Fixing Things That Matter Most

by Mark Haubner

We are highlighting the concept of a Circular Economy, a paradigm in which we slow the senseless extraction of everything under the sun. This will be the direct result of reducing, reusing, repurposing, reclaiming and recycling all of the things we need—and want. Within this closed-loop system is the potential to regenerate a thriving planet and for us to live within our planetary means and still enjoy meaningful lives. The Repair Café fills the bill.

Stories of Durability

My grandmother, grandaunt, grandfather, aunt, uncle and mother were all ‘survivors’ of the Market Crash of 1928, the Great Depression of 1938, and two ‘great wars.’ As a result, I didn’t have a chance of developing a different ethos than ‘A stitch in time,’ ‘Waste not, want not,’ or ‘Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.’

My wife and I were struck by a prime example of the ‘Depression Era babies’ while helping to empty out her granduncle’s linen closet. The shelves each had a shelf-liner on them (of course) and it was neatly organized with dozens of labeled (of course) shoeboxes. The one that stunned me was ‘Strings Too Short To Use.’

And so we now have our own shoeboxes of broken things that need mending and tending, all with some sentimental attachment involved—the broken Winnie the Pooh music box we gave to our daughter when she was 5, the slightly ripped canvas fall jacket my granduncle wore in the garage when he smoked cigars…Do you have things like that?

Impacts of a Repair Café

One of my Drawdown partners, Margaret de Cruz, now on the board of the North Fork Environmental Council, had been talking about starting a Repair Café for a long time, touting the social benefits of merging old skills with new connections between people of our region. The environmental benefits are the ‘foot-in-the-door’ behavior of fixing things that can be pressed back into service, leading to a better sense of maintaining value in a world of depleted resources. And there are economic benefits of involving local talents in not making money but making worth for others, and giving people a chance to recoup their investments in things that are becoming increasingly more expensive.

Drawdown as a Resource

Using the vast efforts of Project Drawdown, we see immediately what a Repair Café can do for us — instantly extending the Useful Life of the products we own, which then reduces the need to go out and buy another whatever; moving us toward a truly Circular Economy, in which Zero Waste is the outcome. It also offers the community a chance to transfer knowledge and skills to the generations coming into their own.

Moving education into the realm of the practical is a valuable effort to begin with, but working at transferring the ability to work with tools to fix lamps, bicycles, jewelry, clothing and everything else to our young people is priceless. The time we take now to involve our young people in Intergenerational efforts will benefit us all greatly — not in 20 years, but in a matter of hours.

Innovation and creativity are inherent to a Repair Café where some of the ‘Coaches’ and ‘Fixers’ call themselves ‘Tinkers,’ a term which is explained in the book we are using as a guide: “Elizabeth Knight’s Repair Revolution: How Fixers Are Transforming Our Throwaway Culture,” which is coming to your library soon. 

Levels of Engagement

Instead of looking at metrics and numbers (How many bicycles did we fix? How many pounds of CO2 did we prevent from entering the atmosphere?), we are going to look at outcomes — How many people went home with a family heirloom restored? How many of our grandchildren’s stuffed animals with no hair just needed a stitch or two to save their lives? How many knives were made sharp so they become less dangerous to use than they were when dull?

Individual actions are so very important — they’re just like the drops of water on the hood of your car sliding together to make big drops, which then go to the surface water of our streets, which feed our creeks and rivers, which go to the bay. So do our actions collectively become a river.

Instant Action

Watch for the announcements at our local libraries for our kickoff of Repair Café: Greenport on March 26! We will be looking for Fixers and Coaches and Donors and People With Broken Things That Are Important To them — pretty much everyone in the community — to gather together to make magic. And there will be crumbcake. The bicycles in my shed are doing nobody any good with two flat tires. I refuse to cart them to the curb because they still have functional value. I know it won’t be hard to fix them but I don’t have the tools or the hacks that come from experience in fixing them. I wonder if anyone knows a bicycle aficionado? 

Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.

Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming. |

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you're human: