Make Your Belongings Last—Read The Instructions Often!

By , October 15, 2009

Resistance to reading instructions is so pervasive that I needn’t bother belaboring the old jokes. Who doesn’t approach a new tool with the certainty that they know how to operate it without reading instructions? And, who among us who bothers to read instructions hasn’t become totally exasperated by the condescending tone, useless warnings, and ubiquitous English-as-a-foreign-language garbling found in most instructions? The fact remains, though, that if you want full, proper, and extended use of a tool, it’s important to read the instructions. Further, it’s important to reread instructions periodically!

Recent memory studies reveal uncomfortable evidence that we only remember something once. Afterward, we remember our memory of the information! This implies that any errors in operation can compound and multiply over time. For this reason, I’m trying to train myself to periodically reread instruction manuals.

This is also important because of our disposable society. No matter how frugal we are, we inevitably cycle through a series of goods, each with slight differences in the proper way to operate them. I learned this with coffee makers. I use Italian style stovetop espresso makers, and have owned three of them through the years. Each one had its own recommended heat setting. I no longer remember which coffee maker requires which setting. I ensure longevity and proper use of my current coffee maker by periodically consult the instructions. I find this helpful, as the current one requires the least care—I’m constantly reminded that I’m actually being too careful with it!

The instruction manual I consult the most is the one for our wood stove. It’s vital that this stove last as long as possible; it’s the first we’ve ever bought new, it suits our needs perfectly, and we paid far too much and worked way too hard to bring it to the property not to ensure its use for many years to come. I read the sections on cleaning and maintenance, and on building and maintaining a proper fire about once every six months. This exercise never fails to recall some important detail to my memory. Failing to consult the instructions would lead to incorrect use of the stove, very likely shortening its useful life.

These two examples inspire me to be meticulous about reviewing instructions now and then for all my belongings. This is especially important for expensive, complex machines, like your automobile. It may just be the most common sense, frugal practice I follow.

Bottom line: it’s your stuff. If you don’t want to replace it often, learn how to use it right, and periodically remind yourself of how to do so.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

Also, for a collection of our frugal thoughts and practices, check out More Calories Than Cash: Frugality the Zeiger Family Homestead Way, our new eBook—exclusively (and inexpensively priced!) from our website!

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