Value Remains

Temporary kitchen serving cafeteria at Norris townsite, November 1933

I've decided to start a campaign to reclaim the meaning of the word "value".  It is an idea that we all understand, but is very difficult to define. I think this is why it has been so easy to co-opt.  I consider the meaning of the word value to mean something's intrinsic worth relative to the  demand of obtaining, or maintaining, that thing. 

A personal belief that one maintains despite the pressures of the outside world. A work of art that has inspired countless people and been preserved through centuries. A cast iron skillet bought at a hardware store that gets better and better, but only if you take care of it. A grandfather's journal from World War II which sailed across oceans, was sheltered from bombs and bullets, and carried through all the years of his life.  These are things of value.

The math teacher's breifcase.
The math teacher's breifcase.

Value does not mean a cheap deal. I'm tired of seeing things that are labeled "value brand", "great value", "value sized". When you begin to think about value in terms of its real meaning then you have to question where the deal really is. If you are willing to sacrifice next to nothing for something then it must be worth next to nothing. So is it really such a great deal to get a great price on something that is nearly worthless. To say it in another way, "value is a function of hard work and ingenuity rather than the product of financial acrobatics, clever arbitrage or casino capitalism." (from the Rustbelt Almanac)

Nor is value created by paying a high price. Does a plain white t shirt have a greater value just because it cost $120 (sorry Kanye)? Is a high-end sports car valuable? To a banker? To a single dad? To a carpenter? Value is not a function of cost alone but a reflection of cost versus intrinsic worth. 

Fads will come and go. Sticker shock and impulse-buys will get paid-off or used up. Many things will quickly pass through our lives, but it is the things of value that stick with us. Yes, you might have to work for them. Old leather boots need saddle soap and conditioning. A classic Mustang is going to spend some time on blocks getting fixed. An old cookbook has to be handled with kid gloves and protected from stains. Personal convictions will have to be reenforced and rallied when the tide is contrary. Trends will wane,  bills will be paid-off, what is hot today will fizzle tomorrow, and cheap deals will be quickly used up and forgotten. Things of value are those which we endeavor to carry with us. When the price is paid, it is value that remains.

I try to keep this idea a constant in my life. When I'm designing something I always try to ask myself if I'm responding to a trend or will this be something that will still be relevant decades from now. Not only does this apply to the things I produce but also in the way I live. I try to think not only in terms of "are the sacrifices I make equal to the life I am living", but also "am I living a life equal to the sacrifices that I am making for it". It is through this filter that I am able to figure out how to invest myself in the things that are really of value to me and avoid the things that seemed really important at the time but weren't. What are the things that you value?