Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

To Fix or to Replace?

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies….It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.

–Albert Einstein

For the last several months, I have had a small crack on my two year old iPhone 5’s glass. Following an unexpected trip to the floor (glass side down) a few weeks ago, the small crack became a full on shatter. A couple days ago, the shattered pieces started falling out, leaving me with small glass shards swimming around my pocket. I went to the local mobile store to get it fixed. The clerk told me that a screen replacement would cost $75. I asked how much a new phone would cost. He said given that I was eligible for an upgrade, a 5S would cost $99 and a 6 would be $199. He also said he’d give $30 trade in value for the old phone. In other words, the 5S, which represents an upgrade from my first gen 5 would cost $5 less than getting my old phone’s screen replaced.

Now let me back up: aside from my screen and some issues with its battery life (issues that could always be handled with a modicum of foresight), I have no problems with my phone. It still occurs to me as a technological marvel. Even though it’s only 16 GB, I haven’t had any particular issues with storage. It has some superficial scuff marks on its aluminum, but these do not impact the performance whatsoever.

I weighed the pros and cons of replacement and fixing:

  • Pro replacement: cheaper by a few bucks; better battery according to sales dude; shinier, newer, thus inflating self esteem and esteem from people who care about having shinier, newer stuff.
  • Con replacement: I’d have to re-up my two year contract and use my once-every-two-year upgrade upgrading a perfectly good phone; I would be sending another perfectly usable phone to an early death, adding to the already-monumental amount of e-waste created we as a society produce.
  • Pro fix: not having to commit to two year contract; not using upgrade; not sending phone to premature death and creating unnecessary e-waste; not feeding into a culture of incessant upgrading and idealization of the new and unused.  
  • Con fix: not having latest and greatest (though the 5S, which is probably what I’d get, is no longer the latest or greatest).

Given these considerations, I am fixing the screen. The money is negligible. A better battery would be nice, but not nice enough to outweigh the other reasons not to upgrade. More than anything, doing a premature upgrade, to me, means submitting to the spurious logic of planned obsolescence and throwaway culture.

One of the concepts I have helped promote on this site is that we fill our lives with only the stuff we love and cherish. Sometimes this concept is misconstrued as living in some Dieter Ramsian ideal, where the few things that are left in our possession are immaculate. All furniture is clean and modern, all clothes fit perfectly and are plain and stain-free, all electronics are up-to-date. But this is an unrealistic, and often harmful, ideal. It’s one that can result in a “minimalist” sending as much stuff to the landfill as anyone else–not to mention depleting his or her bank account unnecessarily.

Rivendell Bicycle Works Grant Petersen coined the term “beausage”–a mashup of the words beautiful and useage. While he applies it to cool, often custom bikes, the term can apply to everything we possess. These are items we care for and maintain the best we can, but that also undergo the inevitable effects of age and use. If we can see things this way, we can see how an edited life can include the used, beat up and even outdated.

  • Pat Friedlander

    There are now 3rd party repair shops, some with discount coupons on Yelp. I have used a small, possibly local Chicago, chain called UBreakIFix when I thought my phone was near death. I also found recently that UBIF does battery replacement–myths busted!

  • I am impressed. My phone is an older model Samsung that I bought used. After 2 years, it still works great. And my phone plan is from Ting so I pay ~$35 a month for service for 2 phones. Of course, it depends on how many minutes and how much data is used, but we try to not be tied to electronic devices so it works for us.

    • 3kids2cat1divorce

      I used my no contract T-Mobile flip phone for 8 years and upgraded to a used iPhone 4 last summer with Ting. I love the thinking that David walks us through in this article, but was disappointed that he felt his only options were repair old, upgrade, or throw away. I was absolutely thrilled to buy my used iPhone for $100! The repairman (probably) offered a $30 trade-in so he could fix the phone himself and re-sell at a profit. I have 3 teen-young adult kids and all their smartphones were purchased used; our Ting bill is ~$60/month for the four of us. Great middle ground solution.

  • kris

    When discussing antiques, people sometimes say that a piece of furniture is “nicely patinated.” This can include the sheen acquired by years of polishing as well as the small dings and scratches that accumulate with age. You say that your phone has “some superficial scuff marks on its aluminum.” Maybe we should regard your phone as being nicely patinated. 🙂

  • Tim Domenico

    Kudos to David. I recently paid more for a used power supply than a new one would cost. The thing is 30 years old and still works like it is new even though it looks its age. Recycling/Reuse I think they call it.

  • YoungSally

    In my case, I just replaced my pre-Siri iPhone with w refurbished 5s. The battery on my old phone was starting to get dodgy (after about 4.5 years) and I was having more and more issues with software glitches. It has served me well. I am not crazy about the new ATT plans where one can upgrade every 12-24 months…but it seems to be what’s being offered nowadays. However, just because i CAN update my cell phone, doesn’t mean I will, until the battery goes.

  • I doubt your phone was going to the dump. They would have replaced the screen themselves (for a lot less than $75) and resold it for a profit.

  • Tania

    I struggle with replacing the cell phone issue too (I did recently give in and got a 6 to replace my 4S but do use my 4S as an iTouch for music/podcasts therefore preserving my 6 battery usage throughout the day). The one thing missing from the analysis is when the ability to upgrade the iOs will cease. Unfortunately we never know when that change will happen. That said, I still use my 1st generation iPad for many things with older versions of the apps.

  • Ilana

    My husband and I upgrade electronics fairly often but we ALWAYS sell our devices on craisglist. Not only do we get more money than trading in or even throwing away, but we know it is going to good use to someone else (who will hopefully hand it down to someone else when they are done). Even a phone with a cracked screen could be sold tl someone else who likely would repair it.

  • WithheldName

    But was it really worth it to fix your phone screen by replacing it with a sheet of plastic sandwich wrap? 🙂

    Seriously, there must be a cheaper DIY solution for replacing your phone screen.

    Also, a true minimalist hipster would have a flip phone. Or maybe just use pay phones. (“Who the funk still uses a pay phone?”)

    And couldn’t you have upgraded to a 5s guilt-free if you had properly e-cycled the old one?

    And isn’t there a no-name competing brand to Apple in the phone market?

    • Yea, I think the error here was in assuming he needed to have another iPhone.

  • smaktcat

    I replaced my iphone 5s for 30$. Got the parts on ebay, which came with a tool kit. Watched a few YouTube videos. Printed out a diagram of the parts( so not to loose screws $ bits). Easy peasy, replaced the home button too.

  • ann ellis

    I still have a flip phone to avoid e-waste.

  • skg

    you should switch to a prepaid plan and buy used phones; no need to deal with two year contracts or expensive plans;

  • milou

    Thank you for sharing this. I have had the same considerations when one of the two wheels of my travel bag got ruined by a pebble stone that got stuck when I was running for a train. At a suitcases shop I asked how much it would be to replace, that was 45 euros. Quite an amount for a ten year old bag, but to the amazement of the vendor I preferred that over buying a new bag, and pondered for the next few days if that was the right decision. In the end I just decided that this is what I am. Probably inherited from my dear late father to think twice before buying whatever. Thank you dad!