Planned Obsolescence vs Perceived Obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence have been behind many of the biggest driving forces in over consumerism, the cause of so much excess pollution, and it is not exactly budget friendly! 

The dictionary defines these concepts with just the single word OBSOLETE....

OBSOLETE adjectiveno longer in use or no longer useful

OBSOLETE verbto make (something) old-fashioned or no longer useful : make obsolete


Have you heard of these two concepts?  You may not be familiar with these exact terms but if you have ever pondered why products are not made like they used to be, then you are very familiar with the concepts. Next time you 'need' to buy something, it may be worth considering which one it falls under, and whether you can shop smarter.

A man named Bernard London is credited with first coining the term "planned obsolescence" with his self-published paper named Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence in 1932. 

One famous example is The Phoebus cartel (sounds ominous already, right?).  Would you believe it was actually a group of leading businessmen from all of the major lightbulb manufacturers who met in 1924 to collectively cut the lifespan of the average light bulb by half?   This group included United States’ General Electric, Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes and eventually led to legal action UNITED STATES v. GENERAL ELECTRIC CO.  


There are a few categories that fall under this one, but all have to do with how long it will be before a product is no longer usable or functional, and how long before you will be required to re-purchase the item to continue to use it.

(and how companies can reduce the usable life of each product to increase the repurchase rate)


Many products do have a natural expiration of functionality, but often we see the quality of these declining to shorten the usable life of products.  ie Shaving Razors, Plastic Pegs.


This one is super annoying!  An intentional effort by companies to make one small part sooo expensive that you are somehow better off purchasing a full brand new item, it just does not make sense!  I don’t care if it’s a phone, a washing machine, a television or whatever….it just does not make sense.


Think of things like hardware and software. System updates, non compatible components, different chargers, batteries that can not be removed, new receiver requirements etc etc.


The perception that a product is no longer useful even when it is, or what we would most easily relate to ‘keeping up with the Jones’.  This is generally aligned with products that are not as simple to expire, encouraging re-purchase even though there is no fault with the product and it is still functional.

Some examples are things like:

  • Flared Jeans - Skinny Jeans
  • Clog Heels - Stiletto Heels
  • The latest iPhone 


Once you are aware of which items are falling under these it becomes much easier to stop the cycle and find alternatives that last longer, pollute less, and save more of your hard-earned cash for the things that really matter to you.

You can do it! Be the change! Shop smarter! 👊


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