Photo by Agnieszka. Used with permission.

You know this: we live in a disposable culture. We buy clothes and shoes and sometimes even furniture of a low enough quality that they wear out easily and of a low enough price that we can usually replace them instead of mending. If that’s you, don’t feel guilty; we’ve been bombarded with “buy buy buy!” messages all our lives. We’re encouraged not to repair broken goods, and — not to get too hippie rage on you — we end up trapped in a cycle of consumption and destruction.

Most of the loudest messages in our lives are from commercials and pretty faces in magazines telling us what we have isn’t good enough. Did you know that, beginning in the ’90s, the main reason people gave for attending college was to earn more money? It was the first time students didn’t say they went to higher ed to become an authority in their field or help people in distress. And now in the last few years we’ve seen the biggest economic downturn since the Depression, fueled largely by our willingness to buy more than we need.

And that’s how it came to be that mending what you break, repairing your own goods and do-it-yourself culture can be small acts of rebellion. I truly believe the DIY movement can help put the culture’s priorities right again.

Agreeing a bit? Take these small steps now so you can be more prepared to mend the old and broken instead of buying a new thing to use up.

Buy high quality goods

Several reasons: well-built things are less likely to have a screw snap off or rip a stitch, so you won’t be overwhelmed by the things you need to repair. Additionally, as a general rule of thumb, the better the tool/shirt/appliance, the easier it is to repair.

One of our chairs saw too much action during the Airing of Grievances last Festivus. Happily, some wood glue and time in a clamp put him right again.
High quality doesn’t have to mean expensive! Sometimes it means a product is better designed, has fewer moving parts, or is made from higher-quality materials. I bought a steel-tined tiller this spring for twenty bucks: there’s not much that could break on it, and I didn’t drop $150 on a motorized tiller full of bits that could throw a wrench in my gardening plans.

Keep your home stocked for repairs

Put a few tools on your shopping list. If you’ve already got them, take a few minutes to make sure they’re all in the same place:

Keep it organized so you can strike while the iron is hot

By the iron I mean your brain and by hot I mean, when you’re thinking about it. I am SO much more likely to sit down and fix a thing right away if I know the tool I need is in the closet. If I can’t find it, that broken widget will probably end up on my to do list, getting pushed back every day. I’ve had “mend Scott’s jeans” on my list for months because I couldn’t find the right thread on the day he asked me to fixed them.

Do it during downtime

Multitask while you watch TV, wait for a ride, or just feel bored.

Find trusted repairmen.

You want to learn leatherworking so you can repair your dress shoes? I thought not. Ask around, visit Google Places, just keep your eyes peeled for people who can repair what you can’t. When you find them, keep ’em on a centralized, easy-to-find list. And let us know! We want ’em in our Directory!

Finally,

Don’t get frustrated by botched fixes

If you’re new to working with your hands, you’re gonna fuck some things up. It’s okay — it happens. Just because we belong to a species which uses tools doesn’t mean we’re born knowing how to use them. A fuck-up — or a feared-fuck up — is a good time to reach out to your handyman mentor. I call my dad a lot to ask his advice on projects.

A good start? The best part of all this is: there’s no better feeling than knowing you fixed a thing, so get to it! And leave me a note on your proudest repair in the comments!

Comments on Repair as rebellion

  1. My dad made sure I had my own tools when I left home, a good Craftsman set (it’s the Sears brand, and honestly I think they were made better in my dad’s time. Still good though.) He also always let me help with stuff he worked on and I learned a lot that way. I’ve recently done tons of DIY furniture refurb (which I love because I can personalize it so much), but the thing I’m actually proudest of is replacing the broken handle on the back liftgate of my minivan. The dealership wanted $350, and I fixed it with a $15 part and a YouTube video. I think DIY and repair is much easier now with the internet for instruction and sourcing hard-to-find parts.

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