Dare to Repair
by Crissy Trask
What would you do if the garbage disposal stopped working, your headphones broke or one of the prongs of an extension cord snapped off? Although each of these problems can be repaired easily and economically, most Americans have become accustomed to replacing the defective item with a brand-new one instead of repairing it.
When we fix things, we extend their useful life and save money. We also stop frittering away valuable resources on superfluous production of replacements. All it takes is a little expert help and the right information.
Compulsively casting off injured possessions for the chance to buy something new is a relatively new behavior in our society. Before we became rabid consumers, repairing stuff was the norm in the United States, as it still is in much of the world. A half-century ago, any American homeowner wouldn’t have thought twice about dragging out the toolbox or sewing machine to put something that had fallen apart back together again.
It all hints at a silver lining in today’s era of waste, stressed resources and economic struggle: The wisdom of our grandparents’ natural fix-it mentality is being resurrected. People are waking up to the logic of shifting from a throw-away society to one that values permanence. Whether we happen to be game for a do-it-yourself project, or prefer to avoid anything to do with tools, tape, thread and glue, resources abound to help us transform what’s in need of a makeover.
Many things around the house can be restored with low-cost replacement parts and basic tools by an interested do-it-yourselfer, and fixing things ourselves can leave us with a genuine sense of satisfaction. We may need to look no further than our local hardware store, but the Internet also serves up a slew of how-to websites, with step-by-step DIY instructions for repairing, refurbishing, cleaning and maintaining common household items.
At Instructables.com, people share what they do and how they do it. Founder and CEO Eric Wilhelm believes that the fiscal advantage of repairing things is just the beginning.
“When you repair something, you have a deeper relationship with it,” says Wilhelm. “Having a connection to things we used to take for granted makes them more valuable to us.”
If our skill, interest or confidence in DIY repairs is lacking, bartering websites help us swap items we own or services we can provide for the services we need. The largest among them, U-Exchange.com, specializes in all types of bartering. Co-founder Barb Di Renzo reminds us that bartering isn’t anything new.
“Bartering is the way our ancestors conducted their daily business and how they survived,” says Di Renzo. “By educating ourselves on the right way to barter, we open ourselves up to many resources and possibilities. It’s a way of taking care of our needs without spending money.” For example, a hairdresser used the website to trade a professional coif for needed computer repairs, without a cent exchanged.
When hiring help to see a project through, it’s smart to do our homework. Resources like ServiceMagic.com match project details to prescreened professionals in a local area and provide contractor profiles, including customer ratings and reviews. David Lupberger, Service Magic’s home improvement adviser, stresses the importance of customer feedback, “The bar for customer service in construction is set so low that it is invaluable to know we are hiring a contractor who will return phone calls, show up on time and meet or exceed our expectations.”
Once we have a short list of contractors we feel good about, the experts at 411HomeRepair.com recommend obtaining three estimates, or bids, for the project. Before hiring any contractor, always verify that they are licensed (if required), bonded and insured.
Spurred by necessity and conscience, new generations are waking up to the eco sense and common sense of maintaining things to make them last. Our future looks brighter because of it.
Crissy Trask, the author of It’s Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living, is a freelance writer and green lifestyle consultant based in Washington state. She can be reached at [email protected]