DIY Build and Repair Culture Makes for Healthier Planet, Happier People


Photo via Treehugger editor Meaghan O'Neill, shown here busy being a DIY badass on her roof. She's tearing apart a chimney with such gusto that she broke the sledge hammer. The reason for ripping out the chimney was to make room for a pellet stove and a solar tube. And she kept the bricks for later reuse in the garden. Go green DIYer!

While we don't have some new study saying so, a little common sense analysis shows that learning how to build rather than buy, and repair rather than recycle, is key to not just making a lighter footprint on the planet, but also lightening up your heart. Think about it - weigh the pride and confidence you get from repairing the kitchen sink's leaky faucet yourself, versus paying a plumber to come out, fix it, and leave you $100 less rich and mumbling about how that was so darn easy how could it have possibly cost $100? That's the idea behind a great piece on Financial Times called "Practical Stress Relief."Examples from the article of highly satisfied DIYers include Allison Taylor, who rather than spend $300 to get the phone company to add a jack in her house, she got a few tips from the maintenance guy at her work and went home to install three jacks that night. Or Lisa Welge who made her own bridal gown and was so excited about it, she posted it on her blog where her readers asked for tips on how to do their own. How much more special is that wedding gown now?

Many reasons drive this wave of activity. Although for some people it is about saving money, for most (despite the economic downturn) the main driver is personal. This ranges from a desire for tactile experiences as a reaction to the dominance of computers and other technology in our lives to the pursuit of a creative outlet in response to the cookie-cutter aesthetic that shapes what is on the high street to a rejection of mass culture and consumption because of environmental concerns or a hankering for an alternative way of living. Says Levine: "DIY is not just a term but a way of life."

It's hard to say this is a "movement" but more of a return to practicality and a slower way of life - something Mark Frauenfelder discusses in his book Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throw Away World. To get away from the stress of fast-paced life - the appointments and kids' lessons, the fast food and quick consumption - it all boils down to just doing it yourself. The weekly process of making yogurt, or whittling a new wooden spoon out of a branch from the tree in your back yard alters your whole outlook on life and reminds you just how capable a person you are.

It helps, of course, to have access to the Internet where, thanks to sites like Instructables and Make, Craft and Ravelry, we have access to vast amounts of tips, tricks and people willing to lend their advice and assistance.

"Never before have so many people been able instantly to access information for free, to network and collaborate on just about any topic, thus perpetuating the movement. For instance, Wikihow, a web-based how-to manual that anyone can write and edit, claims that 177,227,479 people from 241 different countries visited in 2009," states Financial Times.

And more importantly are the mental and emotional impacts that DIYing has on people:

"[James] Gardner, echoing other DIY enthusiasts, says the main driver is personal satisfaction. 'When you contract someone to do your work you don't always know what you're getting,' he says. 'Sometimes, you might find that they might try and cut corners to get the job done. But when I do it, I do it with love and care. I take a lot of pride in my work. DIY is all about attitude.'"

It seems on a wide scale we're finally coming back to that old saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." And with that, we're finding not just sustainability, but sanity too.

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More on DIY Culture
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How to Get Into the DIY Mindset: Even Nerds Can Practice Self-Reliance
Sites We Love: ReadyMade for Do-It-All DIY Instruction

Tags: Do It Yourself | Zero Waste