IN October 2009, Martine Postma coordinated the first Repair Café, in Amsterdam. Why? Because we all throw out way too much good stuff. And then we manufacture more not-so-good stuff, so we can throw that out too. And now we have a giant global shit-storm of environmental problems.
What to do? Postma’s idea is to get volunteer repairers together with people who have broken things.
Repair Cafés are now running in dozens of locations in the Netherlands. They’re regular events, she explains, organised by locals, for locals. People bring all kinds of knick-knacks: busted blenders, moth-eaten woolen jumpers and toy cars with loose wheels.
“Many things can be fixed – often it’s not hard and lots of fun,” she says. “We call them ‘cafés’ because they’re not just about repairing, but about meeting people, chatting, learning and getting inspired.
“At the first Repair Café, the atmosphere was so positive it struck me as somewhat unreal – as if we were back in the ’60s, with love and peace. But now I’m used to it.”
The expert repairers range from professional craftspeople to enthusiastic retirees, like one old mechanic who attends the Amsterdam café. “He can repair almost everything,” Postma says. “He’s a genius with electrical appliances, but he can also mend the broken handle of a suitcase, for example. He is precise and takes his time. I think he’s never happier than when he’s working with his tools.”
Postma is a keen fixer herself, and when she’s not too busy she likes to build bookshelves. But these days, she hasn’t the time. She’s devoting all her energy to the revolution: the Repair Café foundation, her project to “spread the idea all over the Netherlands and Europe and the rest of the Western world.”
Fetch your broken toasters.
Published in Smith Journal, Winter 2012.