Repair and Reuse



For centuries, humans repaired and reused everything useful until scarcely a part of the original remained. Only the wealthy discarded what was new. Eventually, driven by economic growth and technological progress, the consumer culture emerged to change all that. It goaded us to trade in the almost new for the brand new. It taunted us if we didn’t have the coolest new toy or wear the season’s hot fashion. 

The result is mountains of broken, glistening, badly made stuff, most of it derived somehow from petroleum. It’s the product of a culture that’s a toxic mix of misplaced, counterproductive economic growth and a perversion of the American dream that replaces hard work and talent with a sense of entitlement.

This has to change. Capitalism has defeated all comers, but it’s turning into a grotesque parody of itself. It can’t help exploiting natural resources until they are exhausted, driving wildlife to extinction, shrinking the lungs of the planet to serve created needs for snacks and fast food. Meanwhile the oil keeps flowing to fuel giant passenger cars, heat vast houses, keep our motorized recreational toys serving up thrill rides (until we tire of them after a year or two and abandon them out back to rust solid).

We have to add cooperation to competition. Work for the common good, prizing individual sacrifice and joint effort as much as personal achievement. And once again reward good repair people who are practiced with their hands, improvise solutions from what’s available, and serve quality and durability with every task.

If you look, there are signs of this everywhere. Crafts taking off on Esty. Restoration of old houses rather than building new. With a new building, reuse of old materials. (New construction is one of the worst contributors to the waste stream.) New clothing lines and furniture and household goods made partially or completely from recycled materials. The term “repurpose” is applied to many areas of human creativity.

How can you participate, break your dependence on the “always new?” Vow to find a used or “second life” or pre-owned object before settling on a new one. Buy a well-looked-after used car, or restore one. Shop tag sales not for valuables but yard tools, sturdy furniture and work shirts. Keep an eye out for estate sales. Go to a used clothing store and buy a cool vintage outfit.  Darn your socks. Get good shoes resoled. Sew a patch on a favorite pair of pants torn by a bramble. And keep your stuff in good working order. Oil your machines. Sand the rust off garden tools and lubricate the pruning shears. Repair first, concocting a solution if one isn’t immediately available. 

Check out local Repair Cafe activity here in the HV.