Bad Business Breakdown

In 2015, my mom decided to have her house painted and new flooring installed. She was still working at the time and was trying to “get the house in order” so that she wouldn’t have to deal with a lot of costly maintenance and repairs when she retired the following year. It was a good thought, but a bad idea – then and now.

Water damage underneath the bathroom floor.

The painter she hired was a basket-case, showing up at noon each day only to spend most of her time crying over her husband while she missed entire sections of the wall and trim and splattered paint on the cabinets. I remember my mom sitting her down and telling her that she was the messiest painter she’s ever seen. And the carpet folks – well, we suspected they were cutting corners but could never prove it until recently – when a bubble appeared in the linoleum in the guest bathroom and the “handyman” we called discovered the toilets had not been properly re-installed on top of the new flooring. Over time, a slow leak had rotted the subfloors and the linoleum in both bathrooms!

At first, my mom took it in stride, deciding to use this disaster as a chance to upgrade the 30-year-old toilet and vanity top in the guest bathroom. That’s where the nightmare really begins. She hired a handyman from an ad in our local Clipper magazine. His name was Mark and I was there with her when he quoted the price on the repairs. I thought it was outrageous and even said so, but my mom was not deterred. She wanted it done and she wanted it done soon. Over the next 3 weeks, Mark spent about 18 actual hours in the bathroom. He even took a week-long vacation in the middle of the project, leaving the toilet sitting in the bathtub. When he finished up, the cost of the repair was nearly doubled, and the list of new problems was longer than the original. Angie and I spent the better part of Friday afternoon trying to get the new light fixture to sit flush to the wall so that it would actually hold the weight of the light bulb without leaning forward. Then on Sunday, while my mom was mopping, she discovered an entire area behind the toilet where the floor is missing. Not the linoleum, the floor beneath it! The vinyl is simply flapped over an open space in the plywood.

I would love to spend the rest of this post talking about how the man who owned the flooring store stepped up to fix the problem his poor workmanship caused, but I can’t. He blew us off and told my mom that I was mean because I threatened to leave a negative review if he didn’t at least come look at the floor. I’d love to say that my mom’s homeowner’s insurance is taking care of it but again, that’s not the case. I’d love to hand out kudos to Mark for being a professional and fixing his mistakes, but as of today, I can’t get him to return my call either. So, what I will say is this…

I hate dealing with bad businesses!

I know not all businesses are bad but, honestly our experiences over the past three years have all been less than good…a lot less in some cases! From crappy landlords and real estate agents passing off shoddy work as a “beautifully renovated” home to a brand-new kayak falling apart within 30 minutes of hitting the water and a car dealership mechanic rewiring the car completely backwards when they were only supposed to take care of an airbag recall. (The car unlocked when it was in drive and locked when it was parked, and the door chime rang the entire time the door was shut. It took a month to get them to fix this problem. It wasn’t their fault, after all.) Yes, I am a bit frustrated with this situation.

But it’s not just local businesses. Last year alone, some of the biggest and supposedly most trusted companies in America were accused of bad business practices – Wells Fargo, Samsung, Equifax, Apple, and Uber among them. How can we trust anyone to provide a quality product when it’s so easy to get away with not doing so?

I truly believe that we’ve come to accept poor workmanship as a given. As I was searching for an image to use as a header for this post, I Googled “bad contractor” and was immediately inundated with photos, stories, memes, and even a couple of TV shows on the subject. It left me with the distinct impression that the bad far outweighs the good in the world of home improvement and honest contractors are like unicorns – imaginary or rare, at best. It’s sad, and it leaves me resolute about being more self-reliant and more vocal. Bad businesses shouldn’t break us down, when we are the ones with the power to break them.

As consumers, one recourse we have when bad things happen is to use our voice. We can report the bad business to the Better Business Bureau and the State’s Department of Commerce, write a negative review, go to the media, or sue in civil court. (I’m not a fan of civil suits though. Most folks spend more money in court than it costs to have the problem fixed by someone else and the time involved only prolongs the stress. But it is an option.) So today, along with this post, I’ll be writing a complaint to the BBB and a couple of negative reviews on the local and nationally affiliated businesses that we had the displeasure of dealing with. I hope that in calling out the people who have done wrong, I can impact their business in a way that they understand – by deterring future customers.

Besides our voices though, we each have the capacity to employ two even greater weapons – learning to do more on our own and withholding our hard-earned dollars from businesses that don’t deserve them. You may think that you don’t have the skills to remodel a bathroom, and maybe you don’t, but we all have the skills to pick up the phone or make a post on Facebook asking our true friends for recommendations of real people they trust. And we all have access to the Internet, which is great way to learn things you never thought possible before. How do you think Angie and I fixed that light fixture?? Yep, Google!

Have you ever felt ripped off by a business? What did you do to remedy the situation?

That’s Not Garbage!

For the past 7 months, we have been trying to raise awareness of the amount of food that is wasted in our community. We’ve attempted to rescue as much usable food as we can from the grocery store dumpster next door and have posted those finds on this blog. We’ve shared that food (when we can) with those in need. We’ve conditioned ourselves to shop the reduced-to-clear bins first at the grocery store and ugly produce always has a home in our refrigerator. We’ve volunteered with organizations that directly fight both food waste and hunger and we’ve attended educational events on the subject. We’ve talked about food waste and shared our dumpster diving stories with almost anyone who would listen. And maybe, to a small degree, it’s working.

Or perhaps, we’ve just encouraged more folks to forage that particular dumpster 🙂

There’s still quite a bit of food being tossed out next door, but the overall volume is much less than it was last year, or even just a few months ago. It’s been this way since they reopened after their remodel. I’d love to say that it will stay this way but from experience, we know that the summer months are usually lighter than the winter months on waste anyway. My guess would be that the grocery store probably orders less fresh produce in the summer when it is available locally. Less produce ordered means less produce to toss out when it doesn’t sell. Only time will tell as to whether my theory holds true or not.

In the meantime, we’ve turned our attention [once again] to another area of waste – consumer goods. Having lived the past decade in various apartments in Colorado, Florida, and Tennessee, we’ve noticed there’s one thing they all have in common. Residents have no qualms about discarding good, usable clothes, furniture, household and sporting goods, and electronics with their trash. Florida was the worst, though you’ll probably question that statement once you read on. In Florida, we found 2 bicycles, countless garbage bags full of clothing, 2 storage ottomans, the Paula Deen skillet that we use every day, lots of storage containers, and a brand-new camping stove, among many, many other things. It seemed that every other day we were picking up something from the trash area to take to the thrift store.

Since moving to TN, the two dumpsters next to our building have yielded 2 brand-new blankets, a book of collectable coins, a child’s kitchen playset, 2 ride-on toys, a hammer, a wrought-iron flower stand, several flowerpots, lamps and more lamps, and a few dozen storage totes and bins.

Just last week, we picked up 2 wooden pallets, 2 lamps, a clock radio, 4 men’s dress shirts, 3 ties, a computer keyboard, and a brand-new neck massager.

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There’s no denying the thrill of finding good stuff in the garbage. It’s almost like finding money on the ground (oddly, that happens a lot to us too – I just found $5 at the park yesterday). But this is no cheap thrill. Americans spend $12 billion a year on clothing and $206 billion a year on consumer electronics. With consumerism comes its inevitable byproduct – waste. When you buy something new, whatever it replaced (along with whatever is broken, no longer in fashion, no longer needed, or no longer desired) is usually discarded. Sadly, only 22% of clothing and 29% of electronics are recycled, so most end up in landfills. In fact, every year, 10.5 million tons of clothing, and 2.4 million tons of electronics are sent to landfill. This is where the items we found last week would be right now if we hadn’t rescued them.

We took 90% of the items we found to Goodwill. We kept the clock radio and lamp. When we arrived at the drop-off location, we were struck with a terrible sight. Rows and rows of collection bins lined the street outside the store. It was as if everyone within a 2-mile radius had cleaned out their closet or garage and brought their clutter to Goodwill. Considering everything I said above, you might be thinking, “this seems like a good thing…at least it’s not in the dumpster.” But…I started to wonder…just as it also started to rain, just what happens to this good, usable stuff if the store can’t sell it? Or worse, what happens if it’s ruined by the rain before they can get it inside?

As long as we live in a disposable society, the question of what to do with used goods is always going to be an issue. I don’t foresee a time when we pass the dumpster without seeing something in it that shouldn’t be. And with the Goodwill no longer seeming like the best option (for us, at least), what can we do?

Angie and I have been tossing around a few ideas lately. Here are some of the better ones:

  • Research other local non-profit agencies that accept donations for actual client use and pass along any rescued goods to those places. Example – we could have given the shirts and ties to the Rescue Mission for their workforce program.
  • Resell our rescue finds on eBay, OfferUp, etc. and donate any proceeds to charities we already support or give them away on FreeCycle.
  • Store our rescue finds until we have enough to either have a yard sale (donating the proceeds to charity) or host an annual “free store” where people in the community can take what they need.

There are positives and negatives with all of these options – including the fact that storing anything goes against all that we believe in as minimalists – but just like food rescue, there has to be a way to get these usable items into the hands of people who will actually continue to use them (at least for a little while longer). Are we crazy? Are we just prolonging the inevitable (stuff ending up in landfill anyway)? Or do you think we’re onto a good idea here? I’d love to hear your input and ideas.