Thrift Week — Day 3, Don't Replace, Repair!

by Katy on January 19, 2009 · 10 comments


Thrift Week


Welcome to day three of Thrift Week. Today’s topic is don’t replace, repair.

It’s an unrealistic expectation to think one’s possessions will last forever. Everything, at some point, will need upkeep. We accept that our cars need oil changes, tune ups and even major repairs, yet our other belongings get the landfill treatment when they cry out for help. 

And why shouldn’t we replace our broken stuff? It’s often almost the same amount of money to repair something as it is to buy a brand new one.

Here’s why not:

The manufacturing involved in creating more, more, more consumer goods is destroying our beautiful planet.

The materials used to create our consumer goods come from somewhere, often many somewheres. And when we maintain what we already own, we can avoid the negative environmental ripple effects of manufacturing all that new stuff. 

And you don’t have to be extraordinarily skilled to maintain and repair your belongings, it’s often as simple as gluing something back together or sewing a few stitches. For more complicated repairs, there are experts who can use our business.

Here’s a partial list of repairable items:

Clothing and bedding: The repair needed to keep your wardrobe and bedding in tip-top shape is often just a matter of sewing a seam back together. Keep a sewing kit near your TV, and spend a few minutes on mending. It’s actually kind of fun, and definitely satisfying to see something return back to the land of  being wearable and usable. 

Household items: I keep a stock of glues to repair all the broken items that regularly get handed to me. (Super-glue, a hot glue gun and contact cement pretty much meet my needs.) In the past few months I can recall gluing a hairbrush, toys, sneakers, a bedding zipper-bag and a lampshade. 

Computers: I write on a Macintosh iBook G4. This particular model (2005) has a design flaw where the charging plug-in, (I know there’s an official term — sorry) gets easily yanked, which loosens the connection. We’ve taken the computer in twice for repair, and both times my husband asks if we should “maybe just buy a brand new computer?” I am happy to continue repairing the computer, and would like to see it last for years to come. Computer manufacturers come out with cooler, faster, sexier models each and every year, but it’s okay to maintain the one you already own.

Appliances: You’re nobody these days unless your kitchen appliances are stainless steel. (And I have to admit, I can see the appeal of their space-age allure.) But just because your refrigerator is needing a new gasket or is the wrong color is not a reason to hoof it over to the nearest appliance store. Appliances are huge hunks of junk once they’re no longer in use, and deserve a repair now and then. I just today noticed that our slow cooker’s electrical cord is worn through to the point where I can see the copper wiring. Even though it’s country kitchen ugliness will win no beauty contests, I will have my husband replace the cord. (Because it is after all a functional item, not a fashion accessory.)

Lamps: This may seem like an odd category, but I love vintage lamps, (specifically alabaster ones) and taught myself how to rewire them. The kit can be bought at a hardware store, (hopefully a locally owned one) and is truly as easy as 1-2-3. I always peruse the lamp aisle at my local Goodwill thrift shop, and see many, many perfectly good lamps that would be as good as new if rewired.

Furniture: Most furniture can be repaired rather than replaced. Some wood glue, a few well placed clamps, and viola, as-good-as-new. Fabric furniture can be re-upholstered, and somewhat ugly pieces can be transformed with a lick of paint. This is one of the reasons why I am not a fan of the particle-board and laminate creations of Ikea. Once they’re broken, they’re often unfixable. 

So next time you’re about to toss a broken or torn item, ask yourself this question:

Can this item be fixed?

Here’s a clip from the wonderful video of The Story of Stuff as a reminder as to why the best purchase, is often the one not taken.

Did I leave out your proudest repair? Please share in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

Tomorrow: Lower your set expenses.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam January 20, 2009 at 3:29 am

Computers CAN be kept useful for a long time, although it isn’t always cheap. Here in Portland, there’s a way to do it on the cheap with an innovative group, They’ll teach you computer assembly and repair with donated parts. You can earn a refurbished computer, for example, in exchange for 24 hours of work for them. They also sell some used equipment, and recycle what they can’t sell.

Their motto: “Helping the Needy get Nerdy since the beginning of the Third Millienum.”


Connie Walsh January 20, 2009 at 5:40 am

My all-time favorite fix is cleaning the sprayer arms of the dishwasher…many a crappy dishwasher has been renewed to it’s former glory. We personally had milk corners in the sprayer arms…thus they would stop spraying.

I have a food processor given to me by mil when she got a new one…have the mono clear caulking out to seal the leak. Makes it easier to make liquidy things when they don’t leak all over the counter!!!


tammy January 20, 2009 at 7:51 am

I bought a pair of Forever 21 black pants new at the thrift market last week. The hem was out—it’s on my repair list today to mend while i watch the DC hoopla…
A needle and thread are not only tools to mend things, but repairing things gives on a feeling of accomplishment ….
So enjoy your blog Katy. Keep up the great work.


Magdalena January 20, 2009 at 11:25 am

My husband is an amazing repairman. He once replaced the entire transom on a small sailboat. So the high-end repairs get done at home.

I have learned how to let in patches on just about everything. My dresses and skirts go a lot further now. I even knit patches for sweaters. I’m no fashion plate (being Plain) so the mere fact that there is a little patch doesn’t affect my aesthetic at all.

Many people grew up without learning the traditional arts, but there are Extension and Continuing Ed classes just about everywhere.


Emily January 20, 2009 at 11:53 am

Connie Walsh, would you please share how to clean the spraying arm of the dishwasher. That’s exactly what my dishwasher needs (the top arm) but I have no idea how to go about it. Thank you!


mindfulmama January 20, 2009 at 2:14 pm

I get a thrill when I repair something that would otherwise be thrown out. And similarly, I get frustrated when looking at the garbage piles on trash day in my neighborhood. In my community, I wish there was a town dump, so I could rummage through to ‘rescue’ items thrown before their time. But, alas, I will have to remain the neighborhood trash picker (under the cover of dark, of course). I love fixing clothes purchased at the thrift store for pennies. I also feel so smug when my husband fixes appliances on his own that I know would cost a few bucks for a repairman. But above all that, I am a lover of furniture refinishing!


eballen January 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm

My husband and I are starting to think more like this — trying to repair or reuse items instead of throwing them out and replacing. I concur on Ikea particleboard items. I have chosen not to buy them because they seem destined for the landfill if damaged or old. One thing I do like about Ikea, though, is that they clearly list the materials for each product on the website. I was looking at a toy organization (Trofast) system for our son (tried to find something used, but couldn’t). They have a white version in particleboard, but also a slightly more expensive wood version in solid pine. So we’re opting for the wood version, because it can be refinished if needed, and should still be very useable for someone else even after our son is too old for it (which should be at least 10 years).


carocoknits January 20, 2009 at 4:34 pm

As always, there are two ways to go. A few months ago, I did have to throw out my food processor. I had bought replacement parts three times at a cost of about three times replacement value. I just couldn’t justify doing it again. I have not replaced it, I am waiting to see if I really can live without it. The only time I have missed it is for the pizza dough recipe from the Tightwad Gazette. Of course, we have a wonderful free pile at our recycling facility, and one may just show up. Our big repairs have come on our vehicle. We have used the junkyard for parts, and even bought the exact same model for $500 to strip for parts. From that, we replaced my transmission (they had just had it done for $3000 and then didn’t want to put more money into it) and my four wheel drive. Now when something goes wrong with my truck, my husband just pulls the part from the garage and fixes it.


Karen January 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm

My favorite time was 40 years ago. I had a just barely toddler and desperately wanted a high chair. The next week I saw one in the alley next to our building’s dumpster. It had a red seat and back with torn upholstery and a battered paint-chipped tray table.

So I dragged it home, bought $1.00 worth of red polka dot oilcloth at JC Penney, took it apart and re-upholstered it. I sprayed the tray table white (we didn’t know about lead paint back then). It not only lasted for his childhood, but also his younger brother’s childhood. All for a dollar and a can of spray paint.


sears parts man January 28, 2009 at 12:59 am

great post !! I read a few of your other entires.where can i subscribe to your blog?Thank you for sharing.sears parts


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