Image of book cover via Amazon.
Do It Yourself. It's a phrase that's been snatched up by mainstream culture through televisions shows, best seller books, and craft store kits. But DIY, when you stop and consider it, mean so much more than just building your own set of book shelves or knitting a scarf. It means slowing down and making something for the sheer joy of fulfilling your needs without mass manufacturing and big box stores. It means detaching yourself from a world that strives for perfection - or at least makes you want perfection so that you'll keep your wallet handy - and instead finding the perfection in the process of learning and creating. In Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throw Away World, a new book by Make editor Mark Frauenfelder, these and other essential elements of life are discovered through the process of doing things for one's self. What is DIY, Anyway?
I'm a creator by nature and consider myself a bit of a DIYer. I always have to be doing some sort of craft and my life has been filled with projects from knitting sweaters to painting huge canvasses, from sewing quilts to hemming my own clothes, from building bookshelves to gardening to scrapbooking to making soap and candles to spending hours in a dark room (which has now been turned into hours on photoshop). But I can honestly say that for all these projects, only a handful were done in order to fulfill a need. The projects keep me curious and entertained, they turn into but they aren't necessarily done in order to reduce a reliance on mass produced goods. Much of the time, if I need something, I buy it rather than build it. Why?
While reading Made by Hand this past weekend. Why not make something myself? Much of the time it's because it's quicker and easier to just buy it, or I think that I can't make it myself. But the essence of Do It Yourself culture boils down to the idea that if you can't make it yourself, is it a necessary item, or is it as satisfying of an addition to your home?
Frauenfelder realized that the stress and spin of daily life is grating. But by simply doing things for yourself - things you don't think you can do - you can seriously slow down, and find so much more joy, satisfaction and time, in your day. He writes that many people skip making things for themselves because of fear - a fear of failure, or of not knowing that something can be done by hand.
He points out that there's a realization when you start DIY-ing: Messing up is the fastest way to learn and remember how to do something, the imperfections of a project are "badges of honor" and that you're going to trust yourself to accomplish anything once you've churned out something awesome that you didn't think you could make.
Frauenfelder writes that the people he's met through Make Magazine have something great in common. "They've learned how to stop depending so much on faceless corporations to provide them with what they need (and desire) and to begin doing some of the things humans have been doing for themselves since the dawn of time. They're willing ot take back some of the control we've handed over to institutions. They belive that the sense of control and accomplishment you get form doing something yourself, using your own hands and mind, can't be achieved in any other way."
This is the guiding inspiration for Frauenfelder as he narrates his exploration of turning his house into a homestead, complete with bees and chickens, making his own yogurt, hacking his espresso machine to make more prefect pulls of his favorite drink, whittling spoons and crafting cigar box guitars and many other projects that hold the essence of DIY culture - slowing down, exploring, and enjoying working on something yourself. DIY reconnects you to your stuff - suddenly you know (and care) how it works, you are constantly learning something new and interesting, and you meet incredible people as you stretch out into new communities of makers.
Through humorous story-telling, he makes it clear that going into these things as a beginner and having no idea what he was doing is part of the fun - if not where all the fun comes from. He admits to many, many projects that didn't go as planned (stressing that they never do and that's what's great about them) and sets himself up as the perfect example of someone who can start out completely inept, and become quite the expert. All by just digging in.
So after reading the book, I made a list of all the things I have thought about doing, but haven't done yet out of fear of messing up, impatience, or laziness.
And I made a promise to myself that if I think I could probably do it myself, then I will at least give it a shot. Bringing more of the slowed down, repair oriented, self-reliant - and more importantly, self-confident - style of living sounds fantastic!
Made By Hand is a wonderfully inspiring read and makes turning to a make-centric way of life feel not only approachable, but utopian. Coming out on May 27, 2010, you can grab a copy on Amazon for $17.