Following the lead of a Palo Alto entrepreneur and hundreds of others around the country and across the world, a Mountain View couple is trying to let others know that there is often an alternative to chucking broken household appliances, devices and clothes in the trash and replacing them. In many cases, according to Maia Coladonato, those items can be repaired.
And there's no need to fret if you don't know how to troubleshoot your toaster or uninstall your glitchy copy of Microsoft Word, because there are people who are willing to show you how to do just that — for free.
To prove it, Coladonato and her husband, Greg, are organizing a "Repair Cafe" at the Hacker Dojo where tinkerers and the mechanically disinclined alike are invited to show up and see if they can breathe new life into broken lamps, ripped backpacks and crippled clocks.
The Mountain View Repair Cafe will be held at the Hacker Dojo, located at 599 Fairchild Drive, on Aug. 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is free, though donations in the form of money, food and refreshments are encouraged, Coladonato said.
Coladonato said she and her husband have been participating in the occasional Repair Cafe events hosted by Peter Skinner of Palo Alto. It just made sense to bring the concept to Mountain View, she explained. "Ideally, there is one in every community."
It would be ideal, Coladonato said, because these days it seems people are always ready to throw certain items away when they break, even when the item can be easily fixed.
In the time she's spent observing Skinner's event, she said she has seen many toasters and lamps — two items that can easily be replaced for around $25. But when someone makes the decision to just buy a new one, they often end up throwing the old one in the landfill or shoving it into a corner of the garage where it gathers dust, she said.
"We're in this disposable economy," she said. And it's bad for people's pocketbooks, it's bad for the environment and it reinforces a culture of planned obsolescence among manufacturers when consumers tell them that they'd rather just replace a cheap product than invest in a product that is meant to stand the test of time.
While many are perfectly fine replacing things that break in their homes, Skinner said he sees a growing number of people rebelling against the paradigm. "I think people are getting frustrated with our consumer culture," Skinner said. "It's like, 'No! We don't need to buy more and more and more.' We can invest in fixing what we have."
Skinner, who held his first Repair Cafe in October of 2012, said he has seen people fixing things for a number of reasons. Some are striking back at rampant consumerism. For others it is about the environment. Others still are simply trying to save money in a tighter economy.
He said he got the idea to start his event when he read about the concept in a New York Times article in March 2012, in a story on Repair Cafes in Amsterdam. At that time, 30 groups had founded Repair Cafes all throughout the Netherlands and established a foundation to help fund the effort.
An opinion piece recently published on WIRED.com, called for a "fixer movement," much like the so-called "maker movement," which encourages people to take to workshops to build things instead of relying on overseas manufacturers for goods.
Skinner said that between 500 to 600 people have come to his Repair Cafe in the past year, and if things go the way Coladonato hopes, her event will be equally as popular.
People who are knowledgeable about computers, household appliances and gadgetry are encouraged to come and bring their tools. Those who know how to sew are also invited. Just about anyone who thinks they might be able to fix something should show up, she said.
Ultimately, Coladonato said, the Repair Cafe is intended to help strengthen the community. "That's one of the things that I love about it."
For more information, contact RepairCafeMV@gmail.com or 415-513-6564.