The joy of repairing things

Repairing things

When something breaks, we generally tend to replace it with a new one rather than repair it. Catelijne Elzes took the ‘repairing path’ for a month, and it turned out to be more complicated than she expected – but also more fun.

From the moment that I started, it was like a switch had been flipped in my head. Instead of my usual knee-jerk response to a broken object – to take myself off to the shops – I  began to wonder how I could make something whole again. I even found myself hoping for the next thing to break. It didn’t take long: A wooden planter box on our balcony fell apart. I started by moving the box, and promptly two more planks gave way.

Surely I could fix them all back into place? But it took some effort to figure out how. I needed a hammer and nails, and they were stashed in away in the attic. Then, when I hit the first nail in, the plank split in two. But after that I got the hang of it. And fifteen minutes later the planter box was looking good and sturdy again. That saved me a three-hour trip to Ikea (and quite a bit of money – not only the cost of the planter but all the other stuff I inevitably end up buying when I go there).


Next, a sweater unraveled; I heard it tear as I put it on and found a hole in it. I put the sweater in the mending pile, taking a cue from my niece. A few more things were added as the week progressed, like socks with holes in them and a sleeping mask with an elastic band that was way too tight. So when my niece came over as arranged, we played at being seamstress again. It took just ten minutes to darn the holes in my socks and sweater. But then it got trickier: To replace the tight elastic of the mask with a looser one I’d have to take the whole mask apart, which I didn’t feel like doing. And there was my first challenge.

I was reminded of Robert Pirsig’s 1970s bestseller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in which he writes about a road trip through the US during which he has to stop several times to repair his motorcycle. It’s good for you, he decides, because by tinkering with your bike, you are also working on your ‘self’. With this book in mind I also decided to persevere.

And I figured out a quicker fix: I cut the elastic band and stitched on a new piece to make it longer. Not a beautiful solution, but efficient. It took me half an hour. And yes, this definitely counted as working on myself, because I want to become less perfectionistic. Mission accomplished.

  • Read the full story ‘The joy of repairing things’ in Issue 25.

Text Catelijne Elzes Photography ©Annie Spratt/