Sometimes the Best Upgrade Is a Downgrade

6 min read

I am excited to share the following guest post by Cubert from Abandoned Cubicle. Cubert has been sharing articles on personal finance, early retirement, and purpose-driven living since late 2016. His goal is to leave the rat-race behind in 2019. Today he shares how the best upgrades in life are often downgrades, from small things like coffee makers to big-ticket items like houses and cars.

Ever get frustrated when some new piece of technology fails you? I’d be willing to bet you don’t dance a jig for joy. I’ve had my run-ins of late. Painful.

You think of how much you spent on that new washer, new car, new phone, tablet, or coffee maker and wonder, who the bleep is producing this absolute garbage? Do the manufacturers plan for obsolescence, by inserting little time bombs that explode about a year after the warranty expires? Sure seems that way. I’m here to tell you that in most cases, the best upgrades in life are typically downgrades.

The Coffee Maker We Despise

Do you own a Keurig? Well, a lot of people do and they swear by the convenience. Some even swear by the flavor, but if it were me, the swearing would sure as hell NOT be on the favorable flavor side. Strike two: Those little pods are not biodegradable and an analysis has revealed that pods produced to-date circle the globe at least twice by now.

Strike 3? That shit comes out way too hot! So add it up: Bad taste, bad for the environment, and too hot for the tongue. All for the sake of convenience? Meh. Throw that Keurig to the curb. Don’t even give it away because that’s just mean and irresponsible. Besides, as an added bonus, Keurigs have been shown to harbor all sorts of micro-organisms (e.g., bacteria) in their inner-workings. Lovely.

The downgrade of choice: Aero-Press

We couldn’t be happier with our Aero-Press here in the Cubert household. Take two plastic tubes and press. Boom. Done. The whole process takes about three to five minutes, 90% of which is simply waiting, so you can get your Cheerios into the bowl and even dump the milk on ‘em, or, twiddle your thumbs.

Best thing about Aero-Press – it’s 100% non-mechanical. No batteries, no plug-ins. Simply add grounds, water, wait, and press.  

You control the temperature of the water based on how long you nuke it. You control the quality of the grounds (fresh ground from whole beans is essential – and I’ll concede the grinder is a mechanical aspect of this method.) The flavor is great, and the environment (your garden) will thank you for recycling the compostable grounds and filter.  


The mighty Aero Press. Warning: No affiliate links here!

Appliances That Drive Us Absolutely Crazy

Woe is the household with the latest and greatest appliances. Stainless steel cladding that soon gets covered in finger prints and dents. Such a joy to keep (well, try to keep) clean.

That fridge with the fancy water and ice dispenser built into the door? Just another mechanical nuance waiting to eventually malfunction and require repair down the road.

Not to mention the other joy of stepping in puddles of water from ice that gets shot-gun blasted at you and winds up under the fridge to melt later. Smooshy socks. Thank you, Whirlpool.

And then there’s that fancy washing machine, painted in high-gloss forest green (something we’d never choose for a car, but for a washer, it somehow works?) Forget about it. The latest and “greatest” has so many bells and whistles that something is bound to fail sooner than later. Steam function? Tap cold water vs. Eco-cold water? Right. I so need that.

And if you think the front load washing machine is “all that”, just wait until the mold and muck leaves its signature ring on the door seal. You might (like me) consider the alternative – the high efficiency top loader.

But be careful. Absent the traditional agitator, these things are known to either fly off like a helicopter or continuously cycle in water ($$$) during a never-ending spin cycle, until the load balances.


This is what happens when you leave a modern top-loader unsupervised. (Courtesy ABC11-Raleigh Durham.)

It seems the only reliable appliances anymore are dryers and microwaves. Dishwashers are okay. But even those trusty boxes are getting overburdened with excessive features, also known as “failure points.”

The downgrades of choice: A basic freezer-top fridge and an old school top-load washer, complete with agitator.

Talk to any appliance repairman or repairwoman. He or she will tell you the same thing. Keep it simple! The more features you pack into a device, the more likely something will break, making reliability a liability.

A basic design fridge with the freezer on top is easier on the compressor (a common failure point) because the compressor is farthest from the freezer. In that configuration, the compressor is at the bottom of the unit, keeping all that heat away from the freezer. Makes sense, right?

Consequently, you get better energy efficiency as well. Oh, and ditch the fancy door dispenser for a cleaner look. Besides, the water out of those door dispensers tastes like crap anyhow. And let’s put an end to those smooshy socks!

For a washing machine, you can’t go wrong with a Whirlpool top loader, complete with agitator. These machines have been around forever. Yes, they require more water. But when you consider the waste of getting a new machine on a more frequent basis, the little bit of extra water is a small price to pay.

The Biggies: Houses and Cars

When it comes to the biggest of the big-ticket, going as small as comfortably possible is never a bad idea. With a home, there’s a lot to maintain.

The time and money you invest are compounded with each story and acre you add. Much like an appliance with too many features, a large house can overwhelm with unused space, and, more points of failure (e.g., more circuits, faucets, and shingles to replace.)

For the family car, you’ve got lots of options these days to go nuts on features. We now have mini-vans and SUVs with automatic doors and back-out cameras. Bluetooth, lane alerts, and even auto-pilot are becoming more commonplace.

All-wheel drive is sold as a cure-all for safety when all you really need is good driving skills and a decent set of snow tires. Keep the Camaro in the garage during winter, please.

Ultimately, all this extra crap adds up to more trips to the stealership to repair something gone amiss. Ask yourself if you really NEED those features, especially when you’re biking to work now anyhow.

The downgrades of choice: A single story house < 2,000 square feet on a lawn you can mow in under 45 minutes. For a car, you can’t go wrong with a used Honda Fit.

As a landlord, I love our little Fit. I can throw an extension ladder or a table saw in there without a hitch. She’s a beaut, and a very cost-effective one at that.

We love our little house. The convenience of having our twin infants in the same room, on the same level as the rest of the living space was huge. Granted we would’ve got a lot more exercise going up and down stairs for a few years during the diaper changing stage, but I’m okay saving that energy for other pursuits.


Maybe a little too small? (Courtesy of

Anything Else?

Look around. I bet you could come up with a dozen things in your home (or on your person) that are over-engineered or built on brittle technology. Our phones are getting clunkier and hotter, thanks to the demands we put on the Li-Ion battery technology. Some even explode.

Televisions have become so large that the supposed “high definition” gets pixelated, unless you plunk down more money on super high definition sets, and that assumes you’re getting super high def service!

Worse? You get nauseated being so close to your parents’ or in-laws’ brand new 60” viewing experience. Do you really need a 60” screen set to in-store demo “stun mode” to watch CSI Mayberry??? Jesus.

Convection oven got your attention? Don’t need it. Another failure point. E-Assist bike? Unless you have a disability, get out there and pedal with your natural engine my friend.

In our house, we’ve still got our poor upgrades lingering. The Keurig is long gone, but we still have the bottom freezer stainless fridge, all dinged up and finger printed.

Our washing machine continues to give us fits. Don’t ever get a top load HE washer without an agitator. Terrible POS. Consumer Reports really F’ed it up on their review of this LG product. A class action lawsuit is evidence of that. 

What downgrades would you consider, to save time and money (and shed some hedonic adaptations?)

Be sure to check out more of Cubert’s writing over at Abandoned Cubicle and connect with him on social media via Twitter


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35 Replies to “Sometimes the Best Upgrade Is a Downgrade”

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to guest post on Four Pillar Freedom, Zach! We spent some time this weekend wiping those fingerprint smudges off that bloody fridge. Upgrade methinks NOT.

  2. “That fridge with the fancy water and ice dispenser built into the door? Just another mechanical nuance waiting to eventually malfunction and require repair down the road.”
    Our fancy SS french door ice dispenser from our pre FIRE days just stopped working less than 12 hours ago and that was my exact thought. It would have been half the price for something less fragile dang it!!!

    Great post sir.

  3. Thanks, Lily! Say, with your profile pic, is that the box your fridge came in? You know, those fridge boxes make excellent cardboard school buses. Best upgrade of all!

  4. This post is funny and true. I’m in no rush to get smart appliances for just this reason. We have the fancy stainless steel fridge with bottom freezer, but at least we don’t have the water dispenser. This makes me feel better about it! We didn’t get one because our friends’ fridge had a water line with a slight leak that eventually destroyed their floor.

    But +1 for hatchback love. We have two hatchbacks now–they are just so practical.

    1. Thanks, Frieda!
      Funny how we can manage to survive without that dispenser, right??
      Oh, and I’m familiar with the damage a fridge can do to a floor. A simple crack in the drip pan doomed ours…

  5. Yes! When our 2-year old dryer quit, the repairman couldn’t fix it and referred us to a guy who sells refurbished older ones: better mechanics, thicker steel, better paint job. $150 out the door, works GREAT. Plus, we were given a free old washer drum that’s going to be a fire ring! The repairman told us, in glancing at our POC also 2-year old top load washer, “When that breaks, don’t call me.”

    1. Har!!!
      We must have the same repairman! 🙂
      At least you got a sweet fire ring out of the deal. Most times, we’re just watching the old hunk of junk go bye bye in the back of the delivery truck. Good riddance!

  6. We deliberately skipped the ice maker and water dispenser when we bought are fridge 8 yrs ago. In previous house the ice maker led to repair bills (warrented except for labor) and a fridge that was never quite the same after the work. A headache we knew to advoid.

  7. Hey Cubert & Zach,

    I mostly agree with you, Cubert. I’ve still got a simple, top-loading washer and ancient dryer the previous owner of our house left us, and my clothes don’t stink. I also love a simple toaster.

    Sometimes I think the pressure to sell stuff leads to companies existing in this never-ending cycle of pointless “upgrades”, which leads to all sorts of waste. As consumers, it’s important to make an effort to determine which upgrades are really helpful or necessary, and which really aren’t.


    1. Keep rocking those older, simpler machines, Miguel. You won’t regret it. The new stuff is loaded with failure points. Your clothes won’t care, until you’re stuck wearing stinky ones after the first outage. 🙂

      I like your comment. That principle applies to so much these days, especially cell phones and tablets. At least laptops are starting to become more commoditized, and dare I say reliable??

  8. Great article Cubert and Zach! I was recently faced with issues on my top loading agitator powered washing machine. Some seals had started leaking on the transmission and caused the clutch to start slipping (yes I am talking about a washing machine and not a car 🙂

    I thought this might be a good time to look at “upgrading” to a new high efficiency machine. When I found that the new units were typically $500+ and plagued with problems, I had second thoughts.

    I could repair our existing 8-10 year old machine or scrap it and get a new unit. Thinking about FIRE, I wanted to calculate the lifetime water and detergent savings. When I did this, I found that the new washer would likely fail well before the payoff in efficiency! So I did a little research and ended up repairing my existing machine myself with about $50 worth of parts from Amazon. I saved at least $450 and the machine has been running strong for the past 1+ years since I made the repairs. Great success!

    1. THIS. Is exactly the way to go. Nice work – you did your homework, rolled up your sleeves, and saved a boatload of cash.

      I’ve tried countless times to “heal” our HE top loader, including tricks like putting springs on the four corners of the drum to help it avoid balance issues. No dice. Crazy how much water those awful machines wind up using to try balancing the load. So much for HE!!!

    1. VCR? Yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily lump those into the “good old reliable” club. I remember having to adjust the reading head to avoid those little lines across the top. Blu-Ray all the way (or better yet, streaming!)

  9. I read about the Aero press a while back and it sounds good. We don’t have space for it, though. We’ll just stick with a French press for now. It’s good enough.
    A French press as simple as it can get.
    KISS is my mantra nowadays. Complicated designs don’t last.

    1. Dude, if you don’t have room for an Aero-press, you’re living in a match box! LOL. C’mon, Joe! That little kit can fit inside a kid’s lunchbox. 🙂

  10. Yeah buddy, welcome to the AeroPress club!! Been using mine for 5 or 6 years now and it makes the best cup of coffee ever. I use mine at work, I have a $20 basic Mr. Coffee drip for home.

    KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. This is wise advice. My 24 year old fridge just went up two weeks ago and I struggled to find a model that would fit in my eccentric space. Settled on a smaller GE model, but like you said – screw the icemaker/water dispenser stuff. Just another hassle that can break. My sink is 3 feet from my fridge and dispenses water perfectly fine – why do I need ANOTHER water dispenser on my fridge?

    Lastly, my washer and dryer are also both 20+ years old and still going strong. I loathe the day when they’ll need to be replaced since I’m sure it’ll be hard to find ones without bluetooth and digital cameras built in so you can watch your clothes being washed on your 4k big-screen.

    1. Damn those water dispensers!!!

      On the aero-press, do you have a burr grinder for those beans? That might actually be an upgrade worth pursuing. Coffee is the devil.

  11. I have a side loading washer but have to clean it regularly with vinegar and water so it doesn’t develop a musty smell of water settling in. And I have to clean the little filter on the bottom too. If I knew all this, I wouldn’t have bought it.

    1. A-Men, my man. Another tip is to be sure you leave the door open when not in use. So long as the cat doesn’t use it for naps or poops, it’ll help keep the drum and seals dry.

  12. Agree with everything but the car …if you have kids. I just think that a bigger , safer car is worthwhile insurance policy against unforeseen issues and the fit, while a great car, might not be able to handle. Case and point the poor family driving in SC and hit an alligator on I-95, in a Scion. Just wonder if the same thing would have happened if they had a used SUV or even a mini van. On this I agree with the Financial Samurai. Everything else you have down I agree. I have to say when we replaced our Fridge with one w/o a water dispenser it was a pain to have to get the kids water until they could reach it themselves…. 🙂

    1. Fair enough on the Fit! We compromise by having an Outback for family trips. I use the Fit for bops around town when not biking. Thank goodness no gators here in MN! Yet…

  13. I’m with you on the Keurig. The coffee is too hot and it grosses me out to think about all the mold inside of it. We are quite happy using a french press. As for appliances, we’re looking at some reliable, no-frills models for our house. I don’t need 50 different settings on a washing machine when I throw everything in together.

  14. We have a 1600 sq ft home, a top load washer, a 32 inch tv that no one turns on, a pour over coffee maker and a honda civic.

    I think the e-assist bike may be a good idea though. Will definitely beat not taking the bike out at all. Which is what I do now.

    1. Hey, sounds like my house. Keep it sweet and simple. We also have a VCR and a blue ray. It’s alot easier for kids to destroy blue-ray disks as opposed to VCR tapes, Land Before Time for the 147 time I’m looking at you. Plus, like a kid that doesn’t understand what “rewind” means needs a little exposure. Oh and on Honda hatchbacks, like what other car functions as a pick up truck? I once fit a whole couch in my little Honda. Priceless vehicle.

  15. I’m with you on the downgrades. We are purposely getting a smaller place to reduce the mess and clutter and time to maintain. For years, we had a fancy shmancy espresso machine that needed so much TLC that we went back to a French press. I’m so it’s strange for people to want to downgrade when every marketing ad is asking us to upgrade to the latest and greatest, but frankly it’s sometimes too much to deal with. Not upgrading right away has saved me so much money and time and sanity.

  16. Good article! I bought a new iron for $50. It broke down after two uses!! Lost the receipt so sent it to recycle. Replaced it with a thrift store iron from the 1980s for $2. It is going strong and works like nobody’s business! When that breaks down I’ll buy another $2 iron ?

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