DIY - Do it yourself!
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? These days, it ranges from a battle-cry call to action, to a way to be a more balanced, connected you, and get a bit physical in a time of sedentary living. Maybe it reminds us of childhood craft-ernoons or fun backyard projects with the help of loved ones. Sometimes we call it a personal challenge or a good distraction (read: procrastination). Or is it that thing you’ve been promising your significant other you’d get organised for way too long now, and it’s starting to make you “the unreliable lazy partner”… so come hell or high water, you're going to get it done?
It's funny how it can represent so many things…
So, let’s wind it back for a minute.
What does DIY mean?
The acronym itself is pretty self-explanatory. Do It Yourself. Okay. Sure. Nice and simple.
As a concept, it’s just a way of doing things. Today, it feels much more like a brand in itself – aka the Bunnings effect. It didn’t start that way though.
Before Bunnings, or the commercialisation of the idea, DIY was not an activity or even a choice. Back then, you either paid other people or you did it yourself because you couldn't afford to have said people do it. And if neither of those were a possibility you just went without. You lived with the backyard you already had, or you found a way to cover the holes in the carpet.
Back then, no one stood at the Sunday BBQ proudly boasting about their new DIY project because you might as well be chatting about this week’s chores.
So, what started the “DIY” revolution?
We probably need to start with the rapid growth of the middle class. Suddenly, more people could afford to pay others to do things despite possibly having the skills. They’d grown up learning various basic skills that resulted from having to figure out how to get things done with minimal outside help before they became middle class themselves. So they had the skills but no longer needed to use them – at least not in their own homes. Now they could afford to hire professionals to do it, using income received from doing something mentally “harder” than this physical, more menial skill. The social constructs that developed around how your place in society was defined by whether you needed to use your hands and get dirty vs whether you used stationary and talked most of the day pushed many people to stop fixing and making things themselves.
Funnily enough, while they had the money now, they also often had more time. While this time was initially filled with leisure and fun, over the years, humans have discovered the need for self-fulfilment and achievement at an individual outcome level… Which can be hard to do in a large organisation, even if you have a corner office. Paper money or bank account balances only provide so much feedback.
Enter the DIY movement; fixing or making things – not because you had to, but because you chose to (autonomy) - in the hopes that the final product made you feel accomplished (efficacy) – and you might also have been saving some $$$, learning a new skill and being self-sufficient (empowerment).
Over time, the DIY movement has arguably been fuelled a lot more by our egos, than our skills or our income. There are a whole lot of priorities that inform our decision making but here are some ideas about the main ‘whys’.
-Because we are trying to save money, or at least trying not to waste it.
-Because we actually believe we can do it as well as other people can… maybe better.
-Because it proves that we’re capable of doing these things.
-Because it makes us a good person- self-sufficient AND environmental.
-Because we don’t like handing over control to someone else… maybe we have some trust issues.
It’s probably one, or some… or even all of these reasons. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Any of these reasons work, and congratulations to us for accomplishing something.
So, what is the impact of doing things this way?
What we gain…
Empowerment! Gratification! Success! Saving money!
What do we lose?
Quality? Craftsmanship? Time?
Craftsmanship might feel like a bit of a sting for some of us. We’re often especially proud of something that we’ve made. But is that because it’s so amazing, or just because it’s ours? After all… how often do we build a bird bath? Really?
If we think about what DIY looks like these days, a lot of it is more of an assembling activity than an actual
craft. Think of Ikea, for example. You didn’t really make the chair, you just put the screws in. Sure, it felt more complicated than it probably had to be, and it adds to our feeling of accomplishment… but a true DIY-er would say it doesn’t count.
Or maybe you’re a pinterester, or a youtube tutorial follower. We’re following the instructions, we’re getting the thing done. We created it… but can we take creative credit for that? And more importantly, do we need to? Is that what we’re in it for?
Maybe, we need to focus on the other ‘Why’s. Not the concrete outcome Whys, but the feeling, enjoyment, experience of doing it Whys. Perhaps, coming home to a DIY project is reminiscent and allows us to indulge in childhood nostalgia. Or it’s a different kind of challenge than our day jobs, using a different part of our brains. Maybe you’ve been inspired by the newest reality TV program that makes it look oh-so-easy, and want to follow in the footsteps of someone you respect.
Perhaps it’s your way of having ‘new’ things without having to actually pay for new things. It’s vintage, darling. Another big driver of the DIY trend. Ownership value seems to be severely impacted if the thing we own is a hand-me-down. If you’ve taken something old and done something to it, however… so we can pay less, or even get it for free, then do something to it to prove it’s not just someone else’s old thing, and ta da we have more stuff because we worked hard! A project and a pride piece all at once!
Again, all completely valid reasons to ‘DIY’ something.
But there are times when your DIY fails - you end up with a bad outcome, a sense of failure and on top of that, you have to pay double for someone to fix the mistake as well as the original problem you could have paid them for in the first place.
So… when should we ‘leave it to the professionals’?
This is a quality, a relationship with history. People have been specialising in different crafts for as long as those crafts have existed. Instead of saying ‘No, no, I’ve got it’, respecting other people's skills often leads to a better outcome that brings more joy/reward than our version of the product. You lose some of the craftsmanship by trying to do everything just well enough, instead of sharing the load and doing everything well. Sure, you could arrange a floral bouquet on Mother’s Day and yeah, you could fix your own car if you really wanted to. But you don't cos they do it better. So why do we choose ‘easy outs’ in other areas just so we can feel self-sufficient?
When we bring someone in to help us with something, or lend their expertise and do it for us, we create a community. We also keep the current community moving. We all like to boast an economy that supports everyone, or provides as much opportunity as possible but when it comes to some projects it’s easy to say ‘But have you seen the rates for a plumber these days?’. Why is providing work to the community not something we always think about in the DIY scenario. Perhaps we should consider that if we’re lucky enough to be able to ask for help with services that are not our core skill, we should. It helps us understand how we fit into a larger society, that you don't need to be self-sufficient, and that we can help each other in different ways.
-Prioritising what you spend your time on
You might not have to outsource every time. In actual fact, if you got someone in to do something the first time, maybe you could learn more about it. Maybe you could fill in the knowledge or skill gaps you have and learn how to do it well next time. Or maybe consider that, yes, you could do it yourself… but do you really need to? Will you gain more than you lose by putting your time and effort into this? Are there other things that could fulfil you more, or is there quality time you want to spend doing something else? If not, great, you should get started! If there are though, maybe see if you can do those things instead.
There is a very wonderful place in our lives for DIY these days, and we should indulge as much as we can. Let’s just remember that Do It Together, or Help Me Do This Better might be a good fit from time to time.