In many areas of my life I use tools. All kinds of tools. In a conversation about tools and their repair, someone mentioned that tools purchased from Harbor Freight and similar retail outlets are disposable in general. It made me stop and think a little.
A few years back, I worked for couple of companies repairing tools, so for me the idea of just chucking tools without even looking to see what the problem is seems strange. There is some truth to the disposable statement though. The number of people in our society who are Fixers is a lot lower than it was in decades past. Go back in time 2 generations, 70 years or so, and you will find that the average American was a Fixer of one sort or another.
Now I want you to take your Political Correctness Glasses off for a second and absorb the scene that follows.
Dad gets home and finds dinner on the table and mom’s clothes iron on the counter.
Dad: “Iron not working?”
Mom: “Stopped working while I was ironing your shirts.”
Looking a little concerned
Dad: “Have a shirt for tomorrow?”
Mom: “Yep. Only got half way through though.”
Dad: “I’ll take care if it after dinner.”
Aside from the gender-roll type-casting here, lets look at the point I am getting at. It was common for someone in the household to fix, or at least try to fix, stuff when it stopped working. The important key phrase in that statement is stopped working, not broke, stopped working. It was a time when American Made was more common than not and the spirit of American Ingenuity was strong in a large segment of the population.
Our economy has changed. Over the years society has demanded cheaper products. The way industry met those needs was to buy parts, materials and finished goods from overseas. Not to beat that horse, but we started killing our own economy when we traded in our producer status to become a consumer society.
Products became so cheap that it is often more financially feasible to chuck the broken product rather than repair it when it stopped working. The distinction between the two is important and relevant, it demonstrates a change in our collective attitude and thought process as we became a consumer society.
What seems to have happened is that our group consciousness lost the desire to fix. More truthfully it seems that the need to fix has changed from a physical practice to an intellectual one. We are always trying to fix the species, fix the environment, fix other societies, we now fix things in the socio-political sense rather than fix our own stuff when it stops working.
If the average American who replaced one power tool of some kind once a year decided to repair a tool just once, before giving it to someone else who was willing to repair it at least once before replacing it, landfills across the nation would have some 20 million fewer tools in them in just 3 years. For those of you counting, at an average of 3 pounds per tool, that’s about 30,000 tons of mostly non-biodegradable waste. That is a big impact just from repairing before replacing.
Many of us are tired of the consumer society and the disposable mentality that goes with it. It’s not just about materials recycling, its about extending practical usage in the first place. A segment of the population that is making a lot of headway in the area of the re-use and re-purposing of things and materials is the DIY movement. All those Makers out there rekindling the spirit of American Ingenuity. It’s that DIY spirit that can return our society to a more balanced one, somewhere half way in between consumer and producer. There is also a continuing interest in crafting, from jewelry and fiber arts to a resurgence of blacksmithing, just to name a few. All of these movements are demonstrations that sustainability and self-sufficiency are worth reaching for, and people are thinking about it.
Now, off the soap-box and back to the reason I went down this road in the first place. My comment to the person that got me thinking about all of this was simple. If you look at the paperwork that came with the tool you will find that it usually includes an exploded view drawing of the tool and a parts list. A lot of tools, including inexpensive ones, are repairable if you are willing to do the repair. It is true that they are not generally cost effective to take to a repair center, but spending $7 and an hour of your time to repair a $70 tool that stopped working can be, this goes for other things too, not just tools. It is all up to you.
I choose to repair whenever possible. I am also choosing to take a little time to make sure that products I buy are repairable as well. Repairing tools and appliances is not for everyone, but some people like me actually enjoy digging into a tool and the satisfaction of having brought it back to life. If you don’t like doing that kind of stuff, maybe you know someone who does.
Being a Fixer is just one lane along the 12 lane highway of sustainability and self sufficiency. I chose to use this lane whenever I can, how about you?