Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wearing It Out & Making It Do: Simple Repairs

Frugality is a many faceted approach to life. It can include a huge variety of activities - from clipping coupons, to shopping around for the best deals on major purchases, and from doing it yourself, to digging yourself out of consumer debt. A lot of the time it's not glamorous, and it nearly always goes against the grain of consumerism in a culture that urges us to spend, spend, spend!

One of the lesser aspects of frugality that I was slow to embrace was the practice of really wearing out material goods, and making them do for longer than the expected useful life. I suppose this practice just isn't as thrilling as getting a good deal when it's time to spend money, or knocking an extra chunk off the principle of a mortgage. After all, it's a little bit like doing nothing: it's just finding a way not to spend any money, while making do with what we've already got.

But having come around to it, I now really see the value in making things last through small repair jobs. For instance, this is our hand-me-down wheelbarrow. There was nothing seriously wrong with it. But it had a crack about two or three inches long on the front end of the basin. I looked at the crack carefully and decided that it would be a fairly easy fix, using a basic sewing technique. I carefully burned pairs of holes on either side of the plastic, then ran lengths of small gauge wire through each pair of holes and twisted them tightly together underneath, creating a kind of suture. The twisted ends of the wires were sharp, and located just where someone would be likely to grab the rim of the basin. So I thought about how to remedy that for a while. I decided that a little bit of hot glue melted over the sharp wires would provide sufficient protection and stay in place. I got out the hot glue gun and covered each sharp point with a dollop of melted glue. Even without that simple repair, which probably took no more than 45 minutes of my time, we would have had a pretty good wheel barrow for free. The repair cost only pennies in materials, and it has kept the crack from progressing any further during the two years we've had it. I see no reason to believe we won't be able to use it for many more years.

Here's our teapot, which gets daily use year round, except for summer time when I brew sun tea in a big glass jar. Sometime last year the lid fell off as I was draining the last of the tea from it, and broke on our countertop. There was a time when I would have just gone shopping for a new teapot. Teapots do wear out eventually, I can assure you. But this one still has years of use in it. So we glued the pieces of the lid back together. It may not be as good as new, but it'll serve just fine until the thermal stress from daily hot water baths takes its toll on the body of the pot.

My husband is a handy sort. He fixes all kinds of things that would intimidate me too much to even tinker with. Things with gears, and valves, and circuits. I'm really grateful to have this skill set in my mate. It's not one that I would be eager to pursue on my own. His attitude is: it's already busted, so why not try messing with it? As a philosophy, this is pretty unassailable. More often than not, when something breaks he'll eventually get around to taking it apart and trying to fix it. It might take him a while, and the first attempt might not succeed. But usually, in his own good time, he can fix things. Recently he's fixed my leaking garden hose spray nozzle, our busted paper shredder, and an alarm clock that went on the fritz. Handsome is as handsome does, wouldn't you say?

Repairing things is one of the ways that creativity and ingenuity come into living a frugal life in a big way. Too often there's little advice available to those who want to repair things. Our disposable culture is at least partly to blame for this. "Throw it out and get a new one" has become the lamentable standard practice. It's well to remember that it wasn't always thus. Those who want to try fixing things instead of throwing them away have to summon a little gumption, and gather their wits about them. The results may not always be aesthetically pleasing. But I've found that the satisfaction of accomplishment and thrift from repairing things is its own reward. That fondness for repaired objects more than compensates for the imperfect appearance.


marci357 said...

Wheelbarrow repair: Another way to save the lip of it would be to take a piece of plexiglass or even sheet metal, cut about 8x10 inches, place on top inside the barrow, then screw into and thru the existing metal, fastening with a nut, and cutting the end off so it's not sharp. It does make a "bump" to work over, but will last for years with no further deterioration of the wheelbarrow metal.

marci357 said...

Good use of the hot glue gun also - I'll remember that new tip!

I work for a recycling company that runs the local "dump"/transfer station. You'd be surprised at all the stuff that gets thrown away. As an employee, I can pretty much grab what I want up there, take it home, fix it up for nothing if needed, and voila! I call it my 'favorite shopping place' and I just luv the (non)prices! haha