Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Idea #6: Fix It

I grew up in a disposable world where objects are not meant to be kept. The time and money required to fix things makes throwing them out the more reasonable option.  My in-laws have had the same toaster since they were married in 1957.  We've been married since 2003 and are on our third. I think this is probably a bad thing.

This month, an object lesson for me:  The year that our second was due to be born, I asked for a watch for my birthday. I was a tad obsessive about keeping track of breastfeeding and having a timing device within sight at all times seemed required.  I wore said watch for about 14 months before something sad happened and it kind of gave up.  Over the next months, it moved from the Find A New Battery pile to the Someone Should Put That Shelf to the I Can't Throw It Away Drawer.

Last week, I found it.

For almost two years, I had managed without it but when I saw it, I remembered how much I liked it, and how handy it is to have a watch on.  I remembered how much I use "What time is it?" as an excuse to check my phone which most often turns into quickly checking email, and then facebook and then a quick round of brickbreaker and What? you want dinner??  Yeah, that happens.

Maybe a watch would help. I should get a new one, I thought. Until I remembered the part where I'm trying to be more thoughtful about these things.

Turns out there are watch repair people who do more than change batteries.  One of them is tucked away in the corner of the Bay, and helpfully told me a quick fix of the hands was all that was required and we'd be back in business. Thirty-five dollars and seven days later, I've got a me a new watch.

Except it's not new. It's the same one as before, obviously.  But fixing it was new.  To me. 

My in-laws' toaster hasn't lasted 50 years because it's so awesome and has never broken.  It has lasted because when it breaks, Pops takes a day or two to figure out what's wrong with it, and then he fixes it.  Sure he's retired and has time and (insert reason why he can do what we can't here), but he fixed it when he was working. He fixed it when he didn't know how.  But he found time and he figured out how, because it was still mostly fine and that's the kind of man he is.

This may in part tie back to the last post on doing work I would prefer not to do. I am part of a generation of people who would prefer not to spend time or money on menial work like fixing things when we can in one fell swoop replace and upgrade.  No broken, no old, no out-of-date.  New! Shiny! Amazing!  We are raising children who won't even know that these things can be fixed, never mind know how to fix them themselves. Isn't this kind of terrible?

So I think I'm going to try looking at things with a longer view. I'm going to give our objects as long a life as I can.  I'm going to find people who know what I don't and can fix what I can't and see if that doesn't maybe just undermine a culture that has made not only broken objects, but broken people and broken relationships tossable.

I'm going to work towards being a keeper-longer fixer-upper.

Occupy Me.

IDEA #6 Response:
What objects have you found a way to keep around a bit longer by fixing them instead of replacing them? Who knows how to fix stuff that most of us throw out?


  1. If you have a suitcase that needs a new zipper I know where to go! In Calgary and Vancouver. Most of your new blog has made me want to run to Walmart, this fixing one and doing things myself instead of paying others... I do those ones.

  2. Sadly, we had to replace our microwave recently. It broke after about 18 months and when I took it to the repair shop, the guy said it wasn't worth fixing (he actually wouldn't do it). I looked into buying a new one but spending more money on it, thinking I'd got a crap microwave because I only spent $50 on it. But no, it turns out that throwing more money at a microwave gets you more gadgets that will break or never get used because all I want is to press 'start' and have it warm things. So we went without a microwave for 3 weeks because I felt so bad about buying a new one. I realized I could absolutely live without the microwave as long as I thought ahead a little more about what I would feed the kids, how I would do leftovers etc. I even realized I would even eat and drink less without it (less hot chocolates when I have to warm milk on the stove). I pitched the idea of going without it to Phil. He was aghast. We could not live without a microwave, at least until we don't need to heat cubes of much anymore. I allowed him to overpower me on this decision but the fact that we think we NEED a microwave is just a little testament to how we need a whole new way of thinking about convenience and how much pointless waste is caused by our 'need' for it. Having said all of that, Phil, who works in this sort of thing, says that microwaves are a very energy efficient way of heating things and it's better to use that than have to heat the oven more often. WHO KNOWS?

    By the way, on a similar note, my dishwasher is leaking again. What time is Scott coming over, in the spirit of this 'fixing things' idea?

  3. Oh yeah, I meant to say something constructive about this too. Who could we write to to complain about shitty appliances? My grandparents had the same fridge for 35 years, so I too know it's possible. MPs? Manufactureres?? Clearly it's in the latter's economic interest to continue selling us crap that's going to break in a couple of years, so possibly not them. What do you think?

  4. I need a new zipper for a suitcase Ellen....where do I go? (Vancouver)

  5. Chelsea! Leslie's Luggage & Handbag Repair
    185 West Broadway, Vancouver 604-872-4858
    Total hole in the wall. They fixed the zipper, didn't even need to replace it! I've got many years more out of that fix so far.

  6. Last May our fridge stopped working. When the repairman told us it would be $800 to fix, my husband was in his car on the way to buy a new one before the repairman left our house. I, however, who has been accused of being 'old-school' far more than I am comfortable with, was sick to my stomach at the thought of buying a new fridge when our old one had not even turned 5 yet. Not only did I know the new fridge wouldn't cost 'only $1000' as my husband promised but the thought of a giant fridge ending up in a landfill bothered me to the core. I didn't win this one and I now own a $3000 fridge I will most certainly be leaving to my grandchildren. (turns out fridges don't cost $1000 and they don't all fit through small kitchen doorways - I had to talk my husband out of a kitchen reno at that point). After all was said and done and the new fridge was on it's way to our house, my husband looked at the old fridge a little more closely and realized with the $78 part he found on ebay he would be able to fix the fridge himself...unfortunately it was too late as the new fridge would have set us back $600 in re-stocking fees and my head was about to blow off from feeding a family of 4 out of a beer fridge in our garage for 4 weeks. So the old fridge sits under our deck with the part from ebay perched on top, and one day it will work again and I will put it on craigslist for $78 or give it away to someone because there is value to me in knowing that it is not in a landfill.
    Keep on writing Alison! There is truth in everything you write (even when one doesn't want there to be!) Every word has an impact.

  7. @Ellen, for a while there I was going to quit when i read that my blog makes you want to shop at Walmart. Happily, you've saved one piece of luggage for Chelsea, so I'm going to write another day, but that was close.

    @Sarah, we are now on our third Elite Butter Melter as I like to call it, having burned the previous two past usefulness. Like, with flames, burned. I think the next time I light one on fire, I'll finally concede we no longer need this one-use heat box and just run over to your for our popcorn-improving needs. As for the letter writing, Pops is an avid-letter writer too - I'll ask him what he recommends.

    @Anonymous, your fridge story is a good one! I like your $78 plan and hope you'll let us know when it goes up for sale - perhaps we'll have a buyer for you! And thank you for the encouragement - it is deeply appreciated.

  8. I love fixing things. when I was a kid I used to take apart my toys in order to see how they worked. Often I would learn how to put them back together again. This took the mystery and some of the magic out of certain toys but I usually took them apart after the novelty had worn off anyway. I think it all paid off because nowadays I love to learn how things work, and generally like to fix things. Unfortunately, as technology progresses and things become cheaper to manufacture things become either impossible to fix because they break in unfixable places or they are cheaper to buy new ones. I think it is called designed obsolescence or some such term. On the good side it drives innovation. getting a less than perfect product on the market may allow a company to improve it and stay in business. On the other hand popular Stores like Ikea use it to sell more stuff and create unnecessary demand. Ever try fixing Ikea furniture? Why bother I want that nice one that I saw at Jack's place anyway. Moving companies actually exclude Ikea furniture from their insurance policies. Ikea claims to be an ethical, eco friendly company but they don't seem too interested in dealing with my old furniture that I bought last year and it is out of date or broken or ugly so I take it to the landfill. In fifty years antique furniture will be so rare that we will only see it in museums and lament the long lost carpentry skills that were used to make it.
    I wish I could be more optimistic about this one because I love to fix things and will have a go at fixing anything before I buy a new one. I am sure there are plenty of how to fix it websites for everyday things. here is one I found
    They say necessity is the mother of invention. I would say this is true for fixing things. So if we begin to demand well made stuff and stop buying junk. Deciding maybe, if I can't buy one that can be fixed when it breaks then do I really need it? I personlly prefer to spend a bit more on furniture that is made with real wood(or at least wood veneer) rather than a photo print glued to LDF that scratches off when I accidentally wipe it with a cloth.(I think you are meant to throw them out when they get dusty).So first ask do I need it? Will it last? and can I fix it? before buying stuff.
    Sorry for the rant.
    Ryan L

  9. Sewing machine is all I have to say... besides the obvious of being able make those ripped kneed jeans into shorts the following summer I have been know to sew patches on the corners of my not-so-deep fitting sheets when I've pulled a little to hard trying to get them to fit the mattress.

    LOVING the blog/ideas/communications/insightful words. :)

  10. @Ryan, I like your rant. I like it a lot. And I also like your "Do I need? Will it last? and can I fix it?" guide to purchasing. I'm adding it to my list. Thanks!