Guide to non-traditional gifts: Repair an item to give new life to old stuff

Give something you already know they will use

 | 
Liza Koman
Campaign for the Right to Repair, Associate

Author: Liza Koman

Campaign for the Right to Repair, Associate

Started on staff: 2021
B.S., magna cum laude, Cornell University

Liza works on various projects to support the Right to Repair campaign at the national level. Liza lives in Washington, D.C., with her cat, Wilbur, and loves cooking, biking and exploring museums.

It’s likely there are plenty of things around your family’s and friends’ homes that they once loved but are now collecting dust because they broke or need maintenance. What better way to bring some holiday joy than to give the gift of new life to old stuff. Getting an item repaired or serviced puts it back into use, rather than throwing away something potentially valuable, and is also a great way to make sure the recipient will actually enjoy and use their gift. 

What items can be repaired?

Aside from electronics, here are some ideas of common items that you can get repaired for your loved ones, and how to do it.

Sewing Machines

Sewing machines are expensive but they retain value well if they are maintained properly, so they’re definitely worth repairing. Sometimes, all they need is a good cleaning to start functioning properly again, since they accumulate lots of dust and lint during use. However, other issues may require a technician. If the machine is fairly new, check with the manufacturer -- a warranty might still cover service through the company. If your machine is produced by Brother, you can find authorized service centers here. The Sewing Machine Institute also provides repair services and live classes that teach how to fix your own machines. Otherwise, most sewing machine repair shops are small, local businesses, so you should search for them in your area.

When you take it in for repair, make sure to take the machine’s accessories, including the power cord, foot pedal, standard presser foot and corrector bobbin. If it’s an embroidery machine, bring the embroidery hoop and foot, too. If the machine is missing accessories, talk to the repair shop for recommendations on where to get new ones for your model. 

Bicycles and Skateboards 

Bikes are good candidates for repair. While repair can sometimes be pricey depending on the parts needed and level of damage, it’s still often more worth it to fix an old one than buy a new one if you know the owner really liked it, since the fit and riding feel of bikes varies so much and can be hard to match.Plenty of shops specialize in repair and maintenance in most cities. Most problems with bikes are fixable unless the frame is damaged or it’s a cheaper bicycle from a department store. Many of these bikes are, unfortunately, not built to last and are often made from cheap materials that are difficult to mend once broken. Skateboard repair can also be very feasible, depending on the damage. iFixit offers a list of common maladies and how to deal with them.

Clothing, shoes and accessories

Clothing is, in most cases, very easy and inexpensive to fix. People are often quick to throw out old garments with little tears or other minor damage because taking clothes to a tailor can feel like more of a chore than it’s worth. However, mending tears, replacing buttons or zippers, and even removing some stains can be done at your local tailor and dry cleaning service (these two services are sometimes done by one business). If the fabric on a piece is worn down and thinned out, though, there might be very little a tailor can do. Extending the life of clothing is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and avoid wasteful fast fashion trends. 

Shoes and purses are other beloved, often-expensive items that can be easily fixed. Your local cobbler can replace broken heels and zippers and torn laces. They can also service leather purses, including zipper and other hardware replacement, patching tears and reattaching the lining. Some companies provide leather restoration services for old purses, men’s and women’s shoes, belts and other leather garments.  

Furniture

Restoring or repairing old furniture is usually very cost-effective. Many easy fixes -- such as filling cracks, repolishing wood, touching up discolored areas, or patching a small tear -- can make pieces look much newer, whereas buying all new can be quite expensive. Furniture is often passed down through families and can hold sentimental value. Reupholstering is another option to revamp pieces with fabric, such as couches or chairs, look fresher or fit a new space, but this can be very expensive, depending on the size of the piece and type of fabric being used. 

Jewelry

Fixing up treasured family pieces of jewelry can be a great holiday gift. Fine jewelry keeps its value very well and can be made more modern while preserving the components of the original piece. You can work with a jeweler to remake a piece or to just repair a broken part. This can be really time-consuming, especially with many jewelry orders coming in around the holidays, so make sure to plan ahead and give the jewelers ample time to work on your pieces. A great gift you can do yourself is to polish someone’s tarnished jewelry. You just need inexpensive polish and brush or sponge and you can completely transform the item’s look.

Kitchen Gadgets

Plenty of appliances around the kitchen can be repaired at home or by a local technician. The Fix-It Club offers guides on how to repair various appliances including coffee makers, toasters, blenders, food processors, electric can openers and more. You can also join a Fixit Clinic and get live expert advice on your issue. Independent repair shops that specialize in small appliance repair, and some general electronics repair shops, offer those services as well, but it’s best to call ahead to confirm which products they can accept. Getting a family member’s or friend’s knives sharpened can also be a great gift, as knives can be expensive to replace. Many grocery stores offer a knife-sharpening service, especially if they have a butcher (and in many cases, this service is free!)

Camping Gear

Quality outdoor gear is quite expensive. Luckily, many companies offer repair services such as patching holes in tents, replacing buckles and straps on backpacks, refilling sleeping bags, and other services. Patagonia also offers repair services for its products and many other manufacturers provide lifetime warranties for their goods. 

Books

Getting an old or disheveled book rebound can make for an exciting gift for the bibliophile in your life. There are experts who can completely rebind books or restore old covers.

General Tips  
Call around to local repair shops, tailors, cobblers and grocery stores to see whether they offer the service you’re looking for. In some cases, you may be able to find shops elsewhere, or that operate online only, and ship your items to them. It’s imperative that you plan ahead and give the repairperson plenty of time to service your items (and ship them back, if necessary). They may have to order new parts, and given the holiday season and the slowed postal service, this might take more time than usual. 

 

Return to Buy Less, Give More main page for other gift ideas
Liza Koman
Campaign for the Right to Repair, Associate

Author: Liza Koman

Campaign for the Right to Repair, Associate

Started on staff: 2021
B.S., magna cum laude, Cornell University

Liza works on various projects to support the Right to Repair campaign at the national level. Liza lives in Washington, D.C., with her cat, Wilbur, and loves cooking, biking and exploring museums.