A lawnmower, a weed whacker, a convection/microwave, and a big hurking battery. Meet four of the items that fell into disrepair when I couldn’t pay the mortgage. They are also four steps I’m taking in my recovery, thanks to a man who fixes the bits of the world that he can touch with his hands. He is why I think we’re missing a fourth R: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and Repair.
Recycling. It is much more common now, but we continue to make jokes about it, and too often the item at hand doesn’t seem to fit into only one category. Trash happens. Go check to Pacific Plastic Gyre for proof. Go check Midway Journey to see that it isn’t just a nuisance. (And go check my long neglected plans for a oceanic plastic harvester.)
Reuse. Reuse could include repair, but for those who’ve stepped beyond just recycling, reuse usually means repurposing or buying second hand. A truck tire rim becomes a fire pit. One person’s worn dress shirt becomes someone else’s garden work shirt. Much more energy efficient than tossing out the old, though the first owner may have just spent money and energy buying something new.
Reduce. Minimalists unite! Whether by choice or necessity, minimalists discard or refuse to buy whenever possible. Stuff can own you, and the more stuff you own the more of your life is spent tending your stuff. The dusting alone is a deterrent. The less you have, the more freedom you gain; which for some means Tiny Houses under 200 square feet or nomadic lifestyles about boats or RVs.
I’m not an extremist. My recycling probably takes up more volume than my garbage because empty plastic juice jugs take up a lot of space, and with composting my garbage is typically one grocery bag per week. Most of my stuff was bought new years ago, but also bought for quality, so only after years of financial turmoil am I seeing the need to replace things. During those last few years, much of what I’ve acquired has been lightly used find from the thrift store or presented as gifts by friends. Reduce has happened by necessity as I sold a few thousands of dollars worth of stuff, most of which I haven’t missed.
Without any grand plan, I’ve been a minimalist for decades. When my first house went on the market, prospective buyers thought it was vacated even though I hadn’t moved anything out. Cleaning up is so much easier when there’s less to clean. Now, my house is a palatial 840 square feet, which has one empty room and lots of empty drawers. And still it can take days to find something that I know must be around here somewhere.
Now that I’m clearing the financial hurdle of a modified mortgage, I’m noticing how much work there is, how many plans want to be undammed, and how many things have been abandoned in place waiting for the next step. Would I get to stay, have to move into another house, have to move into an apartment, or become some sort of digital nomad? The lawnmower became balky. The weed whacker refused to whack weeds. The microwave became fickle and the convection oven started to smoke. The big hurking battery, which I use in place of a generator when the power goes out, couldn’t hold a charge. They aren’t the only things waiting for a new wire, a cleaning, or a new part of two; but fixing those four things made a statement that I’ll be taking care of the yard, working more in the kitchen, and settling in even if the power does trip off here a bit more than normal (something for island rather than urban life).
Here’s where I get to proclaim my great repair skills. Notice there isn’t much more in this paragraph.
Here’s where I get to thank a member of an important minority: an honest repairman. There’s a guy in town who does good work; and who prefers not to be named because he’s already in such demand that the work could get in the way of important things like bicycling and fishing. Repairs that could me a week with a low chance of success are things he can do in an hour. A few bucks here, he cleans the contacts better than I could. A few more bucks, he untangles the fishing line that wound itself around a motor. Point me to a spare part. Show me that the problem was more with the user than the machine. Four items are steered clear of the dump, while he makes enough for bait, I spend a lot less than buying new, we don’t have to mine the planet for some more stuff, and work gets done around my house.
These are the sorts of repairs I’m willing to pay for when I have to because of finances, but also when I have more than enough. The thrill of a new tool isn’t as gratifying as the ease of using a familiar and trusty tool. I spent enough time researching those items the first time. Even with more than enough money, I don’t want to spend yet more precious time just for the sake of digging through packaging, juggling little accessory parts, and trying to decide if it is worth it to decipher the user’s manual.
One of the sad parts of the last few years has been watching things fade and fail without being able to do much about it. Amplify that by the tens of millions in worse financial conditions than me and realize how much potential lies dormant and diminishing for the lack of just a bit more money. I believe that extends to our institutions that have experienced austerity measures even while other organizations are given budgets based on borrowing. Much more good is waiting to be done.
The engineer in me is humbled by anyone with such repair skills. I learned how to be an aerospace engineer. Aerodynamics, flight mechanics, orbital dynamics, all very useful things; but not much good when poking inside an electric mower choked with wire. But as I walked away from his shop I gave myself some credit. What he does for electrical things I do for people’s plans, choices, and even their web sites. Often enough, a problem that can cause days or weeks of consternation can be solved in an hour or a few because of a different combination of experience and perspective. Each of us can do that for someone. There are plenty of problems out there. Maybe by passing along our various talents we can repair quite a lot.
One of my favorite Will Rogers quotes leads to a personal corollary.
“You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” – Will Rogers
“Everyone is equally brilliant, only on different subjects.” – Tom Trimbath