Product Reviews

My Ten Year Gear: 2021 Edition

The goal of this blog post is to celebrate possessions I’ve had in my service for at least ten years. I believe that reflecting on these items will help me learn a few things about reducing waste, being efficient with my money and designing good products. These are all pretty values for me, thus this blog post.

For something to last ten years in my service in needs to have a few important attributes. It needs to:

  • be useful or beautiful – otherwise I would have gotten to a point where I didn’t need it and donated, sold or tossed it
  • be durable and/or repairable – otherwise it would likely be broken and discarded (unless I didn’t use it, in which case, see above)
  • I must have not outgrown it – the item would likely be passed on if I changed my preferences, body size, skill level, or hobbies away from its use case
  • not have been disrupted – otherwise I would likely have replaced it with a newer and better item that serves a similar purpose but is better (or equal) in every way
  • not have been lost or stolen – otherwise, even if it fit the above, I wouldn’t have it anymore

I’ve wanted to do this series for a while, but it always seems like a lot of work, so I’m going to start small and let it evolve. So without further ado.

Pre-2021 Items:

I’ll start with some things that are at over 10 years in my service, that haven’t yet had their proper time in the limelight:

Wooden Dresser – This first item predates me. It was my mom’s dresser growing up and then at some point it became mine and now my oldest son uses it in his room (he was much younger when that picture was taken). Well made wooden furniture can last a very long time and this is a piece that exemplifies that.

LEGO Various Sets – few toys have occupied more Kroleski time that LEGO bricks. I spent a lot of time building with them as a child and now my children do. (Truth be told, I still do) While many of the sets in our house now are newer, we still have my old sets from the 90s floating around and the pieces still join tightly and are compatible with sets that are produced today. In terms of nailing functionality, fun and quality standards, the LEGO brand is top notch.

Super Nintendo –¬†this one is interesting. You could make a strong case that it has been disrupted, four or five newer generations of video games have been released since the time of the SNES, and I even own a few of those. At the same time, my trust SNES still works and it is still fun, so I still have it. Admittedly, its use is limited to once every year or so, and I’ve had to get a few adapters to make the connections work with modern screens (who even has a coax cable hookup anymore?) but some 30 years after the original release the games are just as fun. In recent years I’ve periodically purchased an original game and oddly enough, most hold their value pretty well – a used game sometimes sells for about as much money as it sold for new in the 1990s (though inflation adjusted prices might be slightly lower, and this is only true with a subset of games that were very good).

Nintendo 64 – Similar to the above, my Nintendo 64 is still kicking around. What is interesting is that while the story of why I keep it is very similar, there is one critical difference. The N64 is something I play with other people, while the SNES is something I mostly play alone. The N64 was the system of choice in my Junior High School and early High School days for sleepovers, after school, etc. Over 32 Million of these were sold and I’d guess a large number were to people roughly my age. Groups of us (up to four playing at a time but larger groups could participate if the losers rotated each round) would sit and play Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, GoldenEye, Wave Race, etc. for hours and hours. Years later I can pull out my old N64 and the rivalries pick up right where we left off. I pick Donkey Kong and everyone can kiss their balloons goodbye, especially on Block Fort.

PlayStation 2 – Again, similar to the above two items, my PS2 is still hanging around. The PS2 is the highest selling video game console of all time, with over 155M units sold. Games were released for it for over 14 years, including a period that stretched from when I entered High School until my first child was born. That meant it was peak video game years for me. The PS2 also had the benefit of being a DVD player, which meant having it plugged into my TV/projector provided me with the ability to play Netflix DVDs (remember when that is what they did). I have a few Ps2 games I haven’t beaten yet that aren’t compatible with future consoles (without re-buying a new version of the game) that I’m hanging onto the system for. Once I beat those games, the system might have outlived its useful life. Unlike the cartridge consoles of the past, the CD games have mostly been replicated on later generations, and I’d likely take advantage of them if I ever wanted to revisit the game in the future. The PS2 had great graphics for the time, but they haven’t aged as well as the pixelated SNES now that even more realistic graphics are available.

Various Camping Gear – I didn’t go through everything, but I know my camping tub has a number of items that are 10 or even 20 years in service. Most have been replaced for my use by newer and lighter gear, but I keep some of my old things around because I have growing kids and the gear still works fine.

Victorinox Swiss Army Knives – I have a few knives that have been kicking around for over a decade. While my smaller keychain knives always eventually end up in TSA’s hands, my larger ones have tended to remain in my service. I recently got the smallest knife I’ve ever had because I wanted something for when I’m running in the backcountry, but I didn’t want much weight. It won’t be surprising which brand I went with.

Craftsman Tool Set – When I was a teenager my aunt and uncle started getting me tools as gifts so I could build up a toolbox of my own. Almost all of those are still in use today. Turns out a well made hammer can last a while if you treat it nicely. There is something beautiful about simple tools without many (or any) moving parts – hammers, screw drivers, etc.

Cort Guitar – My Junior year in college I studied abroad in Ireland and ended up taking an Irish music class with one of the guitarists who previously toured with Riverdance. I picked up a guitar at a local shop and it has followed me ever since. This is one item that doesn’t get used as much as I’d like, but it occasionally does and often hope I’ll use it more in the future. I dream of playing songs while the family sings around the campfire, but my lack of playing much, the age of my kids and the late time of summer sunset in Seattle (often after 10pm) has kept this out of grasp so far. Perhaps one summer soon it will be a reality. Perhaps I’ll have to make it a Yearly Focus Habit to make sure that happens.

Asics Fleece Gloves – These gloves have actually accompanied me on runs in cold weather since 2006, but they didn’t get much use from 2008-2013 or so when I took a break from running. One of my biggest regrets is not bringing them to the 2018 Boston Marathon where I would go on to get hypothermia. I thought about bringing them, but I explicitly left them at home because I figured I’d get hot and want to toss them away, and I didn’t want to lose them. Turns out it was colder than I thought and the cheap gloves I had did me little good. I’ve worn these gloves in runs as cold as -9*F and they’ve wiped enough snot to make a box of Kleenex blush. A few of the fingers have had to be re-sewn, but other than that they are going strong.

Bostonian Black Dress Shoes – I guess I keep these around because a pair of black dress shoes seems like a thing I might need at some point and these still fit me. I bought them in 2006 at an outlet mall and at the time considered it an investment. I had to present a business plan competition where I had the chance to win a few thousand dollars and Chris convinced me nice shoes would help us look more legitimate. I think we got second place that year, but we wore the shoes the following year when we won the competition, so I guess they paid for themselves pretty quickly. I don’t recall the last time I wore them though – I wear more casual shoes to work and the few times a year I need to dress up I usually wear my brown dress shoes – nonetheless I keep them around.

Books – Various – I didn’t bother going through all of my books to figure out which ones I’ve had for more than 10 years, but there are a decent number. Generally I’m not a fan of keeping books around. The notion of a personal library being valuable is a cultural meme that I believe became outdated in the last 30 years or so. With access to ebooks, public libraries and the internet, books have mostly become a decoration that requires lots of extra effort when moving houses. There are a few types of books I find valuable to keep; reference books, rare books and sentimental books. Not all of the books I have fall into these categories, most are books I’ve acquired but not yet read (as I believe is the case with many people’s book collections). As I read them I plan to move on from them. I should note that ‘my books’ and ‘books in my house’ are dramatically different categories. My wife is a book lover and this is one area I demonstrate a lot of patience (except for when we’re moving houses and I after the 10th heavy box of books, my words become a bit more harsh).

American Apparel Long Sleeve Black T-Shirt – I’ve worn through many an American Apparel t-shirt, but this long sleeve one has lasted extra long because I don’t wear it quite as often. I don’t love long sleeve shirts, but sometimes it is nice to have one. It is hard to argue with a black shirt – it is one of the few things that can work in almost any scenario and it has been in fashion for close to a century.

Eastern Mountain Sports Zip-Off Hiking Pants – on my first day with these pants I was walking down by a river in New Hampshire to grab some beers I had tucked under a rock, to keep cool, when I slipped and fell in. I was soaked. I took off my pants, hung them to dry and thanks to their quick-drying nature and some water repellency, they were perfectly dry an hour later. Ever since then they’ve joined me on hundreds (thousands?) of miles of hikes around the world. I’ve had to sew a few of the pockets back together, he waterproofing is now gone, there are some burn holes in the leg from the time I let Daniel borrow them and I sometimes think I should look to see what kind of new pants exist these days, but it is hard to beat something that has been so reliable for so long.

Eastern Mountain Sports Tent – first purchased after the above-mentioned camping trip in New Hampshire when I slept in a tent of the same model that Chris had bought that day. I liked it well enough so I got one of my own for the road trip back to San Diego. At some point I stopped using tents and just started sleeping under the stars, but when the weather turns, this has been my go to. It is getting harder to justify keeping it for backpacking since it weighs in at 6lbs. When I’m by myself I have some lighter sleeping setups so I usually only use this with the kids where the extra weight doesn’t matter as much, since our pace is dictated by them.

Digital Alarm Clock – In college I bought a $10 digital alarm clock that I placed on the far side of my dorm room. Having to get out of bed to turn it off helped ensure I was actually up and this handy device can take as much credit as anyone for the fact that I graduated. These days it lives in my oldest son’s room. He doesn’t use the alarm function ever. Really, he uses it for the opposite reason, to make sure he doesn’t start his day too early. Our kids tend to be early risers, so in hopes of letting someone (usually dad) get a full night’s sleep, we don’t let them come out of their rooms until after 7am. This simple electronic device continues to work fine for that (though the outer plastic shell has seen better days). I wouldn’t have expected many electronics on this list, most get disrupted, but sometimes something serves its need so perfectly, it is hard to improve upon it.

Various Surfboards, Skateboards and Balance Boards – surfboards are an amazing thing, their durability ends up being quite binary. They are either still floating in one piece, in which case you can use them just as well as you could when they were made, (which is the case with some boards I have that were made in the 1980s) or they break and there isn’t much you can do with them. Skateboards and balance boards are mostly the same. All of them can use a little love at points and I’ve gotten pretty good at fixing minor things like dings, replacing bearings or grip tape. At one point in my life I had ~25 boards, many of those are still in my garage (or my mom’s). These days the board I ride most often is a stand up paddle board and the others only get used a few times a year. It might be time to start to think about passing some of them on.

North Face soft shell – In 2010 or so I decided to splurge on a North Face soft shell jacket at REI. At the time it might have been one of the most expensive pieces of clothing I had. I’ve worn this jacket around town, on camping trips, on soaking wet bike commutes and everywhere in between. At one point the velcro on the wrist cuffs stopped working so I took it to a North Face store and the great people there repaired it and sent it back for free. I’ve been incredibly happy with how it has held up but it doesn’t get that much use these days, unfortunately. Soft shells are a bit of the best of all worlds and the worst of all worlds. It isn’t as warm as down on cold days, but is heavier. It stops wind, but not as well as a shell. It isn’t as breathable as other materials when I’m working hard in it on hikes or bike rides. On wet days, despite the Gore-Tex keeping water out of the inside, the jacket absorbs a lot on the outer layers and gets quite heavy. If I could only have one jacket for moderate climates, it might be a soft shell, but since that isn’t the case, I’ve found that these days I usually prefer some combination of a fleece or down mid-layer followed by a rain shell when it is wet. I haven’t moved on from this jacket yet though as I have three sons who are growing quickly and might fit into it soon enough. I figure they can get some more use out of it and I’m confident it will hold up to some more abuse.

Two Framed Pictures – Sometime around 2010 I started to decorate my apartment with framed pictures instead of posters taped to the wall. This was a big adult moment for me. The first two pictures I got were surfing themed; a photo of a big wave in Hawaii’s Waimea Bay and a print of a Bierstadt’s 1872 painting ‘Seal Rock’ (which actually depicts the California Sea Lion and no seals). These two have decorated every place I’ve lived since then and even survived the great merging of styles that came from getting married.

Class of 2021:

Now we come to 2011, the year I moved to San Francisco and joined the tech industry. This was my first job where I had some real disposable income, so I start to have a few more things from this period onward.

Crate & Barrel Blue Bowls – When I moved to San Francisco, I needed some dishes so I picked up a set of two place settings at Crate & Barrel. When I got married we got new dishes, a set of 8, which we have since expanded a bit. These two bowls remain in service though. They are deeper and the perfect size for my morning granola or evening ice cream.

Patagonia R3 Wetsuit – Most wetsuits before this one only lasted me a season or two but this one has held up for a decade. To be fair, that whole decade involved less surfing than some of the prior years (like the one when I lived two blocks from the beach), but nonetheless, the wetsuit lives on and keeps me warm and that is amazing. I have a feeling Patagonia will feature prominently on this list in the coming years – both because their gear is built to last, and because I now have a decent bit of it. (Those two things are definitely related). I think this wetsuit was the first Patagonia thing I ever had and now I hardly go a day without at least one Patagonia item on.

IKEA Green Carpet Rug – I would not have expected anything from IKEA to make this list. Most things bought there aren’t designed to last more than a few years. This carpet-material rug has lasted through a few houses though. It is simple and serves its purpose of being softer than the hardwood floor, hard to beat that as long as it holds up.

Observations:

1) Most of the things are name brand. I’m not sure that is because most things I own are from a brand name company as much as it is because those things were built to last and that is why the brand has a good reputation. I’ve had many things from off-brand companies over the years, but most of that gear, like the companies, seems to lack staying power.

2) Most have needed some sort of repair. As I wrote about the items, almost all of them needed some sort of repair at some point. Some of them were fixed by the manufacturer, but others required my attention. It is possible to build things to last for a long time, but what seems even more important is building things in a way that they can be repaired, so that there aren’t single points of failure.

3) I don’t have any clothes much older than 10 years. It makes sense that I don’t have many clothes older than 10 years because before that I was still growing. Clothing is one thing that seems destined to not last for more than a decade. Even once we’re done growing, clothing wears out and styles change. The few pieces of clothing I have that have lasted tend to be ‘gear’ more than everyday clothes. I don’t know that this has to be a problem, but it is something to think about when buying clothing.

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