I’m a fanatic when it comes to fixing things. I’m always gluing, mending, darning, driving nails, sewing, and whatever else it takes to keep my things my things. Call me cheap. Tell me I have a distrust of “new” things. Tell me I’m sentimental (If some thing has been in my family for generations, I’m going to respect it and them by keeping it polished, shined, rolling, slicing and otherwise working.) Tell me I’m narrow-minded. How can it be that others can so easily part with their things — isn’t that why there’s so much seemingly good stuff on NYC’s streets on trash nights? And when, just when, will manufacturers start taking responsibility for their life of their own goods? How can IKEA just keep making stuff that eventually winds up being mauled in a trash truck?
Sandra Goldmark answers a lot of these questions in her new book, “Fixation: How To Have Stuff Without Breaking the Planet” (Island Press, 2020). She’s fueled by intelligence, courage, compassion and optimism. She offers us an eloquently written, insightful understanding of our stuff and a logical solution that we might not get achieve so easily, but it’s worth at least starting towards: building a value chain where good design, reuse, and repair are the status quo, and instilling in each of her readers the inspiration to begin now.
There was much I liked about the book.
Her commitment to finding solutions.
Sandra Goldmark is obviously passionate about repairing things and shares many of the insights and touching stories garnered while working yearound at outdoor pop-up repair tables around NYC with her like-minded and equally skilled husband and growing child. She loses sleep about repair. She’s driven to finding solutions to why things break and why it’s so difficult to get things repaired.
Goldmark knows that understanding the relationship each of us has with our stuff is a key first step to understanding how to address the larger, systemic, challenges. Her hands-on experiences have given her a deep understanding of our, often irrational, reasons for why we own things — and why we don’t want to part with them, even when shinier, new things are within each. Many of us will do anything to get our stuff fixed. Hence, our frustration, and obviously, hers.
She lays the truth on us – that our relationships with our stuff is “more complex than we think”; “even irrational – beyond simple explanation”. Figuring out our relationships to our stuff requires probing our psyches, our identities, our sense of who we are. She notes, “…the objects were simply telling us, quite clearly, about each woman’s home, her story, and the particular stuff culture she lived in. Those objects, and the thousands of others we fixed, had something to say.”
I especially liked her insights into what it takes to repair objects when making her case for society to invest in training. Goldmark first reminds us “It’s not all so easily demonstrated in a You Tube video.” She goes on, “Repair – as well as theatre – requires creativity, making unusual connections, and learning from disparate experiences,” and goes on to describe touching moments when she or her husband brilliantly tackled chairs, bears and other items that, of course, came with no repair manual.
I expected lots of nuts and bolts, like I do from most trade books, but, instead, I learned from a wealth of examples and analogies from the likes of anthropologists like Ian Hodder and Daniel Miller, the clothing historian Robert Ross, food advocate Michael Pollan, and economist Richard Heinberg, author of “The End of Growth.”
Knowledging an entire system that needs repair, Goldmark is not afraid to criticize the status quo, or to challenge our biggest and most popular brands, or her readers, who of course are buying the stuff.
She posits forthrightly that “…perhaps it is a society that makes it impossible for people to keep their stuff in good working order that should be labeled irrational”.
Goldmark points out the inconsistencies among two key manufacturers who may be contributing the most to our throwaway society when she asserts that, “Apple has prioritized certain aspects of design, especially newness and aesthetic appeal over others like longevity, accessibility, and modularity.” She challenges industry to invent more ethical business models: “…until companies like IKEA begin to see multiple sources of revenue in their products beyond the first purchase, a truly healthier relationship with our stuff — as a society and as individuals— will remain elusive”.
She challenges her readers to step up: “ If we’re not buying used ourselves, then we’re just outsourcing the responsibility of ‘closing the loop’ rather than accepting ownership of that responsibility along with ownership of our stuff.” Fairly, she has provided many examples of what she herself does already.
Maybe she’s a little too optimistic, but Goldmark’s analysis of the entire system that she maintains, rightly, but be redesigned, starting with people’s own behavior and psychology, compounded by entrenched business models associated with selling stuff – and more stuff, and her frank admission that solutions are not so easy… for instance, It’s not so easy as passing a Right To Repair law, or making it economically easy for repair shops to exist once again, make complete sense, and give us much to chew on, in at least starting down the path towards making change at the policy level, the practical levels of design and manufacturing methods, as well as those relating to our personal choices. I was inspired to do even more in my own life, and I’m sure other readers will be too.
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