I am a fixer. There, I’ve said it. Having taken that step, I hope to illuminate this condition in order to achieve empathy among those of you who may not understand the difficulties we fixers encounter. I’d like to make life a little easier for those who struggle as I do. In fact, if you struggle with Fix, Reclaim, and Repurpose Syndrome (FRRS), or love someone who does, I’d like to fix your problems.
A bit of background is in order. My father, Roscoe, became a fixer out of necessity. Although I didn’t grow up during the depression as he did, I absorbed his acquired FRRS tendencies through sometimes painful object lessons. As a kid when my bike’s chain came off or when a tire got punctured, I’d have to fix it in order to keep riding. He’d show me how, rather impatiently, then leave me to my own devices. If I dallied (or struggled) too long in correcting the problem, anecdotes from his childhood, intended to shame and humiliate, would ensue: “Why, when I was your age I was rebuilding locomotive steam engines, and here you are—can’t even patch a bicycle tire! Gimme the damn thing!” Then he’d make me feel even smaller by having it patched and ready to roll in seconds flat.
He also drove his lessons home with sound economic logic and common sense. I remember trying to get my girlfriend’s Ford Falcon running when I was a teenager. He helped me diagnose the fuel pump problem. After I removed the faulty part, he snatched it out of my greasy hand. “What are you doing?” I asked.
He replied, “I’m gonna fix this pump. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Gee, Dad,” I said (sounding like The Beav). “We can get a new one at the parts store for like twelve bucks.”
He looked me in the eye without offering a smile, blinked twice to indicate incredulity. “Why would I spend good, hard-earned dollars to do that when I can fix this one for nothing?” Thankfully, he didn’t utter the clichéd lesson about money not growing on trees. He didn’t need to.
We spent several hours cutting gaskets out of the back cover of the phone book and diaphragms out of old inner tubes. Reassembled, the pump worked fine. “Now,” Roscoe said, “you can take that gal to the picture show and buy her a cheeseburger with the money you saved.” He was right. The lesson sank in and took root after hundreds of similar episodes.
I have trouble throwing things away, but FRRS should not be confused with hoarding disorder. Discarding pizza boxes, Styrofoam food containers, plastic straws (I know I should recycle but I live in Alabama), pickle jars, used storage bags, empty toilet paper rolls—in short the common detritus of modern life—does not usually present a problem, unless my imagination conjures up a way to use those objects to fix something that has actual worth.
I keep a mental list of all the things I’m gonna someday get around to fixing, and I set aside parts, pieces, and miscellaneous items that might help me put a check mark beside a task. Metal rods, aluminum angles, old road signs, rubber washers, strong sticks, nuts and bolts, bits of wire, and broken knife blades are especially useful.
Please try to understand that those of us with FRRS define ourselves by what we are able to fix, reclaim, and repurpose. Joy comes from pressing something back into use that normal people would simply throw away. We are giving “life” back to inanimate objects, and in our minds these objects have hearts and souls. They thank us by standing proud in the role they were created to fulfill, or, in some cases, new even more fulfilling roles as repurposed objects. Remember those old iMac computers, the ones with the bulbous tear-shaped, jewel-toned plastic cases? Creative FRRS folk have cleverly repurposed these into aquariums! Knowing this, I cannot discard the four I still own. They don’t take up that much room.
There is no known cure for FRRS, and I don’t recommend medication. Please be patient with us. What looks like junk to you may be part of our self-fulfillment dreams. Here are a few suggestions for those who love someone with FRRS:
- We need tools, space, and maybe a workshop.
- When we’re depressed it’s usually because we see too many things that need fixing and can’t find enough time. Offer to help or to take care of some other time-consuming chore so that your loved one may find her joy.
- NEVER throw away a cached item thinking the FRRS sufferer won’t notice. We always do and become agitated as a result.
- Express pride, even if you have to fake it, in the accomplishments of your FRRS sufferer. You may be thinking it’s better not to encourage, but remember that failure to share in their glee produces in them a state of morose lethargy.
I’ll also offer some tips to FRRS sufferers:
- Inanimate objects don’t really have feelings.
- Generally speaking, objects found in the landfill aren’t worth fixing (although my son’s first three bicycles were retrieved from dumpsters).
- Those with whom you share your space and time do not understand your affliction and are struggling with the apparent lack of order in your world, so you should “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”*
- Abandoning your FRRS tendencies may seem like a denial or surrender or a soul-emptying act, but doing so can lead to a heretofore unknown sense of freedom. Unfortunately, there are no documented cases of this happening.
A reminder to those on both sides of this very real issue: Empathy and tolerance are the keys to a better world. Let’s embrace our differences and each other. And I wish you luck in trying to fix me. Peace!
*Dr. Stephen R. Covey (used without permission)