No Other News The Same: Re-use?

What do you do when your umbrella breaks? If you're anything like myself, you probably just go out and buy another one. Another cheap one that will inevitably break in about a week or so. At this point, if I really forced myself to count, I could probably find about 11 bargain umbrellas in my apartment. About half of them are broken.

NPR Morning Edition ran a story today entitled No Rain on His Parade: Parisian Preserves Art of Umbrella Repair about Thierry Millet, the last umbrella repairman in Paris. Listening, I became uncomfortably aware of some bigger issues behind mindlessly buying one umbrella when another one breaks; monetary, environmental, and nostalgic. Society is willing to buy and buy and buy as if there are unlimited resources, and for now, there appear to be. What would happen, instead, if we restored our treasured possessions by fixing them when they broke, rather than buying new ones?

We would inevitably end up saving money. This year I re-soled both of my pairs of boots, and it cost much less than buying new ones. Millet typically repairs umbrellas for less than the purchase of a new one. This website lists various ways how re-using does save money.

We would be doing the environment a service. In France, an estimated number of 15 million umbrellas are thrown away in France each year. I couldn't find the comparison for the United States, yet I would wager the number would be comparable or higher. According to the Duke University Center for Sustainability and Commerce, the average US citizen generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day.

We would treat all of our possessions as if they were irreplaceable. Millet has other reasons for fixing umbrellas in addition to the environment. He considers repairing umbrellas to be a lost art. "People who come to me are attached to their umbrellas for sentimental reasons. Many times they have beautiful stories about them. So I feel obliged to restore them," he says. Everyone must have a few items they feel sentimentally attached to. For me, it's an old purse from my mother, a bureau my grandfather made himself, and a miniature wooden desk my great-great aunt gave me to remind me always to study. The old purse has a tire mark on it from when a car literally ran over it, the wooden bureau is worn, and the miniature desk is in pretty bad shape, yet I would never throw them away. Of course, I haven't really restored them either.

Now, there are extreme examples of re-using. Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home nearly lost me as a reader when she wrote an extremely passionate argument detailing how she had tried to re-use a ponytail holder when it snapped, re-tying it and re-tying it until it was finally unfixable - and then refused to buy a new ponytail holder because she couldn't purchase just the one she needed. That lifestyle is not for me.

This simple and beautiful story about Millet's repair shop has made me want to go and reevaluate how I choose what I own. My ultimate goal is to own a few simple possessions that, with some simple repairs, will stand the test of time. Unfortunately, I can't seem to locate an umbrella repair shop in Philadelphia.