Give Old Stuff a Second Life: 16 Things You Should Repair Instead of Replace

A man freaks out as soap comes out of his dishwasher in his apartment.
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On social media lately, it seems like everything old is new again. The movement to recycle and reuse items has extended into every corner of consumerism, from secondhand clothing to used cars.

Although this minimalist approach to hanging onto what you already have is trendy, there are many other perfectly good reasons to give your old stuff new life.

Why Repair Broken Items Instead of Replacing Them?

The obvious motivation to repair instead of replace broken or worn stuff is clear from a cost perspective. You save money when fixing things, especially when you’re extending the life of something expensive, such as an appliance.

In fact, there’s a growing movement called the “Right to Repair” that argues companies have created a circular economy, throwing up arbitrary barriers to simple repairs. This planned obsolescence forces consumers into a cycle of spending on the newest model because it’s more cost-effective than it is to fix things. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There’s also the compelling argument that in addition to the money you save making an effort to repair things is good for the planet. The outsized impact of creating new materials places stress on world resources and generates needless waste. Repairing instead of replacing can give your stuff and the environment a second life.

How to Decide if It’s Worth Fixing in 4 Steps

Not all damaged items are worth fixing. Here’s how to tell what to repair and what to throw away.

1. Decide if It Can Be Fixed

A plastic piece snapped off your kid’s favorite toy, or those ancient pajama pants have finally ripped. Some materials like plastic or worn fabric can’t be repaired easily. The first step to repairing things is to decide if fixing what’s broken or damaged is even possible.

2. Find a Tutorial

Your next stop is simply clicking on YouTube or Google and letting the internet of very good ideas figure it out. There are DIY online tutorials to fix almost everything. Understand what materials or hardware you’ll need and how much time commitment is involved.

3. Determine if You Need a Professional

Most simple repairs involving basic tools will likely be in your wheelhouse, but professionals should do some kinds of fixes (think electrical repairs).

Pro Tip

Before you strap on that tool belt and create a big expensive mess, see which house repairs require a professional.

4. Do a Cost Analysis

Just because it can be repaired doesn’t mean that it should be. If the tools or new hardware you need are expensive, consider how much everyday use they’ll see. Your analysis should include how much it costs to repair and how long you’ll extend the life fixing an item versus buying a replacement.

The best way to avoid spending a large amount on repairs is to conduct routine maintenance. See our tips for taking care of your home, so you don’t break your budget fixing it.

16 Household or Personal Items to Repair Instead of Replace

  1. Stainless steel pots and pans
  2. Rugs and carpets
  3. Window and door screens
  4. Vacuum cleaners
  5. Dishes and other ceramics
  6. Lamps
  7. Furniture
  8. Lawn mowers and garden equipment
  9. Power tools
  10. Appliances
  11. Smartphones and other electronics
  12. Stuffed animals
  13. Clothing
  14. Jewelry and watches
  15. Handbags, purses and luggage
  16. Shoes and belts

1. Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

There’s not much you can do about pots and pans with non-stick surfaces. Once they get scratched or start to stick, they should be replaced. But if you splurged on stainless steel, congrats because that cookware is forever.

You can tighten loose handles or replace broken ones with a screwdriver. And if your pots and pans look tarnished, buff them with baking soda or treat them with white vinegar.

Pro Tip

See how to use baking soda to spruce up your house and beyond, from bathrooms to beauty products.

2. Rugs and Carpets

While some cheap throw rugs probably aren’t worth saving, you can extend the life of other rugs and carpets with a patch or even a dye job to hide staining or restore vibrancy.

Check with a local carpet cleaner to see if certain expensive specialty carpets are worth professional restoration efforts.

3. Window and Door Screens

When it comes to window and door screens, rips happen. But don’t rush out to purchase a new one because the repair process for most screens is easy and inexpensive.

You can pick up a repair kit at your local hardware store to either patch a small tear or install new mesh into an existing screen frame.

4. Vacuum Cleaners

If your vacuum is starting to suck (or not suck), don’t despair. Hoses, belts and more make vacuum cleaners seem intimidating to fix. But in truth, most of these parts are easy to replace and cheaper than buying a new vacuum cleaner.

Avoid repairs to your vacuum by performing regular maintenance like replacing filters, keeping the brushes clear of entanglements and reinforcing weak spots in the hoses.

5. Dishes and Other Ceramics

A few cracks in your ceramic dishes aren’t a deal breaker if you act fast. Porous ceramics should be moistened before gluing, and if you use epoxy, you’ll have to let it cure for up to an hour.

This guide from Bob Vila can help you find the right brand of glue to keep your favorite mug or bowl from falling to pieces.

6. Lamps

Don’t ditch that vintage lamp you love just yet. Depending on what’s wrong, it can probably be fixed. Be sure the lamp is unplugged before rewiring or this experience might be more electrifying than planned. And if the lamp works fine but doesn’t fit your decor, try giving it a whole new look with a different lampshade.

Pro Tip

Switch up your decor without spending a dime. Our tips from home decorators help you reimagine the space you call home.

7. Furniture

Fixing furniture is a less intensive process than you might think. Buff out water rings on wood surfaces with mayonnaise or install a new pull or knobs to transform a piece of furniture. And if you don’t mind waiting, paint and stain can work wonders.

Don’t forget about expensive pieces of outdoor furniture as well. Most of it can be easily spot cleaned or reupholstered for cheap.

Flipping furniture can be a side hustle that pays off. Start with our guide on how to refurbish pieces and find stuff that sells.

8. Lawn Mowers and Garden Equipment

If your lawn mower and other yard gear, such as weed whackers, have gas engines, they require the same routine maintenance as a car. The best way to avoid problems is to take care of your tools when you get them out and before you put them away each season.

And remember, if your lawn mower isn’t cutting it anymore, take it to a local shop to have the blade sharpened.

9. Power Tools

If you’ve got power tools like drills or saws, you probably have the DIY skills to fix them on the fly. Most of the time a broken power tool just needs brushes or belts replaced to get back in action.

And, of course, safety comes first, so put the screwdriver down until you’ve disconnected your tool from any power source.

10. Appliances

You’re minding your business when suddenly suds start pouring from the dishwasher or washing machine. Or the garbage disposal refuses to budge. What could possibly be wrong, and do you need a plumber?

Often, the drains in these appliances are clogged and need cleaning. Same with fridge ice makers, which get obstructed by old, crusty blocks of ice. Grab a manual, pull up YouTube and start troubleshooting before you call the professionals.

11. Smartphones and Other Electronics

Replacing your battery or fixing a cracked screen isn’t rocket science, no matter what the opinions expressed by the Genius Bar imply. But if you’ve never done these types of repairs, you should carefully watch the tutorials and have your most tech-adept geek friend on call.

Pro Tip

If your iPhone is toast, here are some clever ways to afford an upgrade this year to Apple’s latest and greatest.

12. Stuffed Animals

A certain precocious cartoon veterinarian makes stitching up a stuffed animal look easy, but some repairs are more complicated. You may need to replace eyes and noses or add a patch or stuffing to rehabilitate that beloved teddy bear or stuffed animal.

Really dirty plush toys can usually go for a swim in the washing machine, but check the tags first for detailed care instructions.

13. Clothing

Snagged sweaters. Ripped jeans. Holes in side pockets. Our clothes go through a lot, and sometimes it shows. The good news is you don’t always need a sewing machine and the skills of a master seamstress to repair old clothes.

Repairing clothing doesn’t have to involve much beyond basic stitches. Think how many repairs are simply sewing on a few buttons, ironing on patches or replacing zippers.

Pro Tip

See our guide to the simple DIY fixes to repair clothing that can save you serious money.

14. Jewelry and Watches

You’d be surprised what a good pair of needle-nose pliers can accomplish when it comes to jewelry — pinching closed broken clasps, pulling apart hopelessly tangled necklaces and much more.

And if your designer watch starts losing time or the band is broken, bringing it to a repair shop should always be your first stop.

15. Handbags, Purses and Luggage

Did you know that many dry cleaners can help repair broken zippers, straps and more? And, of course, sewing shut holes in the lining of your purse is an easy fix. But before you start pricing repairs, check with the manufacturer.

Many luggage sets and even a few pricy handbags come with warranties extending years or even a lifetime.

16. Shoes and Belts

If it looks like many people have walked a mile in your shoes, don’t give up your favorite kicks just yet. Neutral shoe polish can take care of even deep scuffing and scratches. A professional cobbler can also fix damaged heels, worn soles, scuffed leather and more.

And don’t forget that the same tools that enable cobblers to resole and repair your favorite shoes also get the job done for a worn belt.

While you can’t repair old sneakers, you can buy brands that go the extra mile. Here are our recommendations for the best walking shoes.

When to Leave Repairs to a Professional

Sometimes it’s best to call it a day and have a professional step in. This is especially true for complicated repairs that involve extensive plumbing or electrical work. And some types of repairs are simply too costly to DIY because they involve expensive tools or materials that are difficult to find.

Next time something breaks, don’t be afraid to reach for YouTube instead of your wallet. The knowledge to repair instead of replace is at your fingertips.

Be wary of doing work that a warranty would cover. See which companies promise that if you break their products, they’ll fix it.

Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering saving money and budgeting. As a journalist, she has written about a wide array of topics, including finance, health, politics, education and technology, for the last decade.