How to Repair Your Stuff so You Buy Less of It

We obsess over the wrong metrics. A national fixation with productivity relegates still-useful items to overburdened landfills because we feel we’d waste our precious time repairing a broken widget when we can simply buy an inexpensive replacement. If we took into account the true cost of this linear consumption—the millions spent on building landfills; the leachate or methane emissions these discarded items generate in the landfill; the pollution generated by the extraction of virgin materials to create the replacement item; manufacturing emissions; shipping emissions and so on—that new widget becomes prohibitively expensive.

Picking up a sewing needle, screwdriver or saw to repair a broken item is a small act of small rebellion against throwaway culture.

Pre-repair: take care of pre-existing stuff

Make your stuff last longer. Hang your laundry up to dry either on a clothesline outside or on racks inside. You’ll pay less for electricity and your clothes will last much longer. Season your cast iron pans. Don’t leave your knives sitting in the bottom of the sink where they can rust (and cut you).

When things fall apart

Search for repair tutorials

If you don’t know how to mend your item, search online for directions.

  1. YouTube. Whatever you need to repair, you’ll find a video with instructions.
  2. iFixit. Find guides to repair all the things, ask questions in the forum, read the latest news on the progress of right to repair laws and much more. 
  3. Instructables. Find all kinds of projects, like this spaceship chicken coop, but also tutorials on repairing items.
  4. Patagonia Worn Wear. Watch videos or read guides on repairing clothing.
  5. How to darn a sock.” From the website The Spruce, this tutorial provides step-by-step guidance to mend holes in your socks.

Borrow tools from tool libraries to fix your stuff

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a city with a tool lending library, take advantage of it when you need to repair something around your home. You don’t want to buy a jigsaw and scrounge out storage space for it if you’ll use it only once or twice. Search here for a tool lending library near you. 

Or borrow a tool to give it a test run before deciding whether or not to buy it. Before I bought my clean-cooking, portable induction cooker, I borrowed the same model a few times from my library. (Cooking with gas emits pollution similar to the kinds that come out of a car’s tailpipe. Go here for more information.)

A pot of soup cooking on a portable induction cooktop that is sitting on a wooden table
My induction cooker

Pay someone to repair your stuff

You need not do everything yourself. Farm out the repairs you can!

I bought my current pair of Birkenstocks in 2015 from European Cobblery and have had them repaired at the shop four times since then (I wear them practically every day from late winter to fall). First, the cobbler replaced the heels’ soles (maybe I literally drag my feet.). Later, I had the entire sole replaced. I’ve had the corks replaced once. Last month, to my amazement, when one of the straps tore away from the footbed, the cobbler was able to patch it up!

A close up of a repair of a black strap on a Birkenstock sandal. The repaired strap has white stitches on it.

Having my Birks repaired is not inexpensive but it does cost less than buying new ones, I’ve supported a local business and have diverted items from landfill.

If your city, like many, no longer has a cobbler in town, you can buy new parts for Birkenstocks from the company (and several other vendors) and repair your shoes yourself. You’ll find many videos on YouTube showing Birks repairs.

Take your broken items to a repair cafe for fixing

Repair cafes help build community and resiliency while giving useful items a second life and keeping them out of landfills. Rather than dropping your item off and returning to pick it up at a later date, in a repair cafe, you sit with the volunteer repairing it, you explain the problem, you learn a bit about the repair process and you have a social interaction. 

Search here for a repair cafe near you. Some repair cafes that shut down due to Covid have not yet resumed. But please keep an eye out for their return!

If your city doesn’t have a repair café and you’d like to start one, read Repair Revolution: How Fixers Are Transforming Our Throwaway Culture, written by John Wackman, founder of the first repair cafe in New York, and Elizabeth Knight, a community sustainability activist and organizer. This well-researched, wise and inspiring book outlines the history of the repair movement and provides readers with the practical nuts and bolts for launching and operating successful repair cafés in their own communities.

We are better off when we see our own community in the midst of cooperation, creativity, and downright decency, in a place where goals are achieved and positive outcomes are realized.

— John Wackman and Elizabeth Knight

Repair Revolution, by John Wackman and Elizabeth Knight

Each year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the date by which humanity has consumed all the resources that the planet can regenerate in one year. This year, it falls on July 28th. That leaves us nothing to live on from August to December, which means we’ve borrowed against the future. We’re in the red. Our account is overdue. The bill collectors won’t stop calling. You get the idea. Let’s revolt, repair our stuff and help push this day further out.

4 Replies to “How to Repair Your Stuff so You Buy Less of It”

  1. My Birks are older than some people who can now vote. Had them repaired twice, and they are exactly molded to my feet in a really comfortable way!

  2. Reena Kazmann says: Reply

    Shoe Repair Resole Center in Maryland is an online branch of a repair shop I’ve used for 25 years. They can fix anything; more than half their business comes from out of town. I’m still wearing 15 y.o Birks with their help. They also work on Frye, Vibram and MBG etc. plus bags and luggage. Got a question? They are happy to answer questions. 202-232-9749 and shoerepairresolecenter.com.

  3. Wow! what a great movie to watch when I finally eat breakfast at 12:45 pm! I have decided that I am going to drag my kids to the Plastic Recycle drop-off, to get rid of the plastic container our cheap organic blueberries. They can be disgusted by how much plastic Canadians in our local area produce. I will discuss working conditions and wages of those who labor there. I am going to find out where the closest landfill is to us, as at my daughter’s school in Lafayette, Colorado, they took the kids to the local landfill there every year. I have repeatedly asked the school to do it here, but since they have only opened up from COVID, I think a bus trip might be a long shot. I will however send this post to their home room teacher, and several of my friends. Thanks for the repair café information, turns out there is one about 15 km away as per the world map. I have been wondering if if is time for me to buy a second hand drill then I can make myself a bokashi bin and put together some plattes (that I got free) with scrap lumber so that I have raised garden bins on the patio. (I know I am a bit late with the seeds). I have always got my shoes repaired as I wear leather shoes, and I mend everything. I am short so I am always bringing hems up on clothes that fit me otherwise, thrift of on gifts given to me. I am going to seen the Overshoot information to my daughter’s home room teacher as well. Thanks for all of this. Great information and teaching resourses.

  4. Elizabeth Knight says: Reply

    Thanks, Anne-Marie, for spreading the word about Repair Cafes. A volunteer sewist told me the “Look on a kid’s face when you repair their torn ‘lovey’ is one of the reasons we get up out and early on a cold morning. ” At the Repair Cafe sewing table, love is the thread that binds us. Steve, a lawyer, and father, who has volunteered to repair things at the Repair Cafe that I run, told me, “I love to … demonstrate thar anyone and everyone can repair or restore household items. I feel it is my duty to work with others toward the goal of greater self-reliance and to fight the onslaught of the disposable goods industry so that future generations don’t look back at mine and say, Why did you leave us such a mess?” Ethan, a 13-year-old, who also volunteers, said “it’s nice to know that with the news saying so many sad and depressing stories, that there’s a place where there are people who are willing to help you, no matter who you are, for no other reason than to help you in the best way possible. It gives me hope.” Elizabeth Knight

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