Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thrift Week Day Six: Reader's Digest's New Fix-It-Yourself Manual

One of the central tenets of ecofrugality is, to invert Aldous Huxley's line, "mending is better than ending." As I noted back in August, it's almost always less wasteful to find some way to fix what you have than to throw it out (creating waste that needs to be disposed of) and buy a whole new one (which requires more money, energy, and natural resources to build). Unfortunately, as I've observed in my various "Repair or Replace" columns, fixing what you have isn't always so easy. To an increasing degree, our society seems to be organized around the idea of planned obsolescence: from the day you buy a new item (computer, microwave, whatever), you assume that you'll need to junk it and buy a new one in a couple of years. The only neighborhood where you can still take a broken toaster to the local Fix-It Shop for repairs is on Sesame Street. True, for big jobs like plumbing, you can still hire a professional to come to your house, but you'll pay big bucks for the privilege (and possibly have to wait days for an appointment).

The New Fix-It-Yourself Manual from Reader's Digest offers an alternative. If your washing machine stops running, you can simply turn to page 295 to troubleshoot the problem. A list outlines the most common causes (faulty power cord, lid switch, start switch, etc.) and directs you to the pages in the book that explain how to test each part and replace it if necessary. Similar lists explain how to diagnose and fix a plumbing leak, a faulty telephone connection, or a broken lawn mower. There's also a section on "Sports and recreation gear" that explains how to maintain and repair bicycles, boats, and other sports equipment like fishing poles, and a section at the end called "Home emergencies" that explains how to plan for and deal with problems like a house fire, a gas leak, or a medical emergency.

The New Fix-It Yourself Manual certainly isn't the only book on the market about home repairs, and unlike some others, it doesn't cover home improvement jobs like laying carpet or hardwood flooring. What makes this manual especially useful, however, is that it explains not only how to do big jobs like appliance repairs and electrical work but also how to fix the little things, the things it might never occur to you that it's even possible to repair. Got a knife blade that's come loose from its handle? Here's how to reattach it.  Got a briefcase with a broken handle? Here's how to replace it. This book can tell you how to repair jewelry, mend window screens, and even replace a teddy bear's lost eye. It also explains how to do jobs that are more basic maintenance than repairs, like sharpening scissors or cleaning a computer keyboard.

Admittedly, the book is nearly twenty years old, and it's certainly starting to show its age in some ways. (The section on typewriter repair, for instance, is unlikely to come in handy very often.) Still, the basic problems with most appliances are much the same as they were in 1996—and even if you have a newer appliance that can break in ways this book doesn't cover, at least the book will help you rule out all the old-school, fixable problems before calling in a professional. After all, why pay $150 to a plumber for a job you could do yourself with a $5 part? Having this book (or another one like it) on hand is the easiest way to avoid hefty repair bills, as well as the hassle and expense of replacing items that still have some life in them. This book may not be able to fix every problem, but at just $5 for a secondhand copy, it's definitely a worthwhile investment.
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