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diy repair tools hands

Stop letting corporations get away with shoddy products. Instead, join with others to learn how to repair them, & save money & the world!

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For a year now, I’ve been using a toaster oven with a broken door, because I refuse to give in just because the use of cheap parts have inconvenienced me.

Instead of spending $75 on a new toaster oven, which I can afford to do, I’ve been simply moving my heavy stone pestle-and-mortar against the door to hold it closed. It’s an unsexy solution, but it’s one less appliance in the landfill, and I’m still enjoying toast. If I could “repair” it, I would, but that’s beyond my skill level.

These days, it’s almost an ethical or political act if you make do with something or repair it instead of replacing it.

The last generation

I’m only 41, and I’m probably the last generation that remembers taking appliances in for repairs. Every hood had one of those guys who could repair just about anything just by looking at the thing. You’d walk into his shop and belts, hoses, cables, resistors, and everything would just be hanging all over the shop. You’d see shelves filled with TVs, radios, blenders, toasters — you name it, all with some tag hanging off with a phone number and a name.

I recall hauling our television across town to some guy’s back door, and he’d quote my dad for a new tube bulb and say it’d be ready at the end of the week. We’d be in for board games and playing outside until at least the TV returned and we weren’t in danger of missing Saturday’s Greatest American Hero episode. (Believe it or not!)

The fix-it generation rises

For awhile there, we just tossed everything. After all, we live in a society where it’s now literally cheaper to buy a whole new printer than it is to replace the toner. How does that work? How is it even legal for business to operate like that? Who wins, then? You almost have to be politically and environmentally invested enough to care about replacing the toner rather than just tossing the printer, because hey, who doesn’t like shiny new things, right?

That mix of political and eco consciousness is giving rise to an organization that’s now in 14 countries and growing. The “Repair-It Cafe” is all about getting folks who are competent in fixing these things to gather in an attempt to help others make the repairs needed to all manner of things around the home — from wobbly kitchen table legs to glitching televisions.

The Repair-It Cafe: how it works

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Repair Cafe, Amsterdam.

According to the organization’s website, “Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need.

On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics. Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process.”

What you get out of it

There’s a real sense of empowerment that comes from saying “I’m not gonna let this corporation get away with these shoddy practices, I’m gonna fix that!” or “I could spend the money and justify getting a new bike, but maybe I can save this one and have a sense of accomplishment, too.”

Replacing things, tossing them, it’s understandable in an economy like ours, where everything seems expendable, but stopping the cycle of buying-tossing-buying will pay off in landfills, your self-respect, and in your wallet.

Fostering community

With events like Repair-It Cafes beginning to rise in the world, it fosters community, independence, and confidence. You’ll save money, save the world, and make some friends doing it.

If you don’t have a Repair-It Cafe in your area, why not try starting one up? By turning to schools, churches, and public libraries, you can access communities that might be interested in helping you wrangle all the fix-it-capable citizens around you, and maybe on some sunny summer day this year you can play a part in saving the world in one small, meaningful way.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.