Dutch Repair Cafes offer a sustainable model

Amanda Witman
By Amanda Witman on Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - 8:18am

Has anyone here seen a local version of these wonderful state-funded Dutch repair cafes

A number of Repair Cafes are opening across The Netherlands, offering communal spaces for local people to build their skills and join together as a community. They mend each other’s appliances, electronics, clothes and furniture, rather than throwing them away.

Volunteers who are skilled craftsmen, seamstresses or enthusiasts help those who want to fix things but don’t know how, entending the life of household items and belongings and resisting the disposable consumer culture. Visitors work with skilled and crafty individuals, sometimes learning how to do the repairs themselves.

Dutch Repair Cafes Bring Communities Together To Fix Their Items

The first Repair Cafe was founded by Martine Postma in 2009, who believed it was a shame that people throw things away before their time. Community members who visit the cafes are given the satisfaction of fixing their broken items, while at the same time saving money and helping the environment.

Postma now works for the Repair Cafe Foundation, which is funded by the Dutch state and advises volunteers about how to set up their own independent Repair Cafes. There are currently 20 fully operational Repair Cafes, with 50 more in the planning stages.

I'd like to see one started in my community, but I'm not able to take the initiative myself.  Still hoping to "infect" the right enthusiastic person in my area who would take the idea and run with it.  We have plenty of empty storefronts here (unfortunately).

I'd even be happy to pay a small price to get things repaired.  There is no infrastructure for a "repair culture" inherent here.  Perhaps we can help change that.

I'd love to hear readers' thoughts on how this idea could be spread in the U.S. and other countries.  Do you think it would be possible for it to be successful as a "free" service, or do you think think a non-profit model would be best?  How could a business or venture such as this one be made sustainable within a financially strapped community? 

Note: If you're reading this and are not yet a member of Peak Prosperity's The Fix-It Corner Group, please consider joining it now. It's where our frugality-minded community helps each other figure out how to keep useful things useful. . Simply go here and click the "Join Today" button.


hhobbit's picture
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nice idea!

nice idea!

Petey1's picture
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Tool sharing

I would love to see tool sharing also. I have so many tools that I may use two or three times in my entire life.

anexaminedlife's picture
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Almost everything we need has already been made

Those simple words ( or the sentiment anyway b/c I might be paraphasing) were written by Brad Kittel on his TinyTexasHouses.com website. Many of the things we need, from our clothes to our machines to our homes and everything in between has already been made!  Brad has devoted a good part of this century building tiny/small homes from 99% salvaged materials. Not only do the houses have minimum footprint but they are beautiful works of art (take a look).  Alas, although Brad's efforts have been nothing short of heroic, there was simply too little interest in his projects for him to keep it going. 

I guess my point is that until the US consumer either takes a drastic turn in perspective (or is forced to),  the concept of repairing and/or reusing will not hold a place in this country's imagination, much less reality. We are a culture that has been "brainwashed" to buy new; when it breaks or gets old, there simply is no thought but to throw it away and buy a new one. 

I think this idea of repair cafes is fantastic and I hope it takes off here. It is up to those of us who understand that almost everything we need has already been made to live that example.  If each of us implant the idea in only one person's mind who before would not have even thought to do anything but buy new, we will perhaps initiate a change in thinking and maybe someday...a real change in the American consumer's buying (or better yet, not buying) habits. 

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John Lemieux
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Be Careful!

I don't have much time to find links or to write a detailed comment. But I have done a considerable amount of heritage buliding restoration and general home renovation work. And so I should caution anyone who wishes to recylcle old building materials about the dangers of lead exposure to lead based paint and asbestos.

Asbestos was used in thousands of building products. And people attempting to do their own renovation and demolition work are often unaware of the high risk of disturbing this material and breathing in the airborn fibers. Lead was also added to paint for many decades. And the old paint on siding and mouldings is very difficult to remove safely. Also great care must be taken to contain and properly dispose of the toxic paint that has been removed.

Don't start to sand or remove old paints until you have tested for lead. Also do not start any demolition work, including removal of old vinyl flooring until the materials have been tested for asbestos.

Some other concerns are bat  pigeon droppings. And some attic insulations contain an especially deadly type of asbestos. 

Do your research and get materials tested before starting a project or demolition. Most importantly do not disturb toxic materials (or anything) unless you are taking all safety precautions. I lost a good freind to a asbetos related illness and I have concerns that I may have been exposed as well. Be careful!


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Amanda Witman
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John, I appreciate the safety reminders

It's always a good idea to know what materials you are dealing with and take appropriate precautions.

I don't think a repair cafe is going to demolish a house, though -- I was thinking along the lines of repairing a toaster, putting a new handle on an ax, fixing a bike, replacing the seat on a chair or stool, fixing a broken clock, fixing a broken propane line in a camping stove, sharpening manual tools, mending a torn leather bag, or whatever. 

Also helpful would be a place to get good advice on whether or not something even could be repaired, and how to replace it (if necessary) with a model that can be repaired down the road.

I would love to know more about the Dutch Repair Cafe model -- anyone come across any other good articles about it, or any attempts to emulate it in other countries?

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Amanda Witman
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Did my own research and came up with this

Repair Cafe website (in English) with worldwide sites in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, UK, US.


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petey1 - we posted the www.localtools.org resource to the dailyprep section not to long ago.  They have some great examples of tool libraries being started and have resource to help get one off the ground.  My local community here is working on trying to get a tool library started and also a truck loan program.  For those times when you only need a big truck a couple times a year.  :)

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It can be a tough one

We try really hard to repair things and also to buy things that are repairable.  But we've definitely run into problems with a whole lot of things.

My wife Joy has taken a whole lot of things to the local "fix it" guy.  This is an 85 year old man, a friend, who runs this little shop in which he trys to work on whatever you might want him to try to fix.  I'll mention that I generally try to fix things before she takes them to him and sometimes I do (but often I don't have the equipment tools or knowledge).  You can get a lot of parts for about anything online, and within my limits and knowledge I try - and then he trys.   But, about half of this junk is really really really junk and literally cannot be fixed.  One additional  little feature of the current predictament is that many things require more of his labor cost than it would cost to buy a new one. But we generally go ahead and do it anyway because it helps with the local economy and it's one less peice of new junk for us to buy. 

I'm sure you all know this - cheap petroleum enables a global economy in which tons of  exremely cheap crap is manufactured by poor people working for little to nothing. 

OK, I looked for a really long time for some shoes that could be resoled.  I can remember when people bought shoes and then took care of them and then had them resoled several times - perhaps even passing children's shoes down to the next younger child..  OK, well this is a good example of just how sick it's all become.  As I'm sure you all know, all these shoes are literally  designed to be rapidly worn out and then thrown in the dump. Well, I finally found these Carhart low-boot shoes and I bought three pair which I figure with resoling (Hey can I find anyone to do it?) should last me until its time to check out (I'm 59).

But I also got so mad about the walking shoe thing.  I walk about 5 miles every morning ( yes really 5 miles sometimes 6).  I wear out these walking shoes really fast.  OK, I got soooo mad about this. I thought about buying these "mephistos" or something like that - that can be resoled but very expensive.  Instead, here's what I did.  I take old tires and cut them into chunks the size of shoe soles (heels  actually) - with a reciprocating saw.  I then cut the soles off of these New Balance walking shoes and glue on the tire pieces with a really good expoxy (PC7 - try it). I let them dry in a vise.  I extend the life of these things about 3 times as long as I'm suppose to - until the structure of the shoe literally starts to break down. Score one for sanity in an insane world.  Ok, so anyone who reads this is really getting to know me - ha.  Total tight wad, scotch, crazy old hippie, whatever etc. Joy says that in Asia - Thailand and other places - it is not uncommon to see sandals and shoe repairs made from old tires.  After weve taken off the tires for shoe repairs, maybe we could turn these automobiles into geranium planters or something.  They must be good for something .

I've come to the view that plastic cheapens our lives.  Things used to be made out of: glass, leather, wood, ceramic, cotton etc, but then came plastic (Those who are old enough - the "graduate" - right).  Throw away crap.  It generally looks like junk and is generally made for the dump.  I really do think it damages us spiritually too.  I think our lives become cheap, we become cheap, when we are surrounded by all this cheap plastic  junk.

I'm abut to fix that patio table from Walmart - I'm going to cut a piece of wood to replace the piece of junk plastic at the center of the legs that was designed to break after 2 years.

But sometimes you can find quality stuff, ideally made by local artisans.  It's gonna cost, but if you got the bucks, I'd say definitely go for it.

Repair parties: you bet. Anything to promote self-sufficiency and local community while  subverting this hideous consumer culture.   But you know, so many people now don't even have the IDEA of fixing or repairing something.  Kids are now socialized into a world where that just doesn't happen. So, it really does require a cultural revolution of sorts to make this the norm again.  Go for it.

the other problem, the other deficit, of course, is that the transformation of the human being into homo consumerus, involved a great loss of skills and knowledge.  Now, ideally, everything is purchased and discarded or  repaired and maintained by specialists.   So, we really need to do everything we can to promote essential skill development in every area of building, repair and so forth.  We need workshops, whatever. I'm totally on board.

How to do it, though, is the question. I really think that informal networks and people offering their skills and kowledge either for free or as part of a local economy is the way to go.  I'd say, don't count on grant funding for non profits or anything of the sort to be there in the future - and who wants to be beholding to those funders anyway.  And we don't any regulation from outside the immediate community, if any at all.  Just my 2 little pennies.

Woodman's picture
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As a kid my curiousity had me

As a kid my curiousity had me taking everything apart, and I got a knack for figuring out how things work and fixing thing.  That would be a great thing to promote more these days.  If resources and money become more restrained we'll be forced to do more repair rather than replacement work anyway. 

One helpful thing we didn't have years ago was the internet for information on how to fix things.  For example, when my very expensive stereo receiver stopped working I searched on-line and found others had documented the same problem with this model and how to fix it.  I ordered a new resistor for about $1 and fixed my reciever with a screwdriver and a soldering iron.  The key was just taking the time to research the problem and to be comfortable with taking the enclosure off to do basic work.  Building informal networks as the poster above said seems the best place to start.

Petey1's picture
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Thanks Jason. I will check it out.

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Super challenges to repair of certain items

There are two areas that come to mind that basically preclude fixes (or make them much more difficult) in this world of microchips and plastic.

1)  In order to take apart many of the more recently manufactured items, a simple phillips-head or slot-head screwdriver is inadequate. Now you must have a special set of screwdrivers, like 6 or 8 pt star, or triangular in a variety of sizes.  This is where a tool trade group would be most welcome.

2) Many of our appliances are sequenced in their operations by a CPU in a motherboard.  The mechanics of the unit can be working perfectly, but if the "brain" goes wonky, the appliance won't work.  (My experience:  I bought a gorgeous well-maintained 2005 refrigerator used for $200.  I used it for 9 months, then the motherboard quit working properly.  An internet search for a replacement board resulted in this particularly item being the most frequently bought part to repair this fridge. (Delibrate dynamic obsolence, anyone?). $122 plus shipping and my time to bolt-on, bolt-off.  I ditched the fridge and got an old-fashioned one for $25 off of craigslist.  Smaller, noisier, less NRG efficient and it will continue to work until the compressor dies, not until the CPU goes wonky.  A fair-enough trade-off for me).

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Adam Taggart
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Similar experience

I inherited a 2-cycle Weed Eater weed-whacker that seems fine, but has been unused for a few years. Despite my best attempts (I'm no mechanic), I can't get it to work. Probably something relatively simple, like a blocked hose or a bad sparkplug.

I brought it to my local hardware store. Turns out they no longer do repairwork on lawn machinery.

So I drove out to the nearest landcape supply store. The nice lady behind the counter said they'd be happy to give it a tune up and get it working again. I just needed to pay an initial deposit of $35, which would be applied to the full cost of the repair.

"How much would you guess the final bill will be, if things go smoothly?" I asked.

"About $75 to $100."

"Hmm," I said. "How much does this model cost?"

"Oh, about $65 to $70".

"So, the repair would be worth more than buying it new?"

"Guess so."

I thanked her and left with my broken Weed Eater, feeling frustrated.

The actual problem is highly likely to require only a cheap part and less than 10 minutes to identify and fix by someone with some basic knowledge of how a simple motor like this works (which I lack, embarrassingly). Why does it cost more to make this simple fix than to buy a new Weed Eater? (which will likely have a similar equally mysterious and costly failure eventually)

Why is there no easy way to find the kind of tinker, or group of tinkers, who could do the work cheaply and quickly? I'm noow trolling Craigslist and some local bulletin boards, but I sure wish there was an easier way. I would think almost every household has need of such a resource (that's why I love the concept of these Dutch repair cafes)

What's likely to happen is I'll sell the broken model on craigslist and then use the cash towards buying a more durable (and therefore pricier) weed whacker that will hopefully last years.

Though ideally, I'd love to be able to have a membership to a community tool collection - where I can get access to a whole host of quality tools, each of which I may only need to use a few times each year. I'm still relatively new in my new town, but that may be the next community-building initiative I start up.

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Adam, 2 stroke carbs

Ever since the they upped the ethanol in our gas it has been wrecking 2 stroke carburetors. Surprised there hasn't been a class action lawsuit. It's almost required that you use the ethanol stabilizer with every tank. One fuel additive that might work is quickshot. I've found it to be a miracle worker.


Might be worth a try.

MarkM's picture
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Sounds like you guys are startiing a virtual repair cafe


I will try your miracle. I have tried many with no good results. You are right, ethanol wreaks havoc with small engine carbs. Especially the rubber diaphragms in the 2 cycle models. I have resorted to buying ethanol free gas when I go to the farm on the weekends and bringing it home to use in all my small equipment. Funny how the problems go away.


I witnessed the exact same scenario at my local small engine parts place last year. Guy in dress clothes brings in non functional weedeater and asks about repair costs. The repair guy is straight up and says, "If you can't fix it yourself, throw it in the trash and buy a new one."

The cost for a carb kit is usually 15-20 dollars and the job takes about 30 minutes. However, if you don't have at least some skills and tools, you can't do it. A few simple tools, a helpful friend with experience (or a youtube video) and you are back in business.

Our specialized culture has led to this and I, as you, see things changing.

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2 stroke engines

I have been purchasing aviation gasoline for my 2 stroke engines (chain saws, weed wackers, etc) and have not had any more problems.  Aviation gasoline is leaded and has no ethanol, also very high octane.  I go to a local small airport and they fill up my 5 gallon jug.  It is more expensive (I can't remember the exact price, but around $5-6/gallon).  It stores much longer and as I said, I have no more carb problems.

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...was started several years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area; an inspiring concept and playground for creativity…. and it’s spreading like a weed!

I grew up in the Silicon Valley start-up environment over 60 years ago; that energy is still here, waiting for someone to set it free. I think TechShop might be one of many that has started the next wave of progress.

Check it out at http://www.techshop.ws/index.html

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Denny Johnson
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ethanol-free gasoline

A list of stations that sell pure, ethanol-free gasoline in the U.S. and Canada!




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