There is a pretty good chance that you’ve heard the term “maker” or “maker movement”, in the last ten years. The maker movement has been around for a few generations, under a lot of different names, but it’s seen a serious resurgence since the recession in ‘08 (us old cusses call it “ought eight”). Makers have become a thing for many reasons, partly because it’s just fun, but also out of necessity, since it’s much less expensive to build and modify your own stuff.
I got to thinking about this last night, standing in my garage, staring at a set of shelves built into the wall in the corner, which I refer to as “the pile of shit”. On these shelves is a bunch of bits and pieces of old, broken shit. I have to keep it under control, because the tendency is to keep hoarding stuff, and that can become a problem, especially if you’re married. It’s also kind of a pain in the ass to move with.
The pile of shit is a practice that I picked up from my grampa. My grandfather would have been ninety-one this year. He was a great guy, and a really good role model for me. I spent a lot of time puttering around in his garage with him. He taught me many invaluable lessons about self sufficiency, and tinkering with things to either improve them, or keep them running for years passed their normal life expectancy.
My grandparents lived through the great depression, during which, if you didn’t learn to re-purpose and repair things, you simply went without. I’m not just talking about mechanical stuff here, this applies to everything. My grampa repaired, re-purposed, and re-used everything, and my grandmother, my dad, and my aunts, NEVER went without. He was a damn genius when it came to fixing or improvising things around the house.
A perfect example of this is an old refrigerator that sits in my grandmother’s basement. I have no idea when they bought that fridge, but they owned it in 1964, when a nearby river overflowed, and flooded the entire town of Evergreen, Montana. I have seen photos of my grampa standing on his roof, with his little aluminum boat floating next to him. When the flood waters receded, grampa pulled all of the appliances out of the house, took them apart, dried them out, repaired them, and most of them continued to run for years. That fridge is the last of those appliances, and it’s in their basement, keeping soda ice cold, right now.
Granted, nobody builds things like that anymore. That fridge is a fucking tank. Regardless, it would not have run for as long as it has, if not for my grampa constantly tweaking and improving the thing. He’s been dead for almost twenty years, and that fridge is still humming right along.
Something else to think about here, is that nearly all American manufacturers have adopted a policy called obsolescence. People joke about it. They think it’s just an entertaining rumor, and that everything is just built shitty now-a-days. I’m sorry to say that obsolescence is a real thing, and it’s almost always a design consideration for most modern manufacturers.
Obsolescence is the practice of intentionally building things to stop working after a certain amount of time. The idea being that if you build a fridge that runs for sixty years, everyone who buys it isn’t going to buy another fridge for sixty years. Depending on your business model, this can be really bad for business. So in the early 1970’s, obsolescence was born. It took a while to catch on, but by the late 1980’s, it most certainly caught on. Unfortunately, it has resulted in today’s rampant throw-away culture, which has our land fills over flowing, our oceans and rivers and streams filling up with garbage, and it has the vast majority of us trained to needlessly buy, and re-buy, a lot of cheap shit.
Anyway, getting back to the pile of shit in my garage. I have repaired our stove, our dishwasher, our refrigerator, two of our toilets, and built and modified a bunch of random doohickeys around the house. Our family vehicle has reached that age where every few months, I’m out in the garage screwing with something on it. In such instances, when ever I need a part, the first thing I do is go out to the garage and dig through the pile of shit. It’s rare that I can’t find something that I can improvise to fix whatever it is that I’m working on. When the pile of shit fails me, I hit the local home resource center, which is one enormous pile of shit that the whole town contributes to. Buying new should be a last resort, but I get it. Some times you just have no choice, especially when dealing with complicated electronics. You would be surprised though, how often electronic components can be fixed if you spend enough time pestering people online for information.
Also granted, is that I’ve been a tinkerer, under the tutelage of a master tinkerer (grampa) since I was a kid. So I’ve had a lot of time, and a lot of expert guidance, building up a skill set. I’m telling you though, don’t let a lack of skills or experience get in the way of trying to fix something. Believe me, most of the crap you buy at Walmart is not as complicated as it might seem, and the internet is an endless resource of information. Once you fix one thing, you’ll be proud of that thing, and you’ll feel more confident fixing another thing. Pretty soon, you’ll be staring at a thing that works just fine, thinking it would work better if it only had this one minor tweak. You’ll be standing in your kitchen and notice that your fridge is making a weird, whirring noise, and a day later you’re popping in a used compressor that you found at the local community pile of shit for $15. Eventually, you have a pile of shit in your garage, but you’re spending a hell of a lot less money on cheap shit at Walmart, and you have a house full of things you’ve fixed, that you can brag to your friends about.
You’ll find yourself standing in an aisle, looking at a new thing, getting a feel for how sturdy it is, and how fixable it might be if it stops working. You’ll either put it back on the shelf because it just feels too flimsy, or dropping it into your cart because you feel confident you can get it going again if it breaks.
Maybe the things you’ve fixed aren’t shiny anymore, and they probably don’t have all the latest gadgets and doohickeys, but they work. You fixed them, you saved your family money, and those things will be points of pride for you for a long time.
Seriously though, don’t shop at Walmart. They’re evil.