Small Fixes Can Lead to Large Solutions

“I’d rather repair something than replace it” is an uncommon statement to hear in a throwaway society, yet it is one voiced by Grebel resident Liam Armstrong. Liam is in the Construction Techniques program at Conestoga College and intends on specializing in electrical after completing his current program. He enjoys fixing the small, practical items of everyday life that others often replace after the product loses its shine or stops working.

“I had an old iPhone 4 for most of high school,” Liam described. “The back was falling off, but I just taped it together; the headphone jack didn’t work great, but it would be OK if the cord was twisted just right.” In his view, the product does not need to look great or operate flawlessly, it just needs to serve its purpose. “It’s not worth throwing an item out just because there is a nicer-looking or newer one available.” This approach to ownership is what inspired Liam to fix items around his house, such as a blender, bike, pepper grinder, ripped pair of jeans, and a broken pair of slip-on shoes.

Recently, Liam learned of a growing initiative that holds a similar approach to product ownership: the Right to Repair movement. The Repair Association’s purpose is to advocate for “repair-friendly policies, regulations, statutes, and standards at the national and local levels.” Right to Repair impacts many different sectors, with a current focus on making tech repair a more accessible and legitimate activity for owners.Liam crouched working on his bike

At Grebel, Liam would like to get other students involved in this movement by starting a repair café. He hopes students from a diverse range of academic backgrounds will bring their broken items and together figure out a way to “get a little more life out of their belongings.” It is his goal to have participation as broad as possible, and to encourage students to draw from their unique personal expertise and learn from others in the group.

“Just try; it’s not hard to try. Take stuff apart and learn how it works,” advised Liam. Taking ownership over your stuff does not mean you need to know exactly how to fix it. Taking ownership means you will try, and trying leads to learning. Through his choice to repair, Liam picked up skills he would not have otherwise developed. “I worked construction this summer and when I ripped my jeans, I learned how to patch them so I could use them for the rest of the season.” His experience repairing construction pants, though a quick fix, taught him basic sewing skills.

The Right to Repair movement is gaining traction as more and more companies pledge to develop repair-friendly products. However, change can start immediately—and close to home. At Grebel, where learning, sustainability, and community are core values, Liam’s dream of a repair café has a solid foundation and vibrant culture to build on. He knows that innovation is not dependent on a group or large movement. Rather, it is the small lifestyle changes that make a big difference, even if it is simply choosing to fix an old pepper grinder.