The best part? It’s totally free.
As a kid, one of my favorite books was “A Bug From Aunt Tillie.” There’s precious little information about it on the web, so let me sum it up: An eight-year-old boy named Joey thinks his great aunt is boring and useless until she teaches him how to fix his broken toys.
Sounds great, right? Teaching kids the value of repair and reuse, discouraging wanton chuck-its.
Imagine my consternation, then, when our tube TV died one day and my parents hauled it out to the garage to await its final doom. I wasn’t allowed to have a television in my room at this point, but my parents were so sure the set was busted they told me that if I could fix it I could keep it. (In hindsight, allowing a 12 year old with zero electrical experience to start probing the innards of a tube TV is not a good idea.)
I got poked, I got shocked. I had no idea what was wrong. But I realized if I detached the back of the set and jammed it on crooked, tilting the TV slightly to the left, I could get the screen working. An imperfect fix, I’ll admit. But it worked, and I had a TV in my room for several months that I hooked up to a VCR for repeated viewings of “Dumb and Dumber.”
The sense of satisfaction that I got from fixing the TV was immense. Despite that, I never sought any training in technological resurrection and, as a result, remain fully unversed in the art of Fix-It today.
However, the select few who are initiated into the dark art of mending broken whatsits have started a movement to help the rest of us.
In 2009, a woman named Martine Postma opened the first ever Repair Cafe in Amsterdam. Its quick success let her start the Repair Cafe Foundation, which facilitates the organization and implementation of repair cafes both in the Netherlands and other countries. (Links to each country’s repair community found here.)
“Lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how,” the foundation’s website says. “Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge … Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.”
Cafe services are all free, and include the following:
- They provide tools and materials to fix whatever needs fixing?—?just walk in, sit down, and get to work.
- They offer the expertise of repair volunteers, people (often elderly) who have the practical knowledge to make repairs.
- Coffee and/or tea (thus the “cafe” half of the moniker).
- A “reading table” with books about repair and DIY for visitor education.
On any given day, there are between 20-40 volunteers staffing a repair cafe near where I live in Boston. They advertise with press releases to local papers and institutions, and people flock from all over to get stuff fixed. The volunteers are often retirees?—?electrical engineers, computer architects and the like?—?and the service is entirely free. All that’s expected is that you try to engage with the people helping you out.
A Boston Globe article puts it this way:
Cafe rules dictate that if you bring something in, you must wait while it’s being fixed, and there’s a strong push to get people to learn how to make repairs themselves. You can stuff a dollar or two into a collection can on the refreshments table if you want. But it’s not expected. And the volunteers are as thrilled as their guests when a repair succeeds.
Now I just have to wait for something of mine to break.