Saturday, September 21, 2013

Can you fix it?

If something breaks we usually have several options.  We can fix it ourselves.  We can hire someone to fix it.  We can get rid of it and get a new one.  We can keep it broken and just stare at it every once in a while thinking someday we will fix it.  We can just do without.  How much stuff do you own that you can't fix?  Perhaps you are really handy.  Can you fix it all?  Do you have parts at home to fix it? 

I was thinking about this today as I was pulling the mower deck off the tractor.  I wanted to put the ripper on to plow the pastures before the rains fell.  What can I fix on the tractor?  I've fixed the mower deck.  I can replace teeth on the ripper.  I can do a minor repair to the tractor.  If something major happened to the tractor, even if I could fix it, I don't store too many parts for it.  Now I just haul it to the JD dealer.  If TSHTF, I guess I'd be out of luck.  What do I have the tractor do for me that I can't otherwise do?  Well, I can hand mow a yard.  Better yet, we just put fencing up in the front yard and the sheep are going to be moved to the front lawn.  We don't have to rake leaves or mow and next spring I will plow their manure into the soil.  Mowing is what I use the tractor for most often. 

Today I actually used the tractor to rip the pastures.  I figured that they are so compacted that any moisture received by a light rain won't penetrate.  I spent five hours on the equipment today and will probably spend a couple hours on it tomorrow.  When I started the grasses were eaten down to less than 1/4" in height.  The soil was cracked due to lack of moisture.  (When I say cracked, I mean it!  Many cracks were 2" wide and 1 foot deep.)  My neighbor ripped theirs last year and this year their pasture was more than twice the height of mine.  If I didn't have the tractor I could hire someone to plow the field.  What if TSHTF?  Nobody around here has any working horses or oxen.  None of the pastures would get plowed. At least my pastures will be done this year.  Ripping them lasts for several years; you don't need to do it every year. 

Take a look around and what you use at your house.  If you can't fix the zipper on those jeans are you going to throw them away?  Do you have a replacement pair if there aren't any at the store?  We know all about the things we should store just in case.  What else do I have that may need to be fixed?  The car, truck, freezer, refrigerator, tv, stereo, dishwasher, broken chair leg, door swelling, faucet, light switch, broken zipper, lost button? It goes from difficult to easy. But even the easy is impossible without the tools or ability. 

We all have a lot of modern things.  Most break easy and often.  Which of those things do you not want to live without?  Think back about 50 years.  What was in the "modern" home at that time?  Think back 75 years.  What equipment ran the home and property then?  What about 100 years ago?  I look around in my home library.  What surrounds me?  A printer, computer (thanks Max), a shredder, a stereo.  That's all new stuff that I probably don't have the ability to repair and replacements may not be available even if I could repair them.  On the other hand, do I actually need any of this stuff if TSHTF?  It's convenient, that's for sure, but an absolute need?  No.  What about the rest of the things in this room?  Books, shelving, chairs, table, file cabinet.  Bigger stuff.  If any of these items break I won't have to rush to the store to purchase repair or replacement parts.  I can probably fix what goes wrong.  Do I have enough tape, glue, staples, nails, material, and tools to make all of these repairs?  Probably. 

I'm going to start looking at each room with a more critical eye.  How about the living room?  Table, sideboard, sofas, chairs, TV, VCR, lights.  I can probably fix everything except if glass breaks on the table and also the TV and VCR.  I don't have spare parts or pieces.  Even if I did for the TV or VCR I have no clue how to fix them. 

The kitchen is more difficult to assess.  I have a lot of stuff here and more kitchen things stored in the garage.  I have a wheat grinder.  It's an older model that will run forever, as long as there's electricity.  But it can be hand cranked and I have a hand crank for it.  I have an electric dehydrator.  If it breaks I'd try to figure out how to fix it.  If I can't, I can use a substitute (screen, wood, sunshine) to dry food.  What about the day to day things in the kitchen.  The coffee pot... Mine even grinds the beans.  I'm on my third one since they don't last long, but I like it!  If I didn't have the ability to buy a fourth when this one dies in another couple years I do have backups.  Yes, a back up coffee maker that doesn't grind beans.  I also have 1000+ filters.  You just put the hot water into a mason jar, throw your grinds into the jar, screw on the ring but replace the lid with a filter.  Turn it upside down over your mug and you coffee drips in.  I also have a stove top percolator.  There are many different ways to get coffee once the coffee maker dies. 

I expect to be able to use my propane stove for a long time.  Even if I can't get a propane delivery for several years, we'd be able to cook.  As long as the stove doesn't break.  What about the electronic ignition?  Do I have matches if there's no electricity?  What if there is electricity would I know how to fix that?  What if a knob breaks?  Can I repair it or replace it or will I be turning the stove on with a pair of pliers?  What if you have a gas stove and you want to convert it to propane if TSHTF?  It's not expensive but you should buy the parts now and know how to change them out. 

Can I change out the pipes under the sink? The kids just busted the sink stopper in their bathroom.  That's an easy fix; the screw probably came undone and fell off.  Then I realized that not only the screw isn't there but all the parts under the sink have disappeared.  Did someone else try to fix it and threw away parts? 

 How about a dishwasher?  Do I have spare parts?  Do I know what I'm doing if I do have parts?  What will I use as a substitute if that appliance is no longer available? Do I have enough dishpans of good quality?  The dollar store bargain is no bargain. 

Can I fix a drier or will we be destined to using the clothesline forever?  Do I have enough line for the clothesline or will the clothes eventually get hung over the fence to dry?  I got into a debate with someone who said it you can't fix it you shouldn't own it.  I don't agree with that premise, but I do agree that if I can't fix it I better have some sort of substitute in mind if it breaks. 

Let's take our front yard hose as an example.  Within the last month I've fixed it twice.  I could have just thrown it away and spent $35 on a new one.  I had spare parts at home for the repairs so I used to parts.  The next time I was in town I bought a new set of spare parts.  So what went wrong with the hose?  First it needed a new washer.  That's about a 10 second 10 cent repair, yet I've seen some people throw away the hose because it leaked.  No it didn't.  They just didn't know how to do such a simple repair.  Then the hose got a pinhole leak in it.  I cut the hose and put a repair piece on it.  That cost a couple of dollars.  If I didn't have the spare part I could have taken some old irrigation hose that's a little smaller to use in the hose repair.  I'd put that in then clamp each cut end over the hose repair.  What if I don't have clamps?  Wire will work.  I can fix it properly or I can improvise and still get it to work. Or I can buy a new one.  Right now I have many choices.   

Take some notes for the next few weeks.  What did you fix without really giving it a second thought?  What needs to be fixed that you don't know how to do?  Is it worth fixing or should you just get rid of it?  While I don't agree with "if you can't fix it you shouldn't own it" I do agree that we should do a better job of learning how to fix things.  Even the simple repairs, such as a garden hose, will make life much easier when life as we know it ceases to exist.


  1. Great ideas. We tend to fix everything, or try to, before buying. Hoses are always repaired.

    I was thinking of your soil ripping. Are you doing anything to help break up the clay soil? I'm guessing the animal manure helps, but any other additions?

    1. No, I'm not putting any amendments into the soil. It would cost too much. I'd rather concentrate on improving the garden areas. We've improved a lot of the garden soil by adding the sheep and chicken manure. 17 years ago you couldn't find an earthworm but now they are in every scoop.

  2. I recently picked up several boxes of nails, something I noticed we were very short on. The extra roofing nails means we wont need to buy more for the kitchen roof repair.
    Even the roofing boards we need to replace will come from the board stack.

    Luckily a lot of the things we use on a daily basis aren't considered necessary, just luxury.

  3. When I was first married money was tight (still I was forced to experiment on many different items that needed fixing. Mowers, older model cars, lamps, etc. I was never taught how to fix anything growing up so when I was forced to do it myself, I was self-taught.

    Many things were never fixed and eventually tossed but because we couldn't afford to call someone I persevered, continuing to try my best. Now with the convenience of how-to videos I've been able to fix washers, dryers, electric hand tools, computers and such. My suggestion for folks is to pick out things around the house that will be needed when the SHTF and learn how to do simple repairs via the internet. Do it now before they break. And as the author said, keep a log of what you fixed & where the knowledge came from (book, video, etc).

  4. Good timing. My log splitter died this week. My neighbors own and work for the local tractor repair so one came over yesterday and took apart the carburetor and cleaned it - still not working so his boss came today and looked at it. He ended up taking the engine off so I can take it to a small engine repair shop. Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold.

  5. As I re-read the post one thing in particular kept popping out at me. The ability to improvise is an underlying theme. We should be able to take apart one item (not being used or needed) and pick it apart for the pieces that are needed.

    I've been dismantling electronics lately and salvaging parts. TV's, computers, VCR's, etc. Plenty of copper wire inside, small electric motors, fans, and more. Will they be useful or am I hoarding...we'll see.

    But here's a case and point of improvising. Years back I was doing a Demo Derby with a friend. This was an old car with a carburetor and a fuel line coming off the bottom of the carb. The fuel line was leaking slowly right where it entered the carb. It didn't hamper the engine performance but we thought this maybe a problem with a hot engine and a possible cause for fire. Instead of replacing the line we put a garden hose over the leaking line and clamped it off near the carb and extended the hose down beyond the engine block so the dripping gas would drip off the line/hose and onto the ground. Since it was going to be a short run (round) there wasn't a problem. Improvised.