Reflections on Repairing My Dryer

 Image by  Michael Chen

Image by Michael Chen

My clothes dryer ran all night last Tuesday. My mom always told me not to run it overnight or when I leave the house. She said a friend told her that Boy Scouts use dryer lint to start fires, so imagine how easily one could start in your actual dryer. But as with far too many things, I gradually drifted away from my mother's advice. She was at my home last week and later informed me she prayed that I would stop running my dryer overnight. And then it broke. So...thanks for that, Mom.

Chip and Joanna we are not, so I figured we would either be calling a repairman or getting a new dryer. Ours was running, but wouldn't heat. I started watching YouTube videos and it appeared the heating element might have broken. So we pulled the dryer out, and the following day I got to work. I cleaned everything out (apparently you should do this more than once every ten years, FYI...it was terrifying to see all the lint that had collected inside the dryer), removed the old heating element, and took it to a local appliance store to test it. 

This sounds straightforward enough, but the process took hours. I actually dialed a repairman, then hung up before it rang, determined to try it on my own and save money. I priced new dryers at Lowe's. I tried to determine what was more work--fixing the old one or buying a new one. I calculated the time I was spending and losing in the process, trying to determine the financial benefit or waste of the process.

When I arrived at the appliance store, the owner tested the parts, found a crack, and sold me a new element. Aside from the moment when he told me to have my husband check the outflow (at which point my feminist side perked up), my encounter with this man was an enlightening experience. He told me that almost every washing machine now is made with a plastic drum. He said just last week he had hauled off four washers that were less than two years old. 

"You can't repair them," he said. "They're made to last a few years and then be thrown away. Like cell phones." 

He told me the only washers and dryers he sells are made in the USA, all-metal, and repairable. 

I stood there, thinking of my father-in-law. Roger is the kind of person who doesn't throw anything out if it can be fixed. He's known to find items others have gotten rid of that, with a simple adjustment or repair, could be good as new. The discarded bike just needs a new chain. The Red Flyer wagon just needs a new wheel. 

But the rest of us are too busy to repair things, so we toss them out and buy a new version.

I returned home, installed the new heating element, wrestled with the air output hose for an hour, and got the dryer put back together. I ran it timidly, certain the whole thing would soon go up in flames. It didn't. 

I would certainly have had good reason and justification for calling a repairman. We recently had one repair something on our washing machine, and I love to support people who do good work with their hands. But on this day, I needed to slow down and fix something. I needed to hear the appliance store owner lament a society that discards broken items. I needed to be convicted of my own strong temptation to throw the dryer out and start over.

I don't think it's any accident that a society that throws machines out whenever a new, better model is available is simultaneously embracing euthanasia. We're too busy to care, too scattered and self-important to do the work required to repair or relate to those who are weak or physically broken. 

Much is constantly written about our dependence on technology, and specifically our phones. But I think it's probably affecting us in ways of which we're completely unaware, not the least of which is our constant desire to upgrade and get the next best thing. We're used to things evolving, and have no time or space for that which does not. When a brand or product breaks or fails to live up to its purpose, we toss it out. 

I now wonder how this affects the ways in which I view and treat other image-bearers, even those who are no longer living up to my expectations of them. Whether it's physical brokenness in the elderly, or emotional brokenness in a needy friend--am I willing to put in the time, or will I cast them aside for a better model?

It was a providence that I met this store owner and saw appliances from his perspective. It's more important that I spend my days in God's Word, learning to rightly see those around me as bearers of His image, fully endowed with value. 

And thanks, Roger, for your example of slowing down and fixing things.