Fixers' Collective: people learning to make broken stuff work again

Here's an inspiring story about the Fixers' Collective in Brooklyn, a co-op that holds free open surgeries where people can bring their broken stuff for repair. The Fixers make no guarantees (they learned to fix stuff by taking it apart and trying to get it back together again), but they also don't charge anything; what's more, they'll teach you what they know so you can fix your stuff yourself.
"It makes people feel proud of themselves - a little less helpless," Ms. Pittman says. "Everything breaks. Everything. These days, and especially with all this electronic equipment, we have no clue - no idea at all - how to fix stuff. We are pretty much at the mercy of our computers, our cellphones. The Fixers' Collective helped us become a little more self-sufficient. It is an attitude as much as anything."

Pittman draws a direct line from the financial crash of 2008 - "which made a lot of people, and certainly us, less inclined to trust the experts" - to the creation of the collective. But it is also true, as Pittman hints, that many Americans worry that they have become more reliant on their belongings and more disconnected about how they work.

The art of the fix-it


  1. That’s a great idea and sounds like fun. I immediately went and searched to see if there was one locally. There wasn’t. :(

  2. s’about time! Repairing things makes my heart sing. Successfully repairing them myself makes my eyeballs roll back into my head with pleasure.

    Brought in a microwave to be fixed only to be told it was only cost $10 more to buy a new one. Thus began a long flirty cajole of please just fix it. While doing so a gentleman came in with a pretty cool 60’s desk fan. Why fix it when you can buy a new one exclaimed the guy that fixes stuff. Me and the fan guy just looked at each other shaking our collective heads in disbelief.

    Yes, I will bring my broken things to be fixed, and maybe learn to fix them myself!

  3. As a life long, and one time professional, fixer I support this movement. Perhaps just as “green” has become a selling point, “user serviceable” will be again.

  4. The Wall Street Journal just published a “how to sew on a button” article the other day. Yeah, fixing is coming back all right!

    Me, I can’t fix machinery – unless whacking it or other really stupid stuff will work (I did once fix a door lockplate with a bit of pizza box!) – but I can sew considerably more than that. Fallen hem? split crotch seam? no problem!! And being the one who shows up at LARPs with a sewing kit and a bunch of safety pins is like getting +3 on all your social skills :P

    And it gives me great joy to be able to buy something that I’ve really needed, way on sale – and do the small change necessary to make it perfect, when the fit would otherwise have made it not wearable at all. Creating hip vents or shortening shoulder straps, that kind of thing. I have the most wonderful, super plush Ralph Lauren bathrobe… that I was able to get at Marshalls for only $30, because I knew I could easily shorten the too-long sleeves. Fixing is awesome.

  5. I really hope the current trend of making devices irreparable is reversed as a result of the financial crisis.
    I was in the market for an air conditioner and found one in the trash of my apartment. It looked like it was in relatively good shape and it seemed to run too. Unfortunately it made a horrible sound when it was turned on. Undaunted I decided to take the whole thing apart and try to diagnose and hopefully fix the problem. Every screw I removed was in some way obstructed by every component of the device. I spent four hours taking it apart only to discover the fan housing, the location of the problem, was completely sealed with no way to open it. All I would have needed to repair this $1000 piece of equipment would have been a new fan, a little plastic cylinder.

    Needless to say I returned it to the trash pile :(

  6. STOP!!
    Fixing is a form of theft denying the manufactures, shippers, and distributors of new stuff their living.
    Terrorists and drug networks are known to employ fixers and use it to finance their operations to KILL YOU and good white Christian babies!!
    Even HITLER was known to employ fixers to repair NAZI war equipment.
    You wouldn’t steal a car would you, then how dare you FIX A CAR?!!?!?

  7. I’m a lifelong fixer. It’s a kinda lonely pursuit.

    One day when I was in college I was at my desk, fixing my desk lamp. My roommate, the son of a banker, came back from class. He stood there and watched me for a minute or two and finally asked, “Whatcha doin’?”

    “Fixing my lamp.”


    “Loose connection.”

    “Why don’t you just buy a new one?”

    But the BIG problem with fixing stuff now is that these days often you can’t get the parts. Many manufacturers don’t offer spares any more. That’s because “manufacturers” don’t actually manufacture anything. They contract assembly out to China and import the products already assembled. They never stock or even see a single component or subassembly.

    Often your only hope is to find another similar gadget that’s broken, and hope that you can build one working device from the two failed ones.

  8. Any fixers out there have a good resource for swapping out a DVD player spindle motor? They seem to die every 18 months or so regardless of price.

    1. yes, unfortunately my solution involves purchasing a new DVD player and removing the spindle motor out of that one…

  9. I recently dug out the manual and ordered a part for our blender (the plastic screw-on retaining ring that holds the blade assembly in place) which had cracked after many years of service. Gluing it didn’t work, leaving us w. no option but to try to find a replacement.

    I was astounded to learn that I could still order the part after so many years, and amused to have the operator who took my call ask me: “Why wouldn’t you just buy a new blender?” I felt like asking her “Why do you even have a parts dept. if that’s your attitude?”.

  10. I remember when, not so very long ago, appliance user manuals would include an exploded diagram at the end, along with a parts list including prices. It was like the manufacturer assumed that an owner would want to fix the dadblamed thing, and felt it was only sensible to thereby back up their product. Wear and tear and even accidental breakage weren’t just calculations of liabilities, but considered blameless inevitabilities.

    It’s a weird tradeoff we’ve made. Our cars generally last much longer than they used to. (I’ve been in the market for a used minivan, and I’ve seen at least one eight-year-old Honda Odyssey with a price tag of seven grand, with well over 200,000 miles on the clock. Not for me, nossir, but I have no doubt that some sucker will go for it.) And judging from the aesthetics, the washer and dryer that came with my house must date back to the Reagan Administration, and still work just fine. But I have a built-in GE microwave that can’t be more than six years old, which developed a noisy buzz and doesn’t generate any heat anymore. I’d really like to fix it, but jeez… it’s a microwave, and for all I know its plutonium rods are spent, or some such. And I know getting it serviced would cost more than the $80 countertop replacement my wife ended up buying when I wasn’t looking. Still, I’m loath to toss it out (to say nothing of the gaping hole it would leave in the cabinetry over my stove), so one of these days I’m just gonna tear it apart and see what I can do about it. How hard could it be?

    If I were more neighborly-minded (and I like people just fine, but I haven’t much free time is all), then I’d find or found a Pasadena branch of the Fixer’s Collective. I’m sure with Mark in the not-too-distant area, there’s gotta be something like it around here somewhere!

  11. Fixing things IS better than buying new. Why? Because that’s less stuff to end up in a landfill.
    The problem is that the things we buy are made to be disposable. We live in a disposable world.
    Would be nice if this would reverse itself.

  12. Here’s a book on the subject: “Shop Class as Soul Craft” by Matthew Crawford. He’s a PhD who happily runs a motorcycle repair shop instead of working in a think tank.

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