My son insists that we call him Felix.
Never mind that we spent months while he was in utero debating name choices and only settled on one a full week after he was born.
"Nope, call me Felix. I'm Fix-it Felix."
At 4 years old my son fully embraces a repair ethic. This is because we have cultivated in him an appreciation for the value of repair. He is always on the lookout for things he can fix and even has his own tool belt.
All of us can imagine a time hundreds of years ago when there were few shops and materials were hard to come by. We can imagine our ancestors, generations back, who really valued the few sets of clothes, few shoes, few tools that they had, and worked hard to maintain and repair them.
But I think very few people realise just how recently it became the norm to replace rather than repair. Our throwaway culture was birthed in the years following World War II, when governments and companies decided that consumption was what would save the economy and that a strong economy was what would save the world.
But the throwaway culture really gained speed in the past three decades due to two factors. First, technological advances in production and materials have made it possible to produce items faster and cheaper than ever before. Second, the rise of the internet has made it easy to advertise these cheap items anywhere in the world and, of course, easy to buy them.
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We consume more than ever before and repair less than ever before. According to The Story of Stuff of all the stuff that we produce and consume just 1 per cent of it is still in use six months after purchase. That means that 99 per cent of the things that we spend energy mining, producing, and transporting are trashed in just six months.
A Consumer Reports study showed that despite what many of us believe, items sold today still have the same average life span as items sold two decades ago.
However these 20 years have seen a sharp decrease in the number of household items being repaired. For many consumers repair is only seen as an option for high cost items such as cars, computers, and washing machines, while smaller items get discarded. We live in a climate that is hostile to repairs.
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Part of the problem lies with production. Many smaller items today are simply made to not be repaired, from materials that easily crack, compartments that are unable to be opened easily, and screws or rivets that are not able to be undone.
Items with small faults that could be saved with a simple repair are thrown away and new items bought to replace them.
The knowledge and skill of repairing things is quickly lost as professionals retire and technical education classes are dropped from schools.
The number of local cobblers, leather workers, tailors is decreasing by the year and society isn't showing appreciation for these skills. In 1992 jobs in the repair sector earned just above the median wage. Today they earn far below it.
I was born in 1982. I can remember a time before the internet, but only just. We got the internet at our house when I was in intermediate school. So for people my age and younger, depending on where you grew up, the world has just always been this way. As a society, we have forgotten that it is actually possible to repair things.
We are the first generation who grew up more likely to buy new shoes than bring them to a cobbler. We are the first generation of parents who have grown up our whole lives in a throwaway culture, and are unintentionally passing that sense of normal to our own children.
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It will take intent to embrace repair culture again and to instil an ethic of repair in our children. We need to intentionally buy items that lend themselves to repair. We need to value local people and businesses that provide repair services. We need to learn how to use tools and make small repairs ourselves. We need to teach our children this mindset.
The other day while playing trains my son pulled aside all of the wooden tracks that were missing the little nub that clicks into the other track. He then dumped out the entire basket of tracks to find all of the nubs and brought them to his dad.
"Dad, we can fix these!" he proudly declared. And over the next half hour, in an act of love and work, they did.
The bright side in all this is that the availability of information and materials provided by the internet and the global economy means that with a bit of curiosity, a YouTube video, and a trip to the local hardware store, we now have the ability more than ever to repair things in our own homes.
When that isn't possible lending libraries and community groups like Grumpy Old Men and The Men's Shed are reviving the art of repair. Another such organisation is The Repair Café.
At repair cafes people can bring in broken items and a team of volunteers will see what kind of repair is needed. If possible the team might try to fix the item themselves, or refer customers to a local specialist who can.
Consumers learn more about how their items work, and repairers get the chance to pass on a bit of the knowledge they hold. Best of all, they can enjoy a chat and a cuppa during the process.
The next Repair Café in Whanganui will be held on February 8 from 2pm-4pm at Mint Cafe. Come and join in to see how fullfilling it can be to embrace the repair culture.
•Dani Lebo is a Whanganui based contributor.