Don’t Toss That Broken Gadget. This Free Service Can Help You Repair It

Repair Café International/Facebook

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

So goes the frugality adage born in the 1930s or ‘40s, and it’s great wisdom to live by to this day. In a highly disposable world, making the possessions you already own last as long as possible is just plain smart.

But how far are you supposed to go when it comes to “making it do”?

I can play handywoman if something basic breaks around the house, like a doorknob or a window screen. But if my microwave goes wonky and a thorough Google search hasn’t helped me troubleshoot, I’ll be honest with you: I’m gonna replace the microwave.

For most of us, DIY dreams and YouTube videos can only take us so far when it comes to fixing our own stuff. We get discouraged, feel overwhelmed or simply decide it’s not worth the time — and pull out our wallets instead.

Until now.

Welcome to the age of the Repair Café, a new way of putting power back in the hands of consumers, celebrating practical knowhow and doing a little good for the Earth to boot.

What is a Repair Café?

Repair Cafés are free events where local craftsmen and specialists help community members fix broken items and learn new skills. They’re typically held about once a month in places like church basements, community centers and libraries.

And they’re not just for electronics repairs. Each Repair Café workshop offers a unique mix of professionals, based on who is available in the area, and their expertise can include bicycles, sewing, jewelry, furniture, toys and more.

You don’t even need to bring something broken — you can simply watch and learn (or help, if you want) while enjoying some free tea or coffee. There’s usually also a reading table where you can leaf through repair books on various subjects.

The inspiration for these events is simple. As the Repair Café website explains,

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair.

The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how.

Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

That is, until now…

The Many Benefits of Repair Cafés

Repair Cafés serve several much-needed purposes. They help people save money by learning to fix the things they own rather than simply tossing them. They give craftspeople a chance to share their wisdom and empower average consumers.

Repair Cafés also preserve valuable memories by giving new life to sentimental items, like an heirloom locket or a vintage typewriter. They’re also fantastic for the environment.

Sustainability is a growing trend in everything from fashion to technology to coffee. It’s a mindset and a movement that focuses on standards and policies that reduce waste, conserve natural resources and support ecological balance. Repair Cafés play right into this movement, as the site notes:

People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away.

This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.

Sounds to me like a “win” all around.

How to Find a Repair Café Near You

Sustainability advocate Martine Postma opened the first Repair Café location in Amsterdam in October 2009. Today, there are more than 1,200 Repair Cafés around the world. Check the map here to find one in your area.

These nonprofit, volunteer-run groups rely on donations to cover operating costs. If you’re interested in starting one yourself, you can get a starter kit here for €49 (around $52). It includes information on setting up and run a Repair Café, connecting with others in your area who are interested in starting one and promoting your event to your community.

Your Turn: Have you ever been to a Repair Café? Would you consider going to one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.