The Noble Art of Fixing Things
Copyright 2010-2013 by Scot G. Patterson. All rights reserved.
Resourcefulness is one of the hallmarks of the working class. Our jobs require us to develop a variety of practical skills, which also help us solve the problems we encounter in daily living.
Here’s a good example. My friend, John, runs an organic farm. In addition to farming skills, he also has some expertise in welding, steel fabrication, carpentry, plumbing, wiring, electronics, chemistry, biology, and physics. He is truly a renaissance man in overalls, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at him. During one of our recent discussions, he pointed out that there isn’t enough money in farming to pay someone to perform these tasks for him. I doubt that the urban professionals who buy his produce appreciate the skills that are required for John to survive as an organic farmer.
This kind of resourcefulness is not unusual for the working class, and it often includes the art of fixing things. I refer to it as an art because the path to success is not always clear. It’s a process that requires commitment, patience, problem solving, and good hand skills.
I am convinced that without the working class, the art of fixing things soon would be lost. We live in a throw-away society. I think that advertising media has played a key role in creating a convenience mentality designed to make us unhappy with what we have. The overwhelming message is that newer works better and that owning new things will make us happy and give us status. Computers and electronics are the poster children for this mentality. We all accept the fact that the computer you purchase today will be obsolete in six months even though it still performs remarkably well. The rules of convenience suggest that fixing things is a pathetic attempt to extend the life of something that is no longer desirable and should be discarded.
As a contractor, I often work for the privileged class because they can afford my services. Some of them are more able than others, but for the most part they have limited hand skills. I have worked for a few of them, particularly academics, who can barely screw in a light bulb or tighten a screw. They are, without exception, brilliant in their careers but their job skills are very specialized. When something needs to be fixed, they tend to throw it away. I have seen some of my high-income clients throw away office chairs, light fixtures, and dining tables that simply needed to have a bolt tightened or a screw replaced. And they made no attempt to give it away, because it’s inconvenient to call Goodwill or offer it to someone who could use it. The item was simply dumped on the sidewalk for the garbage truck to haul away. Obviously, these people have lost sight of the fact that there are others who are less fortunate who would love to have a nice dining table or office chair.
I started out being intimidated by the prospect of fixing things. As the son of a professor, my father wasn’t much help when it came to practical matters. Sure, I spent part of my youth deconstructing radios, lawnmowers, and the like but I lacked the ability to actually fix them. Over time, I developed new skills as an adult and began to have some success. Now I can fix my computer, garage door opener, toilet – almost anything, really. And there are lots of people who are much better at it than I am.
Here are some tips for those who are interested in learning the art of fixing things:
1. Keep your expectations low. Don’t assume that you will get it right the first time.
2. Make sure you have plenty of time. This is very important for your enjoyment of the process. For example, don’t try to fix the toilet in the guest bathroom an hour before a big party
3. Do your fixing during business hours so that you can get help and parts. When I do a plumbing repair, I automatically assume that it will take three trips to the hardware store. It’s best to begin the process a few hours before the store closes.
4. Find resources to help you. When two of the burners went out on my 1950s cooktop, I had visions of buying a new range and doing some remodeling in my kitchen to make it fit. I decided that I had nothing to lose, and dug in. On closer inspection, I discovered that one of the burners was damaged and other one had a loose connection. The next step was to find an appliance store that would help do-it-yourselfers. I took the damaged burner to them and to my delight they had the replacement part in stock. I put everything back together and it still works perfectly today. The total cost was $52, and it took me about two hours to complete the job. Deciding that I had nothing to lose was a critical step because it gave me the freedom to try fixing it without worrying about making mistakes. Best of all, I have a great sense of accomplishment every time I use it. Other helpful resources may, of course, include friends and acquaintances with skills or tools that you need.
I find that fixing things can be the source of great satisfaction. It not only saves time and money, it reinforces the idea that I am capable of troubleshooting and repairing the things I depend on. It makes me feel more independent and competent. And best of all, it gives me the audacity to grab some real bargains. The privileged class places absolutely no value on things that need to be fixed. Their loss is your gain!
I strongly believe that fixing things is a noble art that should be passed on to our children. As parents, we need to support their efforts to understand how the physical world works and help them develop good hand skills. These qualities will serve them well as they face the challenges of daily living in the modern world.