Repairing Things is the Antidote for Our Throwaway Society

Let’s make fixing stuff the norm, not the exception.

Be a rebel and join the repair movement. Declare your dissatisfaction with our throwaway society by fixing things instead of tossing them in the trash.

Whether you like it or not, if you are an American, you live in a throwaway society where people routinely throw broken things away instead of fixing them. It was not always so but today the influx of inexpensive products and the constant bombardment of advertising influence our repair and buying habits. The price of products does not include the cost of damaging our environment so low prices and convenience makes it tempting to buy a new item instead of repairing a broken one.

Throwing away damaged and broken things or sticking them in the back of the garage and then buying new replacements is harming people and the planet, but you can help change our culture by joining a growing movement of people who believe in repairing things instead of trashing them.

Repairing Things is a Green Thing to Do

Everything we use in our daily lives has an environmental impact that results from mining, logging, extracting fossil fuels, processing materials, manufacturing products, transporting goods, and disposing of waste.

Another perhaps even more compelling issue to consider is that our planet does not have unlimited resources or land.

We can conserve Earth’s dwindling resources and protect our land from more waste dumps by repairing things if they get broken or damaged and using them as long as possible.

Everyone Can Participate in the Repair Movement

The essential attribute for participating in the repair movement is the willingness to consider repairing things instead of automatically throwing them in the trash.

You can learn repair skills and/or get assistance from friends, family members, coworkers, repair professionals, and a wide variety of sources that did not previously exist.

For instance, the Internet is chock full of step-by-step instructional videos on how to replace parts and repair thousands of different products from leaky faucets to malfunctioning automatic garage door openers to broken smartphone screens. Community centers provide tools and equipment for people interested in pursuing artistic endeavors, tinkering, and repairing things. Imagine being able to fix your vacuum cleaner handle using a part printed on a 3D printer. Repair cafés and re-skilling events bring people together to share knowledge and learn new skills.

Below are two examples of repaired items, one I did myself and my spouse helped me with the other one.

A Tale of Two Repairs

My dad was Mr. Fixit and repaired many things around our home when I was a kid, including our cars. The fixit gene passed me by so I am not too handy when it comes to repairing most things. Luckily, my mother taught me how to sew, which means that I can mend clothing tears and replace missing buttons.

Rain Coat Repair

Over twenty years ago, I needed to buy a rain/warm coat for a business trip and since it was the off-season where I lived, my two choices were hot pink or forest green. I chose the green coat and wore it for many years before the bottom button fell off and was lost.  Initially, I attempted to ignore the problem, but the cool and windy climate where I now live motivated me to address it.

Rain Coat Repair - New Top ButtonFinding a replacement button to match the existing buttons was not possible and I did not want to replace all the buttons.

My solution was moving the top button to the bottom and sewing on a new black button at the top where I think it looks less odd.

I was able to accomplish the repair myself by spending a couple of dollars on a package of buttons and a few minutes with a needle and thread. Now, my coat is ready for a several more decades of wear.

Weed Whacker Repair

About five years ago, I bought a Black & Decker battery powered weed whacker (string trimmer) for $99.99. It is made of metal and plastic components and uses a rechargeable nickel cadmium battery (cadmium is a toxic material that requires special handling when disposing of the battery).

A few weeks ago, as I was wielding the weed whacker around our wild yard in preparation for fire season, the motor stopped working. I looked up the model number online and discovered that Black & Decker had discontinued it and replaced it with a similar model available for $69.99.

The environmentally sound solution seemed to be to try to repair it so I asked my mechanically inclined spouse for assistance.

After taking the weed whacker apart, my spouse determined that a tiny piece in the motor assembly had failed. Although some replacement parts were available online such as the handle, cover, and battery pack, the motor was not. Fortunately, a similar motor was located online and purchased for about $20 including tax and shipping. Once the new motor arrived, it took my spouse less than an hour to install it and reassemble the weed whacker. I was back in business.

If there is a moral to this story, it is that repairing stuff is possible if you are willing to make the effort and that keeping our planet habitable is a group effort.

Let us stop being a throwaway society and become a repair nation where fixing stuff is the norm, not the exception. Please share your repair story with other readers.

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Vinegar Removes Hard Water Deposits from Dishes like Magic

Author's Dishes, Glasses, and Flatware after Vinegar Cleaning
A Sampling of the Author’s decades old dishes, glasses, and flatware after being cleaned with distilled white vinegar.

Is hard water leaving a cloudy film on your dishes and glasses? Vinegar is an eco-friendly solution that will make your dishes look and feel new.

Like many Americans, I live in an area with hard water, which results in mineral deposits (mostly calcium and magnesium) building up on everything from dishes to showerheads. If this sounds familiar, you probably have hard water too.

In an attempt to counteract hard water deposits, we had been routinely using a rinse aid in our dishwasher but it was not entirely successful. Sometime during the almost ten years, we have lived in our current home, our glasses took on a hazy look and a chalky film formed on our dishes to the point that I could feel it when I was taking pieces out of the dishwasher. Yuk.

Over the years, I did notice that mineral deposits were forming on our dishes and the insides of our coffee mugs had become stained. It just did not bother me, at least not enough to do anything about it, until a few weeks ago.

One Thing Leads to the Next

You know how one thing leads to the next and so on. That is what happened. I am in the middle of a decluttering project and I am trying to adopt a minimalist approach to owning stuff, which means living happily with less stuff.

While decluttering the kitchen, it dawned on me that we would be using the dishes, glasses, and flatware we currently own for the rest of our lives (minimalists only by new dishes when absolutely necessary).

My spouse and I have been using the same dishes since we were married over three decades ago. Most of our original knives, forks, and spoons disappeared or ended life in a garbage disposal so our flatware set is only about fifteen years old. Glassware seems to suffer the most casualties so our current glasses are probably between seven to ten years old.

I figured if we are going to be eating off these plates and drinking out of these glasses for another thirty years or so, perhaps they could use some sprucing up.

In the past, we have used vinegar to remove mineral deposits from our drip coffee maker with good results so I decided to try it on our dishes. It took some trial and error and a few hours, but the results were amazing! Now everything is shiny and smooth and looks almost like new.

I realize that over time, the hard water deposits will come back, but I think I can fit in a few hours every ten years to keep our dishes, glasses, and flatware in good condition.

You can easily accomplish the same thing with a little vinegar, a dish tub, and a sponge.

The Wonders of Vinegar

My first thought was to employ the dishwasher. I loaded it with some glasses, poured in a cup of vinegar, and hit the start button. At the end of the cycle, the dishwasher racks were looking less powdery but the glasses were only marginally improved.

Next, I placed a plastic dish tub in the kitchen sink and poured a couple of cups of vinegar into it and I put a dozen glasses on the counter top. Using a slightly scrubby sponge, I wiped the inside and outside of each glass and around the rim with vinegar. After rinsing the glasses under the kitchen tap, I put them in a dish drainer to drip dry. I finished drying them with a dishtowel and voilà the glasses were shiny and clear and looked almost brand new. Wow!

I briefly considered taking all the dishes, glasses, and our coffee mug collection out of the kitchen cupboards and tackling the project all at once. When I realized it would likely be a boring task taking several hours to complete, I had second thoughts.

My solution was to break up the project by leaving the tub in the sink and periodically returning to the kitchen and doing another batch. Each time, after towel drying the pieces in the dish drainer and putting them away, I took out another stack of plates or a group of coffee mugs and repeated the procedure.

At the end of the day, our dishes, glasses, and coffee mugs were sparkling and clean. I was so impressed with the results that the next day I repeated the process on our serving bowls and plates and our stainless steel flatware.

Refurbishing Your Dishes is a Green Thing to Do and Saves Money

Making anything, including dishes, uses resources and energy and depending on what materials and processes are involved, pollutes the air, water, and land to a greater or lesser degree.

An environmental benefit of refurbishing and using the same dishes for decades is that it reduces the need for manufacturing and transporting new goods.

Interestingly, having your dishes look almost new makes them seem like they are new. Now that you own a practically new set of dishes, you can easily ignore the little invisible consumer devil that sits on your right shoulder constantly whispering “Buy stuff.” in your ear.

We can help the environment and save some money by refurbishing our dishes, glasses, and flatware instead of replacing them.

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