This morning, while working on the patio, a neighbour looked over and asked what I was doing. To my right were a number of screwdrivers, wrenches, Allen keys, and smaller hand tools. To my left was a myriad of plastic components that, when assembled, form the outer casing of a Sharp humidifier. The unit started putting out a bit of a stink a couple of days ago and I wanted to see whether it was a burnt out motor, given the appliance was manufactured in 2007, or something else. While we were chatting, I continued to strip layers of plastic framework1 away from the central motor cavity, confirmed my hypothesis, and finally extracted the worn out component from the machine. All in all, the process took ten minutes and the conversation was going on for five.

"I thought you worked with computers," the neighbour asked.

"I do."

"How do you know how to fix humidifiers, then?"

The question initially struck me as odd, as I wasn't actually fixing the humidifier just yet. What I had accomplished was disassembly and following a bad smell to its source to confirm an expectation of what had failed. This is something that I've done with varying degrees of success ever since I could hold a screwdriver and, aside from my father, just about every male in my family has done the same. When something is broken, we first attempt to fix it.

Later in the day I was thinking about the homes in the area, and the yards specifically. In many communities anywhere across Canada you'll find a place where it's obvious that someone gets "work" done. This might be a multi-car garage or a toilet-sized shed, but all the signs will be there. We know there will be tools of all sorts inside. We know that the place will generally be a mess. We know that the person who has the space enjoys working with their hands. Roughly 150 homes make up the local community here, and none have any noticeable place where this happens. There isn't even a shared space where people could go to use basic power tools or just shoot the breeze while fixing a broken toaster or making a spice rack for the kitchen.

This raised all sorts of follow up questions2. One in particular needed an answer, though: Do any of my neighbours fix their own things?

I decided to find out by taking the boy went for a little walk to the park and asking some of the neighbours working outside. Most people have a bit of a garden on their property that they tend to on Saturday mornings, so this makes it rather easy to strike up conversations, much like someone had with me a couple of hours earlier.

Of the six people outside, only one person generally did things themselves. Everyone else would hire the services of an expert in order to save time and hassle. This was hardly an exhaustive study, but it does make me wonder whether people around here see repair and handiwork as a nuisance rather than an investment. It's certainly not something that just anyone can do, of course, but it does help save money and encourage creative thinking.

Maybe it's time to dedicate some time into building a work shed of my own, complete with tools, yard equipment, and plenty of "random bits" to solve many of life's simple repair jobs. This would provide even more incentive to get out of the house and spend some time in the sunshine.

  1. I'm not kidding about "layers". The motor was so well shielded the thing would probably survive everything short of an EMP detonation.

  2. One of the questions that first popped up was whether a community workspace would be a profitable venture … not that I'd have any idea how to set something like this up.