The Repair Café: Neighbors Helping Neighbors Fix Their Stuff

  • Published on November 16th, 2015

Got a broken toaster, a favorite pair of jeans with a tear, or a vacuum cleaner that’s not picking up? More and more, our response to these challenges boils down to “toss it and buy another one.” Of course, as we’ve pointed our repeatedly over the years, tossing those products isn’t just a waste of the material of which they’re made, but also a waste of the energy, water, labor, and other resources that went into producing them. If we’re trying to live more sustainably, making an effort to repair these items is worth a shot.

But isn’t cheaper to replace an item rather than fix it? Often, yes… unless you’ve got a Repair Café operating in your area. What’s a Repair Café? It’s an event where neighbors with knowledge of how to fix various items, and the tools to do it, gather to pitch in on repairing small appliances, clothes, dishes, furniture… basically, whatever they’ve got that needs fixing.

Started in Amsterdam in 2007, the Repair Café concept has spread throughout Europe, and to other parts of the world. A new one started operating yesterday, for instance, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Here’s a quick overview:

This particular event brought together a number of community organizations, including the Cville Time Bank (which allows participants to trade time as a currency), and Charlottesville Community Bikes. Each event takes on its own flavor, as there’s plenty of room for innovation in the Repair Café model.

But Wouldn’t This Undermine Local Repair Businesses?

If you’re running a repair shop of some kind, you’re probably struggling… again, people find it cheaper and/or more convenient to toss and replace. Would free repairs represents another nail in your coffin? Not necessarily: what’s hurting repair businesses is the “toss and replace” mindset. Repair Cafés help shift that mindset. As they’re not everyday events, or repair services, getting people to consider repairing items should ultimately help repair shops. I’d imagine that participating in these would be great PR…

This concept is still catching on in the US, but there are about 25 Repair Cafés operating around the country. Been to one, either with something to fix, or as a volunteer “fixer?” Tell us about your experience. If you’ve organized a Repair Café, we’d love to hear more about that, too…

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at