October 24, 2012

What a Great Idea

A small article in the September AARP Bulletin sent me to a web site to find out more. To quote from the article, "Wouldn't it be great to get your busted stuff-everything from toasters to clothing-fixed for free?"

The story is all about Repair Cafés. Fix-it volunteers either repair something or teach the person how to do the work themselves using the tools and materials provided. Instead of tossing that toaster on the junk heap, it is fixed. The broken desk lamp just need a new switch....a simple repair.

What a great idea!  Instead of filling our landfills with household items that still have a lot of life left in them, someone at the Repair Café makes it work again for free. Since the types of things repaired at these Cafés are not the type fixed by professionals, these volunteers are not taking jobs away from others. They are simply using their knowledge and talents to prevent waste and save folks some money.

Where do you find a Repair Café? At the moment I'm afraid you have to live in Holland or Germany. Why this idea hasn't caught on in other countries I haven't a clue. For retirees, something like this would be a a perfect match up of skills, volunteering, and saving money.

In America our consumer products are designed to become obsolete. Our economy requires that we buy new products on a regular basis. Even relatively expensive things like Blu-ray DVD players or computers are often  cheaper to simply toss and replace. Recently my daughter faced the choice of a $350 repair on an eleven year old laptop or $600 for a new one. Her decision was obvious.

But, if we could take that coffee maker than won't start brewing, the chair that has a split leg in need of repair, or the dress that has a broken zipper to a place where a volunteer will help fix it up, wouldn't we?  Click on the link above for more information about this tremendously simple yet elegant idea from the Dutch.

In the last post about readers suggestions of blogs for me to read, several were about simple living, a more frugal lifestyle, and making do with what we have. The Repair Café idea would seem to be a perfect match.

This is a short post with a simple idea that might spark your thinking. Could motivated retirees and others start a similar service in the States? Of course! All it would take is some organization and publicity and a desire to help others.

What do you think? Is there a seed of a great idea here? Could you, or someone you know, open a free fix-it shop for folks who just want to repair something rather than throw it away?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Note: That Other Jean left a comment below about a fellow named Michael Swaine and his Free Mending Library. Here is his story: The Fix it Man. This is great stuff.

20 comments:

  1. It does sound like a great idea. Perhaps you could start one?

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    1. It has to be very local to work. If anyone wants their writing "fixed" I am the guy...otherwise!

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  2. That's a good idea Bob. Being a retired engineer I suspect I could contribute to a Repair Cafe. We are a nation of expendables but we are also a nation of lawyers so I imagine it would be a liability thing here. What if my toaster repair shorted out? Would the lawyers come after me?

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    1. I thought of you when I wrote this...as much for your woodworking skills as your engineering background. I figured RJ could repair a chair or uneven table pretty quickly.

      The liability issue is probably resolved by having each person sign a simple waiver. But, as you know, anyone can sue anyone else for any reason...so beware.

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  3. Love, love, love it! It is called community...people using their skills to help one another and in return being helped by others! And talk about keeping stuff out of the landfill and stop being such a wasteful society. It would sure start conversations, teach us new things and perhaps create a few new friendships. Besides making a person feel they have something useful to share. I am not sure which skills I could share...I am sure I have some...but I am really excited to think I could be a part of something like this.

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    1. Doesn't it seem like a no-brainer? It would be a great place to meet new people, share stories and a cup of coffee, and help each other. I would feel really good if this post spurs someone somewhere to start a version in the States, Canada, or anywhere!

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  4. That is a great idea. Something similar are the hour exchanges springing up in the US. While this is not specifically geared to repairing items, each person posts what they need help with & what help they can provide. For example, one person needed help with computer skills, but exchanged for catered dinners. The exchange is based on hours, but a 3rd party tracks those. I'm just getting involved here in California, but I believe the idea originated in Washington DC. Hopefully both these ideas will catch on....my mom was before her time (or after her time as she was a child of the Depression) & was the queen of recycling; it's frustrating to throw away ALMOST working items.
    Thanks for the thought.

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    1. Now that you mention it I have heard of the hours exchange idea. I don't think it has gotten much publicity or really caught on, but it is on the right track.

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  5. Our church has a “Thrift Shop.” Periodically, there is a thrift shop sale -- a big community garage sale at the church campus. Items are donated, collected, stored -- and if necessary repaired -- between sales.

    Volunteers (mostly from the congregation) repair donated items anonymously before the next thrift shop sale. Items that can’t be repaired are appropriately recycled or otherwise disposed. Buyers of these “as-is” items can get a great deal on something that may be still useful.

    Not the same, but an alternative to the Dutch model for re-using items a little bit longer

    ..

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    1. Yes, that is an excellent example of recycling "one man's junk into another man's treasure." Churches in our area do the same thing, often as a major fundraiser for a local charity they support.

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  6. I'm all about bartering. If the free repair idea took off around here there would be a line out the door for Dave's services. ;) He is beyond handy and those who know him often come to him for help. He's turning it into a little side job, which is a good idea.

    I like the idea of offering a trade of services and maybe arranging it at our church. I'll let you know how that goes.
    b

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    1. Yes, keep us informed. There are so many retirees who would love to use their skills and talents in this way. It just takes a few people to organize something through a church or senior center to make it happen.

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  7. What a great idea! My husband would volunteer for such a place. We've always got some gadget or other disassembled on our dining room table - last time it was the knob for the back door.

    Let me know how to be part of this, if you figure it out.

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    1. Do you have a senior center or community center that might let you try to get this idea going? Let them read the web site for the Repair Cafés and see what they think!

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  8. Bob, I know I sound like a broken record with all my references to Habitat for Humanity, but since most areas have this organization, it is very likely that there is also a RsStore in the area. The ReStore takes just about everything from appliances to furniture, to building supplies (doors, cabinets, sinks, etc.) and resells them in the store. Volunteers clean, fix, and generally make things presentable for resale.

    I applaud the concept of sharing services, but can't quite get my head around Americans embracing the concept. We seem to have adopted the attitude that everything is disposable and of course we all "need" the latest and greatest version of whatever the market produces.

    I am amazed that your daughter's laptop lasted eleven years. I just had the same experience with one that was only 5 years old. I asked if they would take a "trade in" and received a hearty chuckle.

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    1. I finally found a ReStore not far from where my father lives. I didn't realize they stocked stuff fixed by volunteers. I will certainly stop by the next time I am in Tempe (which is weekly).

      Habitat for Humanity deserves all the promotion it can receive so never hesitate to mention them!

      It was a Dell that I bought her in 2001. Slower than molasses and about 5 minutes to boot up, but until 2 weeks ago it did its job.

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  9. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of this already goes on, if informally. I have an 85 year old uncle (I'm a young 60!) who lives in a gated community in Florida. Many years ago, he turned his 2-car garage into a computer repair workshop. He fixes computers for his fellow retirees at cost. He also gets many donations, fixes them if necessary, and gives them away to whomever is in need, through his church or the local grapevine. Nice part-time "job"!

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    1. One thing this post is doing is making it obvious a lot of the fix-it/reuse type activity is going on but without any organization. Using the skills your dad has to help others is great. As Suzanne noted in her comment above, repairing a computer anymore is rarely worth it. The costs are too high versus the price of a new one. But, at least for me, I like Windows XP and like knowing where everything is. If this computer goes south, I may make a trip to Florida to see your dad. I'm sure he is quite busy.

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  10. There's already someone in San Francisco who sets up a "Free Mending Library" once a month. Michael Swaine takes a converted ice cream cart with an umbrella and treadle sewing machine out to a spot on the streets in the Tenderloin, and mends clothes for people, for free. How fantastic is that? It's worth googling to read his story.

    If more communities had free repair cafes and mending libraries, there would be a lot less thrown away. How would you go about joining people with equipment and skills with people who need them?

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    1. Absolutely..that is great about Mr. Swaine. If I can find an appropriate link I will add it at the end of the post.

      I think a senior center, community center or church are probably the most logical places to start. Getting government involved would take too much time and red tape, so places like libraries are probably out.

      Freecycle is a tremendous way to take stuff you don't need and give it to others. But, they don't get involved in repairs and that is where the real opportunity is to help.

      I wonder if I should invite those who work with the public to contact me and I'll publicize a list. There are zoning and liability issues to be thoughtful of, but this is too worthy an idea to not be pursued.

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