happening. But why is that? Why is it that we would forego an option that is cheaper?
And it seems this shift also applies to even more basic things. For example, if a button rips away from one of my shirts, what do I do? I can tell what I have typically not done, and that is to bust out the needle and thread. Instead, I have typically just kind of ignored it.
My mother is much more handy with that sort of thing. Any time a button ripped off when I was younger, she would immediately sew it back into place. But I never learned that skill myself, and I don’t think I’m alone. YouTube videos can be hugely helpful in these cases, but it seems like a less natural right of passage nowadays.
It is definitely a complex issue that probably has multiple explanations, but I have a hunch as to one of them.
I mentioned above that shoe repair stores were at their peak in the 1940s, and today there are far fewer stores. Well, as I was developing a hypothesis of sorts, I couldn’t help but notice something interesting.
You know what was introduced in the 1940s, around the peak of the shoe repair shop? Give you a hint: Hot Pockets. Or how about Lean Cuisines? Your favorite soup, perhaps?
Of course, the microwave is the machine in question.
Sure, they didn’t start to really take off until the ’60s, but I couldn’t help but notice the parallel. Microwaves are the embodiment of instant gratification. Why spend what can sometimes be an entire day preparing food when instead you could have a meal ready in mere minutes? That’s instant gratification in its purest form. In a way, the microwave is the embodiment of consumerism.
Why is that? Well, instant gratification is the height of consumerism.
And nowadays, instant gratification is almost an obsession with our culture.
Even when it comes to things like ordering from Amazon. You may have to wait two days for a delivery, but you don’t have to venture out to hunt for the item at a store or several stores in some cases. Instead, you find the item online, and with one click, your item can be on its way!
So, could it be that our penchant for instant gratification precludes the patience needed to deal with getting your shoes repaired? Unfortunately, I don’t have the research to back this up, but I feel it is plausible at the very least.
Fast Fashion is All the Rage
Perhaps an even bigger contribution to the decline of shoe repair shops is fast fashion. This is a concept with which I was already familiar, but Budget Epicurean’s guest post at Tread Lightly, Retire Early pointed me to a post from Bitches Get Riches that explained it more in depth.
Given that I am a self-proclaimed tech nerd, I have long been aware of the idea of planned obsolescence. Fast fashion is basically planned obsolescence for clothing.
Even if it is to the detriment of the consumer, fast fashion is an integral part of a capitalist society.
Worse is More
Long story short, the idea here is to intentionally manufacture clothing using cheap materials that simply won’t last. At the same time, the fashion industry constantly introduces new “must have” fashion trends throughout the year. That means we always have something new to buy. And good thing, since your shirt will probably be falling apart after only a few months.
As Bitches Get Riches mentioned, fast fashion is not only harder on our wallets, but on the environment, too. It means that not only will we buy clothing more often, but we also discard the things we no longer need. A small amount of that could be recycled, but the majority of it won’t.
I am actually unsure as to whether this trend directly affects shoes. But even if it doesn’t, I would argue the precedence has been set. We simply replace our clothing more often nowadays.
So, we should just get rid of our old pairs of shoes, right? At least that is what fast fashion would like us to do. Who cares if they are still perfectly good?
After all, there is a brand new fashion trend out there, and you wouldn’t want to miss out.
What happened to patience?
All these conveniences are nice, but somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost the heartiness, the grit, the determination, and the unshakable patience of generations before.
As a result, we are less willing to deal with the seemingly huge hassle of having to bring our shoes to a repair shop. How long is this going to take? Do I need an appointment? And so on.
Indeed, it’s a bit more of a process than simply going to a store and picking up a brand new pair of shoes. But there is also a very good chance that a new pair of shoes will cost you more.
And because we are so used to our modern conveniences, do we really want to deal with the shoe repair shop, even if it’s cheaper? Probably not.
Consumerism: what can we do about it?
I mentioned YouTube videos earlier; I think those are a great start. The bottom line here is that I think we need to be sure life skills don’t become a lost art. If a button rips off of one of your shirts, you should know how to sew it on again.
I’ve mentioned before that I love thrift stores. I am mentioning them again here because you will inevitably have to replace your worn-out clothing at some point. Eventually, sewing on button won’t be good enough. Not only are the prices at thrift stores a fraction of what clothing stores charge, but they go against the whole idea of fast fashion.
Instead of buying into the cycle of consumerism, you opt for something much more cost-conscious. Win-win if you ask me.
Everyone should know basic cooking skills as well. I took a cooking class last year, and I am slowly teaching myself how to make some basic meals. Even that is better than going to restaurants every day. A recent favorite of mine is arepas.
And, of course, don’t be afraid to bring your shoes to a repair shop – assuming they aren’t too worn. Yes, that does mean keeping your shoes longer, and you don’t get to indulge in new ones all the time.
But is that really so important? Maybe it is in our consumerist culture, but that is what I am really challenging here. After all, spending more to buy into that culture is not very frugal. For me, that means putting off FI a little bit further.
And to me, that isn’t worth doing. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Consumerism isn’t bad, but…
Consumerism is not inherently bad, but it is if it’s killing your budget. So, let’s start to learn those life skills some of us have been missing.
Let us be more patient and not feel the need to walk into a store and replace every item that shows the slightest bit of wear. Don’t be afraid to visit your local shoe repair shop – if you still have one, of course.
I think it’s time to push back against the cycle of consumerism to which we have been routinely subjected. Let’s get to it.
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Hey there. My name is Bob Haegele and I'm an expert at frugal living and saving money. I’m also an EV enthusiast and have recently become mostly-vegetarian. Another thing I started doing recently? Dog walking. I’m working toward financial independence making money via my own ventures. Interested in starting a blog of your own? Check out my post on starting a blog.
This Post Has 17 Comments
I grew up in the 80’s…the era of consumerism. It all started with walkmans, parachute pants, Michael Jackson gloves and Madonna’s “Material Girl”.
Then the internet came along and it has become its own machine.
We now have huge conferences to announce the new phones every year. We never wear anything out because we want the latest and greatest of everything. In fact, I just bought a new MacBook Pro last week.
This post made me realize that I am, indeed, a product of my generation and I have a lot of work to do in this area!
So true! I get it – it’s an inevitably in a capitalist system, but why do we intentionally shoot ourselves in the foot by spending more than we have to?
And by the way, one caveat thing I forgot to mention:
If you have a complex project like a complete remodel of your kitchen, you might be happier paying for professional help because you know the job was done right. Not only that but if plumbing and electrical is involved, you might put yourself (and your family) at risk if you even attempt to do those things yourself.
So yeah. Being more self-sufficient isn’t necessarily always the answer. But a lot of times it definitely can be.
You’re right that we’ve lost the ability to repair our own items in many cases, and that things are not built to last. However, I would argue that in most cases it’s actually more expensive to repair things than to replace them. For instance, my 20 year old washer broke last fall. I ended up buying a new one because it would have cost the same to repair. Same with clothes and shoes. If I’m spending $10-$20 on shoes there’s no way I could get them repaired for that price. If I didn’t have my grandma to help me with my repairs (and needed to visit a seamstress for repairs) it simply wouldn’t be cost effective to repair these things. I think the problem is that most people don’t fully use items before replacing them, which is where the consumerist ideology kicks in and pushes people to get the newest things. Otherwise, people wouldn’t have 50 pairs of shoes.
Good point, it depends on the particular item. Cost/benefit is also important!
I actually DO take shoes to get repaired! Though I’m currently holding on to a pair of $250 boots because they wanted $70 to repair the soles and heel, but they’re still a bit worn up top. I keep meaning to price compare with another place, but I haven’t done it yet.
Nice, once again someone doing better than me. Hah!
Frugality is definitely not supposed to be a contest! Everyone is at a different place on their own path. I don’t have your knowledge, skills, and experiences, and you don’t have mine. Although Angela is on a pedestal to many 😉 Thanks for writing, reading, thinking, and sharing about these skills and mindsets. I love cooking, and canning, and gardening, and busting out my little polka dot sewing kit to mend holey socks. My deepest wish is for things like that to become mainstream once again. Every single little thing we can do to bring awareness and then LIVE IT in our own lives will make the future slightly better.
Absolutely! Definitely not a contest. And hey, no problem – you’ve already made me realize I have some things to work on – and that’s a good thing. I just want to challenge mainstream thinking because the fact is that capitalism has really warped people’s habits and thus their relationship with money. And I think a lot of us could stand to make a few changes!
I’ve been trying to stay away from fast fashion for the last couple of years but it can be a challenge. It’s so tempting to grab a couple of new shirts for $20 instead of holding out and spending $40 on one that will last longer. I think this definitely goes for shoes as well. I used to always buy cheap flats from Payless and they would last a season and before falling apart. I splurged big time last year on a pair of leather flats from a local shoe designer and wear them constantly and they are still in fantastic condition. Those are the kind of shoes I’d be willing to take for repairs, not the $10 pair from Payless.
Good point as well. I should have mentioned that there is something to be said for paying for quality. Of course, it depends on the item, but can definitely be better overall. Like if you buy something that is more expensive but it will last much longer than the cheaper variant.
Wow, so many things here! This brings up an ad I saw in a high-end shoe store the other day (I was reluctantly dragged in there by a family member visiting from another country, otherwise I wouldn’t be anywhere near a store that fancy). The ad was for shoes that apparently are made to get ever more comfortable over time, and are touted to be with you for a lifetime. Very cool! I don’t know what they cost, but I’m sure however much it was would be well under the cost of buying a new pair of shoes every other year for the next twenty years.
I also really like that you brought up the skill of sewing. This is a skill I have yet to learn, but it is definitely on my list. In fact, survival books will list necessary skills, and sewing is inevitably one of them. I also think minor carpentry skills and general tool-handling abilities are extremely important to anyone looking to save money, and the feelings of fulfillment and accomplishment that accompany a job well done are tantamount to true happiness.
That is very interesting about the shoes. It seems like a thing of the past for products to be “built to last.” It’s refreshing to know there might actually be some of that out there.
The shoe thing caught my eye. Our shoe shop closed in town, but there’s still one about 20 minutes away. Here’s the thing, you gotta spend more money upfront for shoes worth repairing. For those of us on strict budgets, handing out $150+ for one pair of shoes is tough. Especially when I can buy a $20-40 pair every year. In 2001 I spent $89 on leather sandals. In 2008 (or so) I spent $129 on boots. Two repairs in 17 years totaling less than $40. Well worth it. I’ll be sad when the last shoe guy closes. With my appliances constantly breaking, shoes (sometimes) feel like the only purchase worth repairing.
Really good points made, loved reading it, Thanks for sharing
Such a true article. You have put a lot of things into a perspective that I never would have realized. This should make us all reconsider some of our choices. Great post!
I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂
I didn’t even know that shoe repair shops still existed. But I buy my shoes from payless for 20 to 30 bucks and wear them until they die ha ha.