Ideas for Repair Night

How to get any item repaired | Litterless

On Tuesday, I wrote a little bit about the habit shift that it takes to begin spending a few moments to repair an item, rather than letting the task go undone for years until the item is no longer worth the few minutes you'd spend fixing it.

Today, I'm writing about the mental shift necessary to see an item in disrepair and first think, "Maybe I could do something about that," rather than the more automatic "Guess it's time to replace that."

There are things that do warrant replacement, sure. But there are also things that simply warrant a few moments of attention to get them back in tip-top shape. An item's fix can take many forms. There are:

Things you can fix yourself.

Simpler repairs that make use of the skills you already have, or that allow you to barter tasks with a friend to get done, are some of the easiest repairs to make happen. A few things that come to mind in this category:

Sewing. Small holes, big holes, rips, tears: take to your needle and thread. The result might not be perfect (if perfection's what your after, a tailor or seamstress might be the better choice), but you'll have fixed an item and perhaps marginally improved your own skills along the way. Easy-enough fixes in this category include sewing a strap back on a cotton tote bag, patching a pocket on the interior of a pair of pants, sewing a small rip in a cotton bulk bag.

General sprucing. A super-pilly sweater isn't brokenper se, but nor is it exactly in fine working order. Taking time to try to get the stains out of clothing, removing the pills from a beloved woolen item, snipping stray threads: anything you can do to get an item that's feeling dreary and drab back in good wearing order is, I've found, worthy of the time it takes.

Things you can ask the manufacturer to fix.

Who better to deal with your issue than the company that knows the item intimately? A few categories where I email the company right off the bat, knowing that any attempted fix on my part isn't going to be what the item needs:

How to repair anything | Zero waste item care ideas | Litterless

Electronics. Meddling about with the inner workings of an electronic item isn't safe, so I don't do it. Instead of giving up on electronic pieces, though, I may send the manufacturer an email explaining the problem and asking what they'd recommend for a fix. Sometimes I've been sent a new part - for free - that I simply have to screw on. (That was the case with the small humidifier nebulizer, pictured above). Other times, they've suggested other easy-enough things I can do at home, or offered to fix it themselves if I send the item in. If they're not able to help me repair the item, I'll ask if they can take the item back for safe disposal. Regardless, when dealing with electronics, it's important to follow expert advice (not mine).

Parts and pieces. When the majority of an item is still in good working order, save for one small piece, oftentimes it's worthwhile to ask the manufacturer if they'll replace the part for you. I recently mailed in a small broken buckle from a backpack to Kelty, who replaced it for just the price of shipping. I called Klean Kanteen to ask if they could replace the gasket on my leaky thermos, and they promptly mailed me two new gaskets, free of charge.

When in doubt. If you're not sure about how to fix something, it never hurts to simply ask the folks who made it. An email or phone call rarely takes more than five minutes, and at least you'll have an answer. I've gotten a beloved bracelet soldered back together for $20 - who knows what you'll find out if you simply ask the question?

If a company proves less than amenable to helping you fix your item (or dispose of it properly if it's unfixable), well, then, you'll learn that they might not be someone you'll want to turn to in the future. I've found that the more that I choose to purchase items from companies who fully stand behind them, the longer I'm able to keep those items around.

Things you can take to an expert third party.

There are whole professions devoted to careful fixing of certain items: cobblers, tailors and seamstresses, furniture restorers. When such a person exists, sometimes it's best to leave the doing in their hands.

Things you don't care enough to fix.

No thrift store wants your broken item. My boyfriend bought an alarm clock last night at a secondhand shop, only to open it and find that the battery casing was corroded beyond repair. (He was only out ninety cents, though, so not a big deal). In the case of something that no longer works but that you don't care to fix yourself, perhaps by listing it for free on craigslist or in a local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook - with full acknowledgement that it comes with a little elbow grease needed - you can find the item a new home and a new owner who's willing to take that time.

Other resources.

-Creative reuse stores. Need thread to fix a garment, a container to hold small parts and pieces, a small set of tools? I've come to love my local secondhand craft supply store for this. It sells art, craft, and making supplies donated by community members, and it very often has just the right supplies for my next project. To see if there's a similar resource near you, search "creative reuse store + your city," or "secondhand craft supplies + your city.""The free repair guide for everything, written by everyone." I've never turned to this online guide, which I just recently found while working on this piece. Have you used it? It seems like it has the potential to be so helpful.

-Repair Cafes. Spots where folks can gather to borrow from a shared stash of tools, seek semi-expert help, or simply execute repairs in the company of a friendly, likeminded bunch. See if there's one located near you here

Now, how to actually make time to get these things done? I've started a list where I jot down a repair task anytime I see an item in need of it. That way, I don't have to take the time to figure out the repair right then and there, but neither does it get lost in the swirling eddy of time and mental to-do lists.

Then, I can tackle a task on the list whenever I want to make productive use of a spare moment: emailing a manufacturer or researching a local cobbler in a spare five minutes in front of my computer, setting aside a few pieces of mending to do while watching TV or chatting on the phone with a friend, throwing a few items in a tote to bring with me to repair night at a friend's house, dropping off a pair of shoes at the cobbler on my way to the grocery. When I've got those tasks all corralled in one place, I can feel the satisfaction of finally checking something off.

What have you guys been fixing, or getting fixed, lately? Any other ideas for items or companies with whom this works particularly well? Recent wins to share?

Previously in Home: Takeback programs for reuse and recycling, and how to stop the flow of junk mail.