Thursday, July 3, 2008

To Repair or Not To Repair...

In our system, imported items are cheap and American labor is expensive. Things break and it's "not worth it" to repair them, since the bill exceeds the value of the item, presuming the item is replaceable. With electronics, one generally replaces the item with something cheaper AND more powerful.
This calculus is predicated on the price of items, but sometimes this way of assigning value doesn't make any sense. I grabbed a skirt off a rack 2 seasons ago. It caught my eye because the colors and patterns delighted me, the style flattered (that alone is becoming a rare shopping feat), and I knew it would go well with many items already in my wardrobe. It was a steal, imported from India. It has sequins sewn on to the patterns. If that handwork were done in America, it would be sold in a craft fair, not a designer discount store. Everytime I wear it, it makes me happy. A few weeks ago, the zipper broke and I couldn't fix it myself.
I took it today to a local drycleaner who does alterations, owned by hard-working Asian immigrants. The charge for replacing a zipper is a realistic $25. I remember from my sewing days that zippers are a huge pain! So now the cost of labor exceeds the "value" of the skirt. But, it's not replaceable, and I love the skirt. In my opinion, it is a perfectly rational choice to pay someone fair value for their labor. The fact that the Indian factory workers who created the skirt were paid on in Indian payscale is not relevant, really. So I plunked down the money and will soon be able to wear this favorite skirt again.
Repairing something always feel more environmentally responsible than tossing it. Raising this to a spiritual level, it becomes personal Tikkun Olam, fixing one's world. Even if it's not, as they say, always cost effective....
What instincts and principles guide you when faced with these choices?


Anonymous said...

I agree that often the value of things has little to do with the price. In addition to considering value, I tend to consider how likely it is that the item will break again soon and whether or not it is recyclable. My window unit air conditioner broke recently, and the recycling question was a big part of my decision. I knew its age made it a much more likely candidate for replacement rather than repair, but finding a place that would take it apart and make use of the components made me feel better about it. When I was able to find a more energy-efficient model, that cinched the deal!

Ryan said...

I agree that economics has to play a part in figuring out the replacement vs. repair equation. The problem is that it's gotten so expensive to repair things that it's only rarely worth it. I think one alternative is trying as much as possible to do preventive maintenance and care (like I try to do with my truck), but all it's going to take is someone to run into it when it's parked and all of that is gone. I'm not sure what the best answer would be yet.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between price and value.

In America, our business is based on the numbers we bring in, not the value of the product. Of course, in post-World War I, manufacturers brought in a lot of DM. Inflation does that.

I'm glad you were able to repair the garment you liked.