Thursday, March 23, 2023

Our very knowledgeable and reliable appliance repairman recently declared our 24-year-old washing machine to be unfixable. It’s time on this earth is limited. Today anyone might rightly say, “Twenty-four years of service from a major appliance is unheard of…just appreciate the service it gave you and move on.” I would tell anyone that is correct; however, please understand there was a time when a generation of years would be standard for many appliances. In fact, when my husband and I lived in London in the ’90s, I had a job involving, among other things, keeping a library of all the instruction manuals for hundreds of machines and their components made by Philips Components. Customers were encouraged to contact Philips for instruction manuals dating back about 70 years and onward. At that time in England people were encouraged to request manuals to guide them in making their own repairs. Several customers told me they preferred to fix their trustworthy appliance rather than buy a new one of what may have been dubious quality. In other words, I am very familiar with the idea, “They don’t make them like they used to.” These are the words our repairman repeated to us.

In an effort to be an informed consumer, I asked which brands he would recommend. He answered that as a repair person, there are no brands of washing machines out there that he would consider reliable today. Due to frequent changes in technology, dependability and reliability, data would be too short-term to be meaningful. I persisted and asked what brands he would absolutely not purchase. He gave me a list of three. Then I asked if he needed a new washer, what he would buy. He answered he would buy a machine from the same era as ours for a low price—even if he could get only two to three years from it. While we saw the logic in that, my husband and I decided we would buy a new washer.

So began our search for the as-good-as-we-can-get washing machine. Over the years, before my husband and I have made a major purchase, we have organized our thoughts: We research, we shop, we ask questions of people-in-the-know, like sales people and respected friends, and we set a rough date when we should be ready to make our decision. This almost always begins by consulting our revered Consumer Reports magazine. Aside from recommending best models, it informs us what features are available and enables us to sort-order their importance. Happily, we found their most recent article about washing machines is from this year. Note that each major brand offers several models and it is unlikely they will be available everywhere. A person could conceivably walk into a reputable store armed with knowledge from Consumer Reports, only to find the store does not carry the model the magazine praised. We also visit respected websites that review major appliances and snap a picture of any essential info we find from there. This process allows us to consider features we do and do not want. In this case, we are fortunate because we can still use the machine. It just has certain limitations.

Our plan was to comparison shop at three to four stores. To help us remember the many details we would encounter, we planned to take pictures of any washing machine we potentially liked with the informational cards resting on top. Our first destination was a big-box store. There were several people shopping for washing machines/dryers and one sales person. As we shopped, we made sure not to come in close contact with other shoppers. I brought it to my husband’s attention that taped atop a washer was a scrap of paper with the letters “BO” written in pencil. We realized it meant “back order,” not “best offer” (wouldn’t that be fun?).

In the next couple of days, we visited two more major-appliance stores. One had a greeter that offhandedly called from afar, “Hi folks. Anything special you are looking for?” He was just too far away to answer back. At a different store, the greeter wore a mask and was able to stand closer and told us exactly where we would find the washing machines and where to find someone who could help. In the end we did not consult any sales people. The information shown on the cards on each washing machine was very complete. In both stores we were able to study the models and check out the features. My current machine has a hand-wash cycle that I really value and want to have in my next machine. Strangely, we could not find that feature on the new machines. As we shopped, we saw several of the “BO” signs, but these were more professionally presented—printed, not hand written. “Hmmm,” I thought, “why are so many washing machines on back order?”

Our next stop was to a mom-and-pop store in our neighborhood with a solid reputation. Without any hesitation, a masked salesman came over and encouraged our questions and gave us valuable information. He cleared up the mystery of the “BO” signs. Some washing machine manufacturers have switched from producing washing machines to producing items that will help out during the pandemic. We also learned there is no promise when a machine on back order will actually be delivered. After checking his computer, he found there are far more machines on back order than we could tell from visiting the other stores. We also learned from the helpful salesman that a hand-wash cycle is available on only a limited number of models, and he added that he couldn’t remember a customer request the hand-wash feature. This leaves me wondering what people do when they want to wash pantyhose, delicate sweaters or any other item with a hand-wash label. Send them to the dry cleaner? Wash them in the sink? If you know a hack, please email me at [email protected]

The salesman encouraged us to choose a particular, American-made brand that makes nothing but washing machines and dryers and is therefore expert in this arena. Flashback—when I was young and watched game shows, this brand was often included among the prizes. In addition, he told us this machine is not on back order.

Will the organizer and her husband choose the American-made machine available now? Will they choose a nationally known brand that may turn out to be on back order and play Russian roulette with when it will actually be available? Will they do the unexpected and buy a used machine? Will their puppy Shepsi make the installers play with her? For the answers to these and other questions, come back in September.

Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s kosher organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 13 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter clogs, but harmony heals.” Contact Ellen for a complimentary consultation at [email protected]

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