I Choose To Not Inhabit a Throwaway World

by Katy on February 14, 2014 · 53 comments

mending boots

We live in a throwaway world. It doesn’t help that it’s often cheaper to replace an item than it is to repair it, and the artisans who formerly had those specific skill to repair household items are a dying breed. And for most people, the temporary thrill of a shiny new thing wins over the excitement of a cleverly repaired item.

No one ever compliments you on a invisible repair like they would on its brand new counterpart.

“Wow, awesome shoes that I’ve already seen hundreds of times! Are they recently repaired?”

Yeah . . . that doesn’t happen.

I choose not to inhabit a throw away world. I repair and mend, even when the repair only saves me a couple of bucks. I also try not to bring unrepairable stuff into my home. (Plastic, particle board furniture and cheap electronics come to mind.)

The above picture is the wool lining of my beloved Keen boots. I bought them on clearance in 2008 for $37.50 and have worn them approximately seventy–bajillion times since then. I recently shelled out $30 to have a cobbler replace the zipper, and yesterday I took a needle and thread to the wool lining to restitch a seam.

Good as new? No, they don’t look new, but that’s okay with me. They’re in good repair, incredibly comfortable and dare I say it? Pretty cool looking.

The instinct to replace rather than repair is a recent phenomenon. Whether it was the umbrella repairman or a handy wife who turned a collar, the mindset to repair is missing for many Americans. Our resourceful grandparents would not have have filled their trash cans with easily repairable items.

It’s expensive, it creates a culture of wastefulness and I choose not to live that way.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather February 14, 2014 at 11:12 am

Last winter I purchased a great quality winter coat for my son from a consignment store. It was already a fantastic price, but the zipper was a little sticky in the middle, so the owner gave it to me for 50% off their price. This year, just before the big Portland snow hit, he lost the zipper keeper off the top and therefore lost the slide. I took the coat to a seamstress and had the coat repaired. Since I got such an amazing deal on the coat, the zipper was actually more expensive than the whole coat, but I feel much better about repairing what we already had!

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

That’s great! Did you know that our own local Columbia Sportswear will repair zippers for free? Just bring them into one of their stores.

I recently had the zipper on my son’s backpack replaced. I bought the zipper myself, and then a friend of my mother’s did the sewing. (My mother offered to do it, but couldn’t figure it out.)

Katy

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Dawn February 15, 2014 at 6:34 am

Some years ago a friend of mine who teaches at a middle school found a Jansport backpack when cleaning out leftovers from lockers at the end of the school year. The zipper was damaged but she knew they had a lifetime warranty on their products. Now this is very interesting to me–she called the company and explained that she wanted to have the backpack repaired but that she did not buy it. She was willing to pay to have it repaired by them and was calling to inquire how to go about doing it. She was told that it didn’t matter to them that she didn’t buy it and that it she would pay to have it shipped back to them they would repair it and ship it back. They did. I thought that was a cool experience. It was like what mattered was that the back pack was repaired not the buying or selling.

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patti February 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

I look for ways to repair things, too. I sew and do mending a lot but I also have recently repaired my iron by putting a new cord on it. When I went to the hardware store to buy the cord, the cashier said she thought I ought to just go buy a new iron. I thought, “Why? I like my iron!!”. It still works just needed a new cord which maybe took me 10 minutes to replace.

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 11:56 am

That’s fantastic! Repairing an iron wouldn’t occur to most people. Then again, ironing stuff doesn’t occur to most people either, including me. ;-)

Katy

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Sadye February 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Recently my gentleman friend told me he liked that I wasn’t wasteful, and it might be one of my favorite compliments ever :)

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WilliamB February 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Right now on my mend pile is my long winter coat (button), work sock (heel hole), work shirt (to trim the worn-out hem, which is below the tuck-in line so no one will see), and SmartWool sock (heel hole). This 15 min of work will save me about $30 dollars – $5 button, $5 for a pair of work socks, $20 for a pair SmartWool socks.

The winter coat cost me $100 about 20 years ago and the lining is totally shot. Next step is to find out how much it’ll cost to reline the poor thing. I must remember to compare it to the replacement cost (and hassle) and not the original cost.

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Margo February 16, 2014 at 8:24 am

You may want to see if you can find something at a Thrift store that has a liner you can replace yours with.

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WilliamB February 17, 2014 at 3:32 pm

You mean like a coat of a similar size? I didn’t even know that could work. What do they do – slip the lining into the coat then … I don’t know what – how do they attach the lining to the coat? I was imagining that the coat had to be taken apart in order to be relined, which I imagined would be expensive.

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Diane February 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

I am extremely finicky about clothing and when I find something that is comfortable and fits well I want it to last forever. I often refashion tops that may have a stain, cut off pant legs to make shorts from my most comfortable jeans, etc. It’s both frugal and comforting that I still have my beloved clothing in a whole new way.

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 3:54 pm

I have an artist friend who will silkscreen images over particularly bad stains!

Katy

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Karen Powell February 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I have repaired my vacuum cleaner (that we got for a wedding gift 20 years ago) so many times I can’t even remember. It’s difficult to find replacement parts, as so few people go looking for them, but I have found a place that carries them. I am the one who fixes stuff, as my Dad taught me how and my husband didn’t grow up that way…

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marie February 14, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Vacuums are hard to find parts for. My 20+ years old Hoover I still love, but finding vacuum bags and belts are getting hard. I found some bags last year at a liquidator and bought all 8 packages

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 8:15 pm

My current vacuum cleaner doesn’t use bags, but my last one did. I used to open the top, dump the contents and then staple and tape it shut again. It got smaller each time, but I was able to get an enormous amount of use from each bag this way.

Katy

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HeatherS February 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Ok, that is brilliant and I can’t believe I have never thought of it. The bags for my vacuum are expensive and reusing them this way is a great idea!

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Groovecatmom February 14, 2014 at 3:30 pm

My mother was quite a seamstress and could turn a collar. I think I might try to learn this, what the heck, if I screw up, the shirt was already no good with a frayed collar. When I was young and would get a hole in a sweater, she would take it to a yarn shop and they would mend it for her–sometimes for free. I thought it was magic. It’s harder to find that anymore–I tried it recently and they couldn’t help me. Also need to look into darning socks…I think my son’s feet are made of sandpaper…thanks for the blog!

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Sandpaper feet, we have those here at my house too!

Katy

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Heather February 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I agree with your post and just learned some thing by reading the first comment. I just bought a Columbia snow jacket and now I know if the zipper breaks to contact them – cool.

I saw a post before Christmas that basically said that when kids today become grandparents they will be experts at ‘selfies’ and the internet (not sewing, etc). So true, but so sad.

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm

I like that Columbia Sportswear actually repairs their coats rather than simply replace them like Land’s End or LL Bean.

Katy

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amym February 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Though I can mend clothing, wool socks are too much. The boots I wear to walk the dog wear out the heals of my socks quickly. I was throwing out my Smartwool socks on a regular basis and kind of bummed about it, and then realized all I needed to do was wear thin work-out sock underneath to protect my ripped heals. Even in Minnesota, heels are not something that ever get cold…

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Mr. Everyday Dollar February 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I purchased a few pair of chunky (and expensive) The North Face wool socks a few years ago and they wore so quickly!

Disgusted with the lack of quality I took them into a The North Face store. They sent them in to the repair center per their protocol (which is free) and I eventually got back a gift card for their value.

I’ve since found that the best wearing wool socks are Wigwam – made by your neighbors in Sheboygan, WI – and secondly REI’s own line.

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Mr. Everyday Dollar February 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I recently had my cobbler resole my pair of Clarks Desert Boots. Frankly, the decision was difficult because the rule of thumb for resoling shoes is that the cost of the new sole should be less than half the original cost of the shoes.

Because I paid $75 for the boots (on sale) that meant I shouldn’t pay more than $38 for a resole, but the shop wanted $65! I was able to justify it because Desert Boots typically cost $120, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

If you want to see before and after photos, check out at http://mreverydaydollar.com/resoling-clarks-desert-boots/. Reduce, reuse, recycle…and resole!

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Trish February 14, 2014 at 5:21 pm

I grew up in a reuse environment, my father is still Mr. Fixit, or make it yourself. I rent a duplex, and have been fixing it up to suit myself. I took down the square bedroom light covers in the dining room and kitchen (yes!) and installed a drum light in the kitchen from parts I already had, and then bought a small chandelier at my church’s thrift sale, and painted it, put on lampshades, and wired it into the existing electrical box, and now have beautiful lamps in each space. Cost of chandelier: $3. Cost for kitchen light: $0. Love it!

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Wow, very impressive!

Katy

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tna February 14, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Over time I’ve taught myself to mend and alter clothes to fit with just a needle and thread. Practice makes perfect and I found French seams easy and very strong so I don’t have wardrobe malfunctions anymore!

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Ron February 14, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Have you seen the BBC documentary – The Century of Self? It shows how the consumer culture began and is being perpetuated. Freud’s nephew was Edward Bernays, the pioneer of public relations. He adapted Freud’s theories of the unconscious to “manufacture public consent” and influence consumer preferences for goods and political ideologies. I found it very enlightening.

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Sounds interesting, I’ll have to keep an eye out.

Katy

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Megg February 14, 2014 at 6:41 pm

We just repaired my husband’s shoes with a $6 tube of shoe goo that I’m sure we’ll use many, many more times!
I also just mended holes in the armpit of one of my favorite long sleeved t-shirts, a free shirt from a breast cancer walk 10 years ago!

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Katy February 14, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Shoe goo is the best!

Katy

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Kat C February 14, 2014 at 8:47 pm

I sew patches on my dogs toys, until there is more patch then toy!

I also have a wool coat missing a button Which needs to be fixed, but I’m wearing anyways until I get around to it.

My winter boots (I live in the Canadian Prairies, so they get plenty of use) were purchased 15 years for what seemed like a lot of money. Buying quality paid off! They are still in good shape and I use them daily.

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Jerianne February 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Still enjoying every post (((hugs)))

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Katie February 15, 2014 at 2:45 am

I really appreciate these skills but do not know how to sew. Do you have any books/resources you recommend to learn some of these skills? Thanks!
Katie

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nalani February 15, 2014 at 12:42 pm

If you google “mending clothes,” you’ll find a bunch of videos and postings with photos. There’s a real movement to mend, repair and refashion and you’ll have fun learning!

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WilliamB February 15, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Many needlework and fabric shops have classes or tutorials – not all of which cost. Is there such a store near you?

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Thrifty Writer February 15, 2014 at 7:02 pm

I find YouTube videos to be very helpful. When I was wanting to learn how to darn a sock, I found several helpful YouTube videos. When I momentarily forgot how to cast on stitches for knitting, it was youtube to the rescue. Whatever you need to learn how to do, YouTube cab teach you:-)

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Liz February 15, 2014 at 3:34 am

This is not a huge savings on one piece at a time, but I repair my dogs’ plush toys when they have opened up a seam and strewn batting all over the carpet. Each toy is between $5-10, and I rotate about four toys at a time.

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Deb February 15, 2014 at 3:38 am

It’s a great feeling to salvage something instead of throwing it away. I had a fabulous pair of wool dress pants purchased on sale that had a stain in them I couldn’t seem to get rid of. As a last ditch effort I bought one of the kits that steam clean a garment just like the dry cleaners. It worked like a charm and I wore those pants for years.

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Deb February 15, 2014 at 3:38 am

It’s a great feeling to salvage something instead of throwing it away. I had a fabulous pair of wool dress pants purchased on sale that had a stain in them I couldn’t seem to get rid of. As a last ditch effort I bought one of the kits that steam clean a garment just like the dry cleaners. It worked like a charm and I wore those pants for years.

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Elizabeth February 15, 2014 at 5:45 am

It made me happy that you commented on the invisible repair. I have a sweater I have repaired quite a few times. I have been trying to keep it new looking by doing ‘invisible mending.’ It has recently occurred to me, however, that I should switch to doing the opposite. I think it would be an amazing art form to use a different brightly coloured embroidery floss with each repair. The sweater would then come to tell a unique and vibrant story!

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Megg February 15, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Whenever I darn socks I use bright embroidery floss because no one will see it and it makes me smile.

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Emily N. February 15, 2014 at 6:38 am

Last week I mended a bunch of socks and my favorite fleece tights that were ripping at the seams. The project I really need to tackle is my down coat that has a small rip in it. I found that they sell clear patches for this kind of repair, but I need to get myself in gear and order one.

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Katie February 15, 2014 at 7:06 am

Repair power! I like to think about this as being materialistic in a good way – knowing the value of the resources it took to bring these objects into existence, it is responsible to get all I can out of them. A couple recent victories:

I have a fine-gauge cotton sweater that was getting a hole near the tag. I was able to re-knit across the hole with a few strands of embroidery floss – a near invisible repair. I even had the floss (a near-exact color match) left over from another project. I love a fussy little project like that.

In December, the rubber part of one of my winter boots separated from the nylon upper after one too many times of pulling them off without unlacing them but I was able to re-sew them with a quadruple length of thread. Sewing through the nylon and rubber was really rough on the fingers, but I hope they’ll last another 10 years this way!

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Shelly February 15, 2014 at 9:28 am

Between my husband and myself we can usually repair most of the items in our home. I’ve repaired my vacuum cleaner with a popsicle stick and hot glue, until I could get the new switch to fix it.

My husband did a little online research when our dishwasher quit working. It was just a $20 switch that needed to be replaced. He did it himself. Our dishwasher is 14 years old but still works great.

I also mended a pair of my husbands slippers recently when the thread on the side of the sole got so old it failed. It only took a few minutes and it was as good as new.

I love it when I can repair an item instead of having to replace it.

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Melissa February 15, 2014 at 9:41 am

I recently took a $150 rug in to get cleaned, and when the guy told me it would cost $60 to clean, he suggested I just buy a new rug. I told him I couldn’t imagine just throwing it in a landfill instead of saving $90. He seemed genuinely confused by my choice to go ahead a have it cleaned. I was confused by his confusion.

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Belleln February 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

Hubby and I repair, reuse, repurpose everything we can. Mending is my job as my mother was an expert seamstress and taught me. I can and have turned collars, removed collars when couldn’t turn and made into a band collar, shortened & lengthened pants and sleeves, removed sleeves, etc. What I find interesting is that there are few books available on mending. Our library system has only one and it is for decorative repairs such as adding lace,appliques, decorative stitching but not straightforward repairs like turning a collar.
Household repairs are what my husband does and there are quite a few books for that. We used to give a household repair book as a wedding gift some 40-45 years ago and it was very well received – bet it wouldn’t be today.
When we were on vacation about 50 years ago the handle on my Dad’s leather suitcase came off. My uncle replaced it with a leather dog collar and my Dad used that suitcase until he died 5 years ago – my sister inherited it and still uses it with the same dog collar. I know nobody would do that now.

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K D February 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm

When we visited my mom at Christmas time my 18 yo fixed her CD player. She reasoned that it already didn’t work so what damage could she do. I was very proud of her as I have never seen her repair anything at home but apparently she does that kind of stuff at her part-time job.

My husband frequently brings home abandoned items (things from lost and found piles that are headed to the trash after a given time period or things being thrown away at work because they don’t work (until he fixes them)). If we can’t use them I give them away (often via Freecycle).

I have fixed slippers with needle and thread or duct tape, depending on the problem. I almost always prefer to keep items I have rather than upgrade them.

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Chris February 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Shoo goo is the awesomest – it will outlast the shoes! (kid tested around here!)

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chicknlil February 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

Just mended my coveralls. They had about a million little snags in the duct, so I zig-zagged over them and around the iron on patches that were getting loose. Last night I caught my ‘fire hose’ coat on a welded panel and tore it. Sigh, the coat is supposed to be indestructible. If so, how can a smallish woman tear it so easily? I’m going to write the company b/c of the rip, the back seam came unsewn and I had to repair it, and the pocket lining is raveling. I really like this chore coat but it isn’t as sturdy as they claim. I think they were too cheap with the seam allowances.
I darn my socks as well. One thing that I need to get moving on is my super glue pile. I try to collect up several projects before I repair them b/c it seems the glue won’t keep between uses. The little nozzle stops up. Any tips?
I have a tendency to use the same objects for the same tasks each time and to become attached to them. I had a funky little vintage bowl that I loved to eat stir fry out of. It broke and my other bowls just aren’t the right size (: silly huh?

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Koliti February 17, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Hi Chicknlil! I use Super Glue GEL and sometimes might need to stick a needle down the nozzle, otherwise just wipe off the tip before putting the cap back on works well.

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Hope :) February 16, 2014 at 2:50 pm

It’s funny you’re mentioning this right now — this week, I’ve patched up four pairs of jeans that had little holes wearing through in this place and that. The coolest thing is that the patches 1) Have stayed on throughout some “test wears” this week, and 2) Look festive! AND I don’t have to go out and buy new jeans (and by “new” jeans I mean eBay or Goodwill jeans ;)). AND I feel so very handy even though the patching couldn’t have been easier. A win-win-win! :)

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Katherine February 17, 2014 at 12:38 pm

I do small clothes repairs myself with needle and thread. Recently, my black cardigan started unravelling at the seem on the sleeve and had a small hole near the tag. I fixed both. Since it’s black, the repairs are nearly invisible although my sewing skills are not very good. I also repair small hole in my knits all the time, I find it rewarding. I also took three pairs of shoes to the cobbler to replace a zipper and fix the sole of two of them. Wen the button of my favorite jeans fell off, I had it replaced. I think making things last and repairing is important, as well as taking good care of what you have to make it last.

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emmer February 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

i have the good fortune of having learned sewing from a perfectionist mother and dressmaker grandmother. i have also taken classes in night schools, community colleges and thru sewing machine and fabric shops. all advanced my skills. if you want to learn to sew, and have no one to teach you, try internet as suggested. also try your local pbs station. bet they have several sewing programs, some aimed at beginners, some specializing. also, try your library. nancy zieman and sue hauser both have many good books and dvds to their credit on general sewing and specialties.

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Diane Barnard February 18, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I wore a pair of Lacrosse boots around on the farm until the stitching finally broke releasing the boots into an upper and lower half. In our rural area there is nobody to repair shoes. I tried duct tape; not the best fix for farm boots. I did happen upon a different pair of Lacrosse boots that were too big for me. I took the felt liners from the original pair and put them in the too-big pair. Instant fix!

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