The other day, a piece my shower handle cracked off. It didn’t bother me. The shower handle still worked. It just looked a little funny.
My girlfriend thought it looked less “funny” and more “totally and utterly broken.” She thought we might need a new shower handle. I proclaimed that I would fix it myself. She said, “Fantastic!” But she knew I wouldn’t, so she ordered a new shower handle online. When I learned of this lack of faith, I was a little bummed. But then I thought about it a little more, and it made sense.
I suppose I do have a history of bold claims and little follow-through. I’m like the sixth-graders who run for school president and promise to lengthen recess even though they have zero power to make that happen.
I’ve offered to sew up holes in dress shirts even though I’ve never touched a needle and thread. I’ve boldly stated that I would sand an old table even though I’m not sure what sanding even does or if it applies to tabletops. (You sand it and then… paint it? Maybe?)
It goes without saying that I don’t actually do this stuff. I say I will, and I even buy books like “Home Improvement for Dummies,” but nothing ever actually gets improved. Given all that, my girlfriend wasn’t questioning my abilities. She was being a realist, and she didn’t want to live with a broken shower handle.
A few days later, the new handle arrived. I unboxed it and stared at it. Then, something changed in me. It was like I was looking at the physical manifestation of my lack of effort and determination. That 6-inch piece of plastic felt like it was mocking my ability to perform basic human functions. I felt lazy. The box might as well have come with a 64-ounce soft drink, a candy bar, and one of those hover chairs used by the futuristic blob people in the Pixar film Wall-E.
I proceeded to do something profound (by my standards). I went to the hardware store, bought some Super Glue, and put the broken shower handle back together. It was something most 3-year-olds could have done, but it felt like a big deal to me. I felt invigorated.
Turns out there has been a big missing component in my quest to live a financially responsible, mindful, and ecologically friendly lifestyle: My inability to fix up and reuse my things. Sure, I could upgrade a computer and keep using it, but the idea of actually fixing something? Wasn’t happening. Handymen and plumbers look more like sorcerers from where I’m sitting.
A Free Solution
I’ve been actively trying to change my consumerist ways, and simple things like applying Super Glue to a broken handle are a step in the right direction. For any would-be handyman like me who just doesn’t have the time and energy to commit to fixing and refurbishing, there is an increasingly popular solution: community organized repair events.
These are free community events that are popping up all over the country where you can bring in old or broken items and get help fixing them. Rather than tossing that broken lamp, you can spruce it up and use it for years to come.
What better way to combat planned obsolescence, excessive consumerism, and the endless onslaught of disposable goods that are filling our landfills and littering our world?
This growing movement has its roots in the Netherlands, where in 2009 a local sustainability advocate named Martine Postma started the first “Repair Cafe.” Since then, the idea has exploded in popularity. There are now 850 Repair Cafes in 20 countries.
The Bolton, Mass., chapter is a particularly compelling success story. Their popular drop-in clinics have inspired other groups of Boston-area tinkerers, such as the Somerville Tool Library, to host events called “Fixer Fairs,” where people are encouraged to take in everything from broken toasters to non-functioning staplers to mini-fridges on the fritz.
A cool thing about Boston’s Fixer Fair and other Repair Cafes is the emphasis on not just fixing the items, but supplying people with knowledge as well. They hope to empower people to be more proactive in fixing things themselves. It’s hard to believe it’s all free, but that’s part of the ethos of the whole movement.
Free ‘Fixer Fairs’ and drop-in repair clinics help people give new life to broken appliances or mend old clothing that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Photo: Repair Cafe