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July 01, 2016

How to Buy Things You Know Will Last

A few years ago, I asked a chef friend “Can a meat thermometer go in the dishwasher?” And I expected an answer I wouldn’t like, like “no.” I mean, meat temperature matters and accuracy is important. But the chef didn’t have a definitive answer, and he didn’t care. What he said next changed my life:

“I put everything in the dishwasher. I figure if it doesn’t survive a wash cycle, it’s too fragile for our house anyway!”

It really is that simple, and I apply his theory to almost everything I own. I mean, I don’t literally put it all in the dishwasher, but I don’t want anything in my house that can’t survive every day wear and tear. And when I’m looking for something new, it’s not always obvious which things will pass the test, though I’m getting better at spotting the durable goods. 

One surefire way to find out what will last is to keep it for more than 20 years. Easy! One hundred years ago when I went to boarding school, my grandmother gave me what every girl needs when she goes away for the first time: monogrammed towels. The aqua blue towels were monogrammed in white, chosen based on my taste at the time and because I also had a speckled aqua comforter, and periwinkle shams. Who wants to guess what decade? Anyone? Late eighties, obviously. And those towels work just fine today, thirty years later, though I now use them at the beach instead of in the bath.

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I still have mixing bowls and slightly chipped café au lait bowls from college. I have pre-millennium sweaters and jeans that are back in style, thanks to millennials. My tailgate bag includes a tablecloth I remember my mother using in the eighties. My favorite evening bags belonged to my grandmother, and I have at least one jacket that I think belonged to her mother. Though it’s tempting to treat vintage items with extra care, only taking them out for special occasions, I say enjoy them with abandon. If they’ve lasted this long, they aren’t meant to be kept behind glass because they’ve proven how durable they are.

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If you don’t have the option of aging your own things for 20 to 30 years, but you don’t want to add flimsy goods to your closet, your kitchen cabinet, or your tailgate bag, what should you do? Head to Goodwill, of course. Too often, we treat home goods, clothing, and even cars like they’re disposable. Mid-way through the summer, when you’ve lost most of your pool towels and you need a few more to make it through August, instead of buying something new that may fall apart in the wash, look for second (or third or fourth) hand towels that you know can stand up to sun, sand, and chlorine. You’ll spend a lot less and if your parents or grandparents will let you rummage through their linen closet, you might even get something for free.

And don’t stop at towels. Look for vintage cover-ups and denim shorts (you know, the worn-in kind that look exactly like the ones that cost more than $200 these days). Your summer casual clothing should be washable enough to withstand spilled sno-cone juice and sturdy enough to be balled up in your beach bag when you’re ready to go for a swim.

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