Repair Cafe: Don't throw that away

Event at Hacker Dojo encourages people to repair, not replace

If it ain't broke don't fix it. And if it is, well ... you should at least try to fix it.

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, 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 or 415-513-6564.


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Yes! this repair shop meet is a great option for items no longer in use.

ANOTHER OPTION is the Santa Clara version of which is an exchange process for items (no sales allowed) "broken" or because you just don't use them anymore and want to pass them on to someone who can use the item or can fix it. Check it out online.

I've used freecycle for years and have gotten needed items for free and have passed on items I no longer wanted. It works. Everyone wins.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

It's actually
not .com

And everyone should use it.

Like this comment
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I usually try to repair stuff rather than throw it out, but at some point even working things need to be upgraded.

I have a nice Canon color inkject printer/scanner/copier that handles legal-size paper. The print head needs replacing; in spite of cleaning, it produces blank or faded spots and sometimes globs of ink unless you run it in high-quality mode. Also, it requires a parallel cable (remember those?), and there are no TWAIN drivers for the scanner after Windows XP, so we need to keep an old XP laptop on our network just to act as a printer server.

A new print head costs over $100 from Canon. But for $200 we can have a nice wireless networked multifunction printer/scanner/fax that works with all our computers, and convert that old laptop to a Linux server.

Yet, it's a nice printer and I hate to just throw it out, but it really isn't worth fixing.

Same goes for our early 2000-era Sony Trinitron 27" television. Not wide-screen or HD, works fine with a digital converter box, but it's big, bulky, and very heavy, and I doubt anyone would want it these days.

It would be nice to find a place willing to take these items and put them to good use rather than just recycle or dispose of them.

Like this comment
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Steve: How is any different from posting in the "free stuff" section on Craigslist? I'm looking at their site and can't really figure it out.

At least with Craigslist you can tell people "first come first served" which is discouraged by freecycle, and not have to face the situation of telling people the item is already claimed and then have the original claimant never show up.

Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm

There's an online community,, for repair manuals, tools and parts for your Apple products as well as other manufactures. There are reviews for repairability, too, through tear-downs.

Yes, you can fix your iPhone.

Users upload their repair victories.

Like this comment
Posted by Interested Observer
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2013 at 3:39 am

There's an inherent flaw with FreeCycle. A friend in Reno NV recently mentioned it to me and I was curious so I looked into it. For her, it works great in Reno/Sparks because it's essentially one community with nothing else around it except for Carson City 36 miles away.

Examine this page for California FreeCycle locations Web Link

and you'll note there are 12 FreeCycle groups within about 12 miles of Mountain View. All 12 of those really should be just a single group named, perhaps, "SiliconValley" because having 12 groups so close together is a big flaw in FreeCycle's organization structure since the offers are not shared with the other immediately-local groups.

Like this comment
Posted by EBCinMV
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I think it's debatable whether having FreeCycle groups for smaller geographic areas is a flaw. Some people may be willing to drive 10 miles to pick something up, but others aren't. And some who use FreeCycle may be on a bike or using public transportation.

Like this comment
Posted by S. Austin
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

I was at the "Repair Cafe" at Hacker Dojo yesterday. I LOVED it! Those wonderful men and women who volunteered their time on Sunday, brought such joy to so many. A darling little boy, with a HUGE smile, left with his restitched stuffed animal. Another happy customer had his inside jean pocket repaired with "Thomas the Train" scrap fabric. Other customers that I saw, walked out with their repaired clocks, toasters, lamps, coffee makers, and mended rugs. Oh, yes, other kids got their their favorite toys repaired. The interactions between customers and volunteers were heartwarming. People brought baked goods, pizza, and drinks for the helpers. The "tip jar" was there for donations also. Hats off to Marv who repaired my inherited floor lamps that never worked properly!

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