Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Peter Mui, founder and organizer of Fixit Clinic—a “pop-up” activity where people bring their broken things to disassemble with the assistance of a volunteer Fixit Coach. Fixit Clinics take place all over the United States. For more information on Fixit Clinic—including resources on how to find a pop-up event near you or start a Fixit Clinic in your community, visit fixitclinic.org
At Fixit Clinic, we celebrate successful repairs by ringing a bell and shouting “Fixxxxed!” Returning participants and “Fixit Coaches” (volunteers who assist with repair) are familiar with the ritual and cheer. New attendees initially look on quizzically, but after hearing the bell and our refrain a few times, they too join in the cheer.
It may seem campy to celebrate each successful repair in this way—and with a 70% success rate on repairs, we do a lot of celebrating. But after over 170 Fixit Clinics across the US—in the San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis, Boulder, Austin, San Diego, and Orange County—we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all part of creating a participatory and festive atmosphere around repair.
Toaster repair gets creative at a Fixit Clinic held in Castro Valley last month.
When a participant arrives at a Fixit Clinic, we announce them, their item, and the item’s symptom(s) to the room, as in: “Hey everyone, say hi to Ted and his DVD player that skips.” Everyone looks up and says “Hi Ted!” Our singular greeting is as much a way to make a new person feel welcome as it is an icebreaker to encourage conversation.
Once they’re introduced, everyone knows the person, their item, and what’s wrong with it—making participants interested in and (just maybe) a little invested in the other repair projects in the room. (We reinforce that connection by placing people with similar repair projects next to each other.) Attendees aren’t a passive part of this experience; we expect a high level of engagement from our participants. In fact, we try to blur the line between participants and Fixit Coaches. We want participants to help each other figure out what’s wrong with their devices. As a result, Fixit Clinics take on an atmosphere of collective repair: everyone helps everyone else, everyone learns from disassembling and troubleshooting different devices in parallel.
Fixit Coaches volunteer to take attendees through the troubleshooting, disassembly, and repair process.
This emphasis on education and skill-sharing is a critical aspect of Fixit Clinic. It helps us to expand and transforms our relationship to consumption. We’re empowering our participants to be fearless about opening up a broken thing; many of our best Fixit Coaches started out as Fixit Clinic attendees and now keep returning to help others.
Our hope is that all participants—by seeing lots of repairs—retain the confidence to open up and troubleshoot items for themselves, their family, their neighbors, and their friends. Once people start repairing, they start asking questions like “What went wrong?”, “Can it be fixed?”, and “How might it have been designed differently to avoid breaking in the first place?”
That last question is where we’re ultimately going with Fixit Clinic: to encourage products designed with maintenance, serviceability, and repairability in mind. As consumers, we’re going to have to start demanding those things; at Fixit Clinic we trust that improvements in product quality and durability will come through a broader understanding and dialogue around how things are made now.
In the meantime, we’ll keep ringing our bells and celebrating our successes at Fixit Clinic: changing the world, one broken toaster at a time.