There's no point in sugar-coating it: I'm not a handy gal by nature. Fixing broken stuff - be it automotive, household or relationship-related - is a skill that has eluded me for most of my adult life.
My coping mechanism when it comes to ailing things has been a simple, two-pronged approach: consult an expert or, if that doesn't work, move on.
Lately, however, it has come to my attention that this is not an economical or ecologically friendly way to live. After all, there's a recession on and the disposable culture is just so 2007. The automotive industry is bankrupt and the polar ice cap is melting fast. One can no longer live as if cars, blenders and dinner companions grow on trees. It's time to get serious, settle down and learn some basic maintenance skills.
With this in mind, I am resolving as of today to take better care of the things I already have. This includes my relationship, my house, my bike and my left index fingernail - the latter two are broken and in serious need of repair. I have resolved to undertake said repairs all by myself.
Luckily, I'm not alone.
As people everywhere find themselves with less money and more free time (a.k.a. unemployed), the impulse to rewire that kettle or replace the leaky showerhead oneself just starts to make good sense on all levels.
Earlier this year, The New York Times reported a decline in "specialized services" such as cleaning, car repairs and pet grooming in favour of consumer self-service. But nowhere is this emerging consumer trend more evident than on the Web.
Yaniv Bensadon, chief executive officer of the four-year-old Fixya.com, a California-based website that offers paid subscribers user-generated advice on how to fix everything from laptops to Land Rovers, says his company has seen a 50-per-cent increase in traffic since Christmas, to about 15 million hits a month.
As consumption rates decrease, Bensadon says, people want to get more use out of the things they own. On his site, more than 250,000 "experts" provide repair advice to anyone who wants it. "The level of service you get is actually much better than being on hold with your manufacturer's customer service desk forever," Bensadon said in an interview. "These days, people are going to try to fix the printer they have even if they can get another one for free. It's been a very profitable business model."
This is a trend that Kelly Taylor is committed to promoting in Canada. The Vernon, B.C.-based blogger and author runs the popular site Squawkfox (Slogan: Frugal living is sexy, delicious and fun!) and is the author of the just-published book 397 Ways To Save Money (HarperCollins Canada).
One of Taylor's penny-pinching strategies is to repair stuff herself. Big stuff. In fact, when her car was recently totalled in an accident, she and her husband, instead of buying a brand-new one, opted to buy a cheaper old model that was in serious need of repair and fix it up themselves.
"It's not as hard as you think," she said in a phone interview this week. "You just go online and Google your make and model and there are forums with literally thousands of people who will help you to diagnose the problem and fix it."
Taylor applies the same rule to everything in her house, and her blog contains tips on everything from insulating your own attic to salvaging an old toaster. She recommends buying quality and being committed to responsible ownership.
"We live in a society of upgrades," she says. "But if we spend more time taking care of the things we have, we could save money and enjoy the fruits of our labour."
Fixing our own stuff can also be a balm to the soul. Just ask philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Matthew Crawford, author of the recently published Shopclass as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work .
Crawford quit his job as head of a think tank to open a bike shop. His book is an eloquent defence of the healing properties and intellectual rigour of manual labour. On the resurgence of handiness, Crawford offers deeper insight: "Frugality requires some measure of self-reliance - the ability to take care of your own stuff. But frugality may be only a thin economic rationalization for a movement that really answers a deeper need: We want to feel like our world is intelligible so we can be responsible for it."
As for my own personal fix-it projects, they're coming along okay. The nail has been filed without aid of my manicurist. The bike, on the other hand, might need more expert advice (apparently one safety pin and two pieces of duct tape do not equal a screw).
No need to worry - or even leave the house. I'll consult the experts at my friendly neighbourhood repair shop - and by that I mean Google.