It says something about where weâ€™ve come as a society that the simple act of fixing something thatâ€™s broken is considered a revolutionary act. Yet here we are. Itâ€™s cheaper and easier to buy a new toaster, lamp, printer, or chair than it is to mend the one you have when it breaks â€” never mind that you may already be jonesing for an upgrade.
For 80 years or so, planned obsolescence has been the dirty little engine that drives our consumer economy. Today the members of a nascent fixer movement say itâ€™s been long enough.
In 2010 in the Netherlands, disgust with Europeâ€™s throw-away culture led former journalist and new mom Martine Postma to stage the first Repair CafÃ©, an event where members of the community could drop by with defunct items they would otherwise have thrown away, and have them repaired free of charge by volunteer fix-it experts.
Since then, Postmaâ€™s concept has thrived. Almost 40 groups across the Netherlands have started their own Repair CafÃ©s to date, and the Repair CafÃ© Foundation has brought in over $500,000 from the Dutch government and other sources to support its operations.
In addition to fixing whatâ€™s broken, the collective encourages acts of creative transformation
Held in community centers, auditoriums, and coworking spaces, Repair CafÃ©s are practical but also social events. Part of the mission is teaching repair skills, which are lost quickly, so people who bring in broken items are asked to be active participants in their repair. People with nothing to fix can enjoy a cup of coffee and read from a selection of DIY books â€” or just watch as fixers try their best with an assortment of broken bicycles, kettles, printers, toys, holey sweaters, fritzing hair dryers, and lightless lamps.
The Repair CafÃ© foundation makes information available to groups in the Netherlands who want to start their own Repair CafÃ©s, and itâ€™s working on translating the material for the use of groups in other countries, including the United States. But a few stateside groups have already coalesced around the environmental â€” and social â€” benefits of fixing.
The West Seattle Fixers Collective, an offshoot of the West Seattle Tool Library, holds Repair CafÃ©-like meetings for projects that range from â€œre-sewing umbrellas to â€œrepairing kitchen mixers, laptops, espresso makers, desk lamps and even a few antiques.â€
The New York City-based Fixers Collective has been holding events since 2008 â€” like the Repair CafÃ©s of the Netherlands, it was an offshoot of an art installation based on the idea of mending â€” at Proteus Gowanus, a sprawling gallery and reading room in Brooklyn. Tamara Pittman, a cofounder of Fixers Collective, called the project â€œa reaction to the economic downturn that had just happened.â€
But the Collective has thrived in (slightly) better economic times. Typically, its monthly meetings attract 10 to 15 visitors with broken goods.
Pittman said that over the years, finding skilled fixers to staff the meetings hasnâ€™t been a problem. â€œMore people come in who are good at fixing things than people who have something to fix,â€ she explained. Different regulars have different areas of expertise, with electronics, computers, sewing, and woodworking all covered.
In addition to fixing whatâ€™s broken, the collective encourages acts of creative transformation â€” â€œyou know, like, â€˜I wanna take my high heels and make them into flats, or turn my salad spinner into a lampshade,â€™â€ Pittman said. â€œSome very creative fixes have been invented around that table.â€
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