Our short and sweet post is going to explore this R word (out of our 6 Rs): Repair. Everyone’s got something they need to repair or mend or restore, and basically, I want you to know how to fix things! This seems to be a lost art in communities with a high sense of privilege — those who can afford to toss something broken and just replace it. 

I’m completely, totally, utterly 100% guilty of this. And I regret it now. 

I cringe when I think back on the days where something small would break (like a zipper) so I would toss the whole item without a second thought. Out of sight, out of mind. 

And if I’m being brutally honest, sometimes I was happy when something would break. It gave me a “reason” to go buy the newest version of whatever that thing was. Phones, clothing, shoes, accessories, electronics… 

Where does it all end up?

Despite many specialty recycling programs in place, the majority of our used items end up in the landfills. This study on textile and clothing waste has so many shocking statistics in it, but I’ll just share one example: 

“More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, and the amount has doubled over the last 20 years. In 2014, over 16 million tons of textile waste was generated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of this amount, 2.62 million tons were recycled, 3.14 million tons were combusted for energy recovery, and 10.46 million tons were sent to the landfill. An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person per year. On average, nationally, it costs cities $45 per ton to dispose of old clothing.”

And what about electronic waste, or e-waste? Here’s another site with staggering statistics on the topic, but I’ll list a few below: 

  • A large number of what is labeled as “e-waste” is actually not waste at all, but rather whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery
  • Only 12.5% of e-waste is currently recycled
  • For every 1 million cell phones that are recycled, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered
  • It takes 530 lbs of fossil fuel, 48 lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture one computer and monitor

These two categories represent an astronomical amount of unnecessary waste, and they don’t even include other common items sent to the landfill, such as: furniture, mattresses, food waste, glass or other recyclable materials… 

While there are specific recycling programs out there for these types of things (check out this video on clothing/textile recycling), they are NOT the solution to this massively overflowing problem. 

If you came across a room flooded with water, you’d want to stop the overflow at its source, then take care of the mess.

After you Refuse, Reduce and Reuse what you have, the next step to cutting off this unnecessary waste is to Repair what you own. Most of the time, you don’t need to be a genius to learn how to fix things. Many of us throw items away due to a slight inconvenience, not due to the completely irreparable nature of it all. 

So, I’m going to describe two options that you ALWAYS have when it comes to repairing stuff. 

These options not only help to cut off our overflow of waste and take better care of the earth, but they also save you money! When you look into these options, you’ll see that repairing your item will cost LESS than the amount it would cost to replace it most of the time. In the few cases where repairing an item would actually cost more, then you’ll need to decide on how to dispose of it responsibly. I’ll talk about this more at the end. 

Two Options For How To Fix Things

No matter what your broken item is, you always have these two options: outsource or do it yourself. Assess your situation, the value of your item, what’s in your budget, the resources available to you, and then make your decision.

1. DIY

Kevin and I bought a home that needed to be completely renovated. The cost to buy was affordable for us due to how much work needed to be done — but we weren’t afraid of tackling it. So, a couple of twenty-something-year-olds bought a major fixer-upper and learned how to fix things! Granted, it took us about 4 years to finish all the projects, but we saved so much money doing it ourselves and now we have a completely personalized home. 

This is a big example. An entire house. But all I’m saying is, if we could learn how to repair stuff, you totally can too!

Maybe start small, though 😉 Like mending a hole in your t-shirt or fixing a cracked mug. 

Here are my top recommendations for DIY projects: 

  • Youtube and Google — we seriously learned the most about how to fix things from these databases. (So. Many. Videos.) 
  • Home Depot offers FREE workshops
  • Ask a friend for help, or better yet, host a “Repair Party!” Our friends and family were super helpful when it came to things like painting our home and enjoying some pizza together… You could totally do this with small-scale repairs, too! What if you hosted a group of friends and patched up some ripped jeans or super-glued some things back together?? I dare say you might have some fun!

2. Outsource

Don’t want to DIY? Don’t have the time or the skill-set? Totally get it! It’s funny how Kevin and I were willing to learn how to tile both floors and a shower, but when it comes to mending our clothes… that’s another story. 😉

Neither of us is very steady with thread or needle. And we have a seamstress down the road whom we completely trust! So, when pants or shirts rip, we support our local businesses! It only costs a handful of dollars and we get to keep our clothing for many, many years. 

man with glasses mending some clothes with a sewing machine

Here are my top recommendations for outsourcing repair-work: 

  • Support small businesses in your community like tailors, seamstresses, cobblers, appliance repair shops, builders, and so on!
  • Search for repair clinics or “repair cafés” near you; these places often build community and teach valuable skills. 
  • Check if your products (especially electronics) are covered by warranty and bring them in to be repaired. 

Repair Before You Replace

my computer as an example of how to fix things
I’ve repaired my Macbook twice and it’s still going strong since 2012!

To sum up, if we’re going to cut off that source of overflow, we need to do these things: 

  1. Buy smarter: go through the previous Rs first (Refuse, Reduce, and Reuse), then invest in buying something of high quality that should last you a long time. 
  2. Repair: weigh out the cost of repairing vs. replacing. Is the cost to repair less than a new replacement? Is the value of the item worth a high-cost repair? Should you DIY or outsource?
  3. Finally, dispose responsibly: don’t just toss it into the garbage. What are your options? What else can be done to prolong its life? Where could you drop it off to be salvaged and/or recycled? 

On that last note, I need to mention that dumping all your things at a donation drop-off center is not always responsible. I definitely donate stuff to charities, but I make sure they’re quality items — not junk. Otherwise, the landfill is going to end up being their final destination anyway. 

For a deeper understanding of clothing/textile recycling programs, watch this video of our clothes’ untold journey around the world. (It kinda blew my mind…)

For quick tips on responsibly recycling your electronics, watch this video and search for collection centers near you.  

Thank you for your efforts to reduce unnecessary waste and to value the items you are privileged to own!

A couple more resources: 

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