Too many of us have bought into the marketing message that we live in a disposable economy. "Planned obsolescence" is a ploy, sure, but also a way to drive industry or support business, right? Besides, who knows how to fix a toaster anyway?


Nancy Lo knows. Even better, she knows all sorts of people who know how to rewire lamps, fix a broken zipper, troubleshoot a computer or solder a pipe. But here's the best news of all: They want to teach you how!

Hennepin County Environmental Services is hosting its third monthly Fix-It Clinic on Dec. 8 -- that's this Saturday -- from 1-5 p.m. at The Mill, 2300 Kennedy St. NE, Minneapolis. The idea is to reduce the amount of stuff that gets thrown in the trash, most of which just takes up space, but some also can leak nasty gunk into the ground and our water.

Mostly, though, the clinic are about achieving some skills. But Lo's challenge has been drumming up awareness in the clinic -- and in instilling some confidence in people. "We have plenty of volunteers who can teach people how to fix a sewing machine or a blender, but we need more people bringing stuff in to fix."

Some of the items fixed at previous clinics include a telephone headset, antique radio, toaster oven, toy helicopter, laptop, paper shredder, flashlight, boombox, remote control, camping lantern and electric hot water kettle.

Lo said there also are folks on hand to help with sewing projects, whether it's a broken zipper, or a sagging hemline.

The subtext in these clinics is empowerment. Quite simply, it's cool to know how to fix things. It's cool not to feel dependent upon others, or to offer up some help yourself. A sense of self-sufficiency can't be underestimated.

Plus, you save money.

So this week, look around the house and grab that wonky hair dryer that's been sitting on the shelf, because sometimes it works -- for a while. Decide you're no longer willing to put up with a toaster that toasts on one side, or an iron that's lost its steam function.

Bring it to the experts, and in so doing, stand a fair chance of becoming an expert yourself. Or, at the very least, a little more useful around the house.

WORDS FOR THE WISE: The Mill is in an industrial area in northeast Minneapolis, and a little tricky to find -- but a truly fascinating place to know about, even beyond the Fix-it Clinic. From Hennepin Av. E, go north on Stinson Blvd., then west on Kennedy St. NE. You'll see a big sign in a rather featureless-looking building.

For more details, a good map, and dates of future clinics, visit