What Do You Do When Something Breaks?



In our disposable society, the ability to repair items seems to have fallen by the wayside. But it used to be a regular part of life, back when products were higher quality, more durable, and more expensive. If you couldn't fix it yourself, you took it to someone who could. Instead of tossing a pair of shoes when there was a hole in the sole, you took it to have the sole replaced at the local shoe repair place. I remember when I was a teenager, a favorite pair of black flats got a hole in the bottom. I knew I'd never find a pair of black flats that were as comfortable as my simple worn pair. So my mom took me to the shoe repair place about a mile away from our house to get a new sole. It was the only pair of shoes I ever had repaired.

"Ask your grandparents if they ever had their shoes repaired.
People often repair shoes rather than replace them."

Our recent trip to the local children's museum included checking out the new exhibit "Broken? Fix it! Getting inside repairs." This fabulous celebration of ingenuity and conservation had great appeal for old and young. My kids loved all the interactive stuff, and I loved reading the signs and learning about how shoes, cars, ceramics, clothing, bikes, toys, and more can be repaired. One of my first thoughts upon entering the exhibit was how much my plastic-free hero Beth Terry (author of the blog and book My Plastic-free Life) would enjoy it. I immediately thought of her post on fixing her broken rice cooker so that she didn't have to contribute to the creation of additional plastic.




One thing I loved about the exhibit was the emphasis on maintenance and taking care of things. For example, the shoe exhibit described how regularly shining shoes helps to prevent leather from cracking or splitting. In other words, polishing your shoes doesn't just make them look more snazzy, it extends their life!



Loved the display on book repair: "The library ripped the covers off these books
and left them for trash. Phyllis and Joe found them and made the repairs."


One quality I have always admired about my husband is that he believes in purchasing high quality products and then taking care of them. For example, last Christmas my husband purchased a very nice bicycle at the bike shop for my son. It cost several hundred dollars on sale (!). Knowing how much the bikes in Target cost, I balked at the price. But then my husband told me that the owner of the bike shop had explained that the bikes in major retailers are so cheap that they can't really be repaired, whereas a well-made bike can be maintained, repaired, have parts replaced, and be used indefinitely. Since I have three kids, it makes good sense to purchase a high-quality bike that will last rather than a cheap one with a short life-span.




I loved the display of broken toys, some repaired in very creative ways. One thing I love about wood toys is that they are both repairable and worth repairing! Often a little wood glue is all that is needed. I, possibly the least handy person you know, have repaired many wooden toys myself using low-VOC wood glue with excellent results. 

"How often do you repair toys?"

I have yet to successfully repair (or, in fact, care enough to repair) a plastic toy, although the exhibit did feature a plastic dinosaur toy repaired with a dowel and glue. 




Part of the problem with cheap products is that they hardly even seem worth repairing. When things I own break or even just start to show age, I am often tempted to toss and replace them. If I think about how much my time (or my husband's time) is worth to me, it rarely makes financial sense to repair them ourselves. And it's often not worth it financially to pay someone else to repair the item, assuming such a person could even be located. But I try not to give into this disposable mentality. Because even if the short-term cost to me of toss and replace is low, the long-term consequence of this mentality is fatal for all of us. Those broken products end up somewhere, often with their components leaching into the soil, water, and air. And new products require the consumption of finite resources to create, and often result in toxic pollution as byproducts of production as well.

The beauty of the "Broken? Fix It!" exhibit was that it wasn't about should's. It was all about could's and the can-do spirit; about the satisfaction of fixing something yourself, the joy of owning and maintaining and repairing a prized possession.


What have you fixed?

Repair Resources


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9 comments:

  1. I'm so happy they talked about mending! My mom taught me to mend and I still do it whenever I can. I bring my shoes in for repair too and at least try to fix other broken items. This disposable mentality has got to change!

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  2. Teaching children from a very early age to take care of their possessions is what our society has forgotten to do. That's why they grow up to become the irresponsible people forming our disposable society. On the one hand it's a pity that nowadays you can hear and see mending only in a museum, on the other hand, thank God for people who thought about it, maybe some parents will wake up! I've noticed that mending is more popular in poor cultures and it stems out of necessity. I wish we all could practice it without the necessity.

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  3. I love this! I'm trying to live a more vintage/homemade life and I'm also dressing vintage so I'm trying to learn how to mend clothes and things like that. I really want to learn to darn socks!

    I'd rather fix something than have to buy new and use that money on a new-to-me vintage dress! :)

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  4. Super idea for a kids and family exhibit that influences us all! If we could support more made in USA items, that would also help fuel a pride in maintaining well made goods.

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  5. I love this post! I just wrote one on the same topic for the Green Phone Booth next week. I am going to have to take the kids to check out that exhibit. SJ museum? Also, did you see that Palo Alto offers a periodic repair clinic (http://www.repaircafe-paloalto.org/events.html). I've read about those. How people bring all manner of stuff and apparently about 50-60% of it gets repaired. We need to start spending more money on quality products, maintain them and repair them as need. Hear hear!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, CDM in SJ. Let me know if you go - we could meet up!

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  6. I love this! I agree that most of our products now aren't built to last. People don't buy major appliances expecting them to last a lifetime and rarely think they are buying heirloom quality with anything else - changing trends, a desire for inexpensive goods, and fast fashion have all but done away with it. My husband has learned how to do quite a bit recently, including darning socks! I try... I am just not that great at these things. I do hope to think more carefully before I buy in the future though.

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  7. I love love love this post. I try and mend and repair whatever I can but I am limited to my not handiness. I wish there was a place near me to learn.

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  8. What a wonderful exhibit, too bad it's not something set up in all towns to teach the mend/repair skills we've lost. Yes, my grandparents did have their shoes repaired by a local man and so did I. As time went on it became harder and harder to find shoes that this man could repair which eventually put him out of business. As for the bikes, I have to agree with your husband. My grandchildren received bikes this summer and already my grandson's is falling apart. The bikes came with training wheels and those models do not have kick stands so the first thing to break were the pedals which were plastic. He now rides around using the metal bracket that used to hold the plastic pedal. It's so sad.

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