If you have ever woefully thrown out an appliance or piece of furniture because you didn’t know how to fix it, a “Repair Café” may be just what you are looking for. These Cafés are community organizations that bring together fixers and tools with people who have broken things. The repair experts may be hobbyists, pros or retired experts who have skills and time to share with their community. Café’s typically meet in spaces such as community centers, libraries or art centers, or may have a more permanent designated location.
To visit a Repair Café, you generally don’t need to preregister or have any skill. The central hub of global Repair Cafés is the Repair Café Foundation in Amsterdam, which former journalist Martine Postma founded in 2011. She opened what is thought to be the first Café of this kind in 2009. The New York Times explains that motherhood inspired her to waste less and send less trash to landfills. The movement has now spread to include over 1,000 sites in almost 30 countries. The central nonprofit supports local groups starting up by providing suggested materials lists, tips and marketing materials.
The Repair Café site explains, “Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together),” and lists furniture, electrical appliances, crockery, clothes, bicycles, toys and other appliances as possible objects to bring to a café. Jewelry and books are also options and the services and specialties of the available repairers will vary by locality.
While there is no guarantee that your belonging will be repaired, you can, at the least, commune with your community and learn some new skills. They even say if you have nothing to repair, you are welcome; “you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or, you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job.” You might also want to peruse the collection of books on DIY repairs. “All we can guarantee is that you will have an interesting time,” John Wackman who organized a New Paltz, New York Café, told the Times.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash. This is a pretty good inspiration for figuring out ways to repair and reuse more of our belongings. AOL Finance states that most appliances should last four years or more. Here’s their formula on the repair or replace conundrum: “if the repair cost is more than half the cost of a new appliance, and the item is more than half-way through its useful lifetime, then it’s time to buy a new one.”
Because Repair Café services are free (while they may take donations) it seems like a repair visit could be worthwhile. The Foundation states that as well as reducing landfill waste and potentially saving users money, they cut down on the pollution generated with manufacturing and recycling new products. The Repair Café Foundation also states it doesn’t want to compete with professional repair providers, just to refocus social awareness on the possibility of repair. They sometimes advise visitors to get in touch with locals who are in the business of repair.
These café’s now exist in 11 U.S. states. If you live in the D.C. area, there is a Repair Café not too far away—the Maryland Greenbelt MakerSpace. Ray Pfau, who organizes a Repair Café in Massachusetts, told the Times, “One of the things that makes it challenging and interesting is that we don’t know what people are going to bring.” At this Café, listening is also considered a “reparative act” and service; a psychiatric nurse is available to visitors in a “Listening Corner.”
If you’d like to seek out a Repair Café, check out this interactive word map.
Keep in mind that some similar organizations function under different names. For example, there’s a “Remakery” in Edenborough and a “Restart Project” in London that have very similar philosophies and programs.
If your old computer, appliance or other belonging is broken and you just aren’t keeping it, Apartment Therapy encourages you to recycle it. They’ve got a handy guide to recycling electronics, batteries and even lightbulbs here. PartSelect also offers info. on recycling appliances and other products. Your local thrift store will also likely be glad to have your used but still functional belongings to recycle through the local economy and community.