Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seven things you should repair instead of replace

It shouldn't surprise you that fixing things rather than buying new can save money, as well as give you a sense of pride in your own skills and the satisfaction of keeping useful stuff out of the trash.

In many cases, simply sewing on a missing button, touching up a nicked paint job, or gluing on a broken corner can get your possessions back up to snuff with only minimal effort and very low expenditure.

The trouble is, these days, many of us fail to try even the easiest small repairs, instead opting to buy new at the smallest sign of trouble because it seems faster or more cost-effective.

Not only are we filling up landfills with things that could readily be reused, it takes a great deal of natural resources to make new stuff. Experts estimate that 44% of U.S. global warming emissions are due to products and packaging.

While some people have forgotten how to fix things, other folks are strengthening their DIY muscles. Freecycle is a growing marketplace for exchanging used items, some of which need repairs. There's a new green thrifty movement afoot, and even a humor site for wacky repairs.
When do you repair? Some people follow the rule of thumb that says you should definitely fix something if the repair costs are less than 50% of the original purchase price. Even if the costs are a bit more, fixing can be worth reducing waste and keeping goods you've already got.

Here are some things that aren't too difficult to fix. And tell us what you've fixed in the comments!

Shoes
Not long ago, a trip to the local cobbler was a routine errand. Although it may seem anachronistic, quite a few shoe repair shops still in business around the U.S. You can search online for one nearby by typing in your ZIP code and "cobbler."

A friend of mine recently took his beloved sneakers to a shop in New York City. For $10, he walked out with brand-new soles and refurnished inners, so his kicks seem practically new! Sure beats dropping $100+ for comparable replacements.

Favorite hiking, cowboy, or snow boots are prime suspects for resoling. And ladies' heels often get broken, while the rest of the shoe remains undamaged. Sometimes sandals just need a bit of sewing or gluing, and many pairs of shoes can be refreshed with new laces or a bit of polish.

Clothes
One entrepreneurial woman in Pennsylvania is happy to take in your worn dress and "recycle it" into something fresh and stylish. Nicole Kulp's Recycle My Dress is a fun concept, and it inspires us to look back through our own wardrobes.

Perhaps the most common repair needed is replacing a missing button. But it's not that difficult for beginners -- check out this video with instructions. Try these quick fixes too: Iron on a patch, fix or change a hemline, or repair a ripped seam.

Friends and family may be able to help you, if you offer to give them a hand in return at, say, cleaning their garage, raking their leaves, or whatever else you can barter.

It's also inexpensive to commission repairs at your local tailor or dry cleaner. In New York City, it costs around $1.50 to get a button fixed. Replacing a zipper costs around $10, more if the shop provides the zipper. Such minor fees are certainly better than picking out all new duds, perhaps even by thrift store standards.

Accessories
Remember that it isn't just apparel that can be repaired. Accessories are ripe for refurbishment.
Got a belt that doesn't fit you quite right anymore? Borrow an awl or industrial hole punch and make a quick adjustment. Buckle broken or worn out? Get a replacement from a thrift store and swap it out. Similarly, you can buy a new watch band for just a few dollars, extending the life of your timepiece.

Other jewelry can be repaired with new chains or clasps, or take your items to a jeweler for refitting and new settings. Hats, gloves, and scarves can be easy to mend with a bit of darning. Even umbrellas, which frequently break due to their moving parts, can sometimes be fixed with a bit of string.

Furniture
Upholstery shops are still around, and they offer the chance to refurbish a family heirloom or tailor a garage-sale find precisely to your taste. You pick out the fabric and amount of cushioning, so you can redo a piece that is unlikely to be found in any other home. Many people enjoy reupholstering as a hobby, and for some basic chairs and other items, the task can be a straightforward DIY project.

Similarly, broken furniture can often be fixed up with some nails, glue, and patience. If your table is rickety, you may be able to get by with a small board under one leg. Need a temporary table? Place a bit of plywood between two saw horses or stacks of bricks and cover with a pretty cloth. Furniture can be expensive, is often made of virgin wood and takes a lot of storage space if you're not using it all the time.

Appliances
Keeping appliances in good, clean working order will help avoid problems. Many times all that's needed to return to proper functioning is replacing a filter or removing clogs. I've fixed a stalled vacuum cleaner by slipping a belt back on the drive. Sometimes you can replace a broken door latch or do some resealing.

Sometimes a fresh paint job is all that's needed to transform a worn workhorse into a shiny new appliance. Even if your appliance needs major work, it is often cheaper to call in a service technician for a repair than to buy new (call your manufacturer, look up "appliance repair" in the yellow pages, or search online).

Do note that older refrigerators, washers, and other major appliances may be ripe for replacement, however, if they are very inefficient. You may save more money in the long term by upgrading to energy-efficient models for major use items.

Electronics
Oftentimes there is a simple fix even to complicated things. Maybe you just need a new remote control or power cord. Maybe you need to take apart the computer mouse and clean it out, then (hopefully) put it back together.

Back in the days when VCRs cost $700, there was a healthy business of repair shops. These days the economics often don't make sense, and we're essentially exporting our electronics labor overseas when we constantly buy new.

We should try to give more thought to repair: There may be instances in which minor repairs may not be too expensive (again, bartering can be a great way to get the job done). Call your manufacturer or try looking up "electronics repair" in the yellow pages or search online.

Luggage
Luggage sure takes a beating, what with busy airport handlers, clanking conveyor belts and jostling in public transportation or loading in and out of cars. But luggage is also expensive, and minor damage can be repaired.

You can patch over rips in luggage, even with heavy tape if you are in a pinch. Replace broken straps or handles with new ones (you can often buy generic ones cheaply at discount stores, or take them off free promotional bags). Glue or tape worn corners. You might even be able to swap out broken wheels.

If not, call your manufacturer and ask if it has a refurbishment plan. Many designer luggage makers have good repair/refurb programs.

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