DDIY: Don’t do it yourself?

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I read recently an article in the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest by Lisa Anne Auerbach called “d.d.i.y. Don’t Do It Yourself:”

D.I.Y. used to mean grabbing a Sharpieâ„¢ and starting one’s own revolution through words and actions. Now it means going into debt at mega-stores, consuming more and more materials manufactured overseas, raping the earth, destroying forests, creating garbage, and mucking up our lives with badly fixed toilets, leaking tile floors, ill-fitting sweaters, bowing floorboards, crooked walls, and ugly mosaics. We are bankrupting competent carpenters. We are destroying the careers of electricians and hvac crews. Our d.i.y. travesties of home improvement leave us with closets full of under-used tools and sheds full of extra wood and steel wool and toxic chemicals and mastic and caulk. These closets don’t really even shut correctly; our hinges aren’t straight and we brashly scrape the undersides of our doors with a plane, hoping that two crookeds will combine into one straight. Our D.I.Y. adventures in making our own clothes, clutter our homes with extra fabric, yarn, and sewing supplies. The clothes we manufacture are good for a couple times out and about, but our learning curve is steep and the seams don’t always stay together. Our D.I.Y. exuberance for cooking unfamiliar cuisines fills our cabinets with jars of exotic spices, specialized contraptions, bamboo steamers, Moroccan tangines, the requisite fondue set; all items that will flood thrift stores shortly after whichever particular cooking trend is succeeded by the next. Guests to our homes smile and swallow appreciatively; does this really mean our cooking adventures are successful? We are constantly experimenting with something new, with no time to perfect anything before our next project looms on the horizon, bringing with it a new supply of gadgets and raw materials.

The trickery of advertisers makes us feel like human beings, while in reality we are, in the minds of the global mega-companies who have us all on a short leash, slavish consumers. D.I.Y. has become just another tactic to rip away our humanity, turning us into operators of cash machines and credit cards. We exist to be ripped-off and profited from. D.I.Y. panders to our beliefs, while at the same time ripping us a new asshole and sending our hard earned money straight to hell. We are stewing in our own fat. Our utopia is on layaway, with an option for 1.5% cash back if we sign up for the right credit card. We have become hungry monsters, drooling to take back production for ourselves, whatever the cost. Our ethos has been gift wrapped and sold back to us. Our revolution has been pilfered.

Her point in the end seems to veer back toward the positive, community-based makerdom that we see here on our site and many others every day. She calls for us to share our expertise with others in a bartering system. For me, most of the fun in making comes from learning new skills and tools, although I can see her point about amassing garages full of supplies and tools you never use. What are your thoughts about the article? Post them in the comments.

70 thoughts on “DDIY: Don’t do it yourself?

  1. Replace “we” with “I,” “our” with “my,” “us” with “me,” “we are” with “I am,” and you probably have a more accurate article. Just because the author has no carpentry skills or electrical know-how doesn’t mean she represents the entire world. Just because she is ashamed of her monthly credit card bills doesn’t me everyone else is a sucker for slick marketing.

  2. I like the bits about community and barter. Actually, I really like the barter system… It’s not taxable!

    For me, DIY means saving money. Over the years, I have done a lot of projects instead of hiring a “professional” because most of the time, it’s more hassle to fine and hire a “professional” than it is to do it myself. I’ve had some notable exceptions – I hired a crew of electricians to do some work on an old house I was working on and it worked out very well.

    But I think that the DIY crowd is already a sharing community… The DIY forums all over the net are filled with great questions and answers. For example, I’m contemplating installing vinyl siding on my house and it’s doubtful that I’m going to pay a contract crazy amounts of money to do when I can do with (with some friends of course) for so much less.

    As far as quality goes, I prefer my work over that of most contractors that I’ve seen. There are plenty of skilled contractors out there, but nobody is every going to care about your house as much as you do.

    Ok, guilty as charged for having too many extra building supplies hanging around. In fact, I just bought another box of self tapping sheet metal screws for my oven installation project this past weekend. However, it’s still way cheaper to buy a couple of extra items than pay a crew of people to do the work (and they’re just going to buy a bunch of extra crap and charge me for it – at least this way I get to use that stuff in my next project).

    The article doesn’t hit on it, but I have to chuckle at a lot of the HGTV shows that talk about “Green” makeovers. The greenest thing you can do for a house (other than insulate it well / install energy efficient appliances / windows, etc) is to leave it alone. Bamboo floors are great, but it’s more green to just live with your house the way it is.

    Oh – and no argument that running up a credit card with DIY purchases is a bad idea. Actually, running up a credit card is a bad idea all around.

  3. Seems to me she is just very angry with consumerism and her solution is consumerism with her neighbors/bartering. Somehow it seems unwise to discourage D.Y.I. when you don’t have a job – ? So, we let the government supply it and that is from some “magic” source? Not sure where she is going with this line of “thought”.

  4. I make what I can because I enjoy it. You get something personally customized, and creating it yourself is immensely satisfying. I feel like this article says that all hobbyist are incompetent degenerates that are destroying the earth and economy. I make mistakes like anyone else, but it is a learning experience, and most projects end up for the best.

    I’m especially at a loss on how Make-ing is so harmful to the environment. From what I see, many of our projects are about being green, more efficient, and recycling.

    And what does running up a credit card have to do with it? It is just as easy to do that via normal means. I doubt Do-It-Yourself-ers are the leading cause of credit debt…

    I suppose these are subjective points that are still up for debate, but they are presented in such an abrasive, questionable, and absolutist manner that it makes me feel defensive.

  5. She’s posing a beautiful and (afaik) original argument. Yes, there’s lots to disagree with, but that’s what makes it counterintuitive and intriguing.

    There is a lot of truth in her words. Take the good (eschew being “driven” to DIY) and examine your own values to see where the bad is rubbing you raw.

  6. To some extent I agree with this persons take on DIY. DIY has become another buzzword used to sell things to the majority of Americans. My sister is the perfect example as person who will buy a tool in order to save money in the long run, except she will only use it once. Also, she might own a bamboo steamer…

  7. Rich made excellent points, I agree on all counts, other than that the professionals will probably be able to get more use out of “extra crap” they buy, since they tend to repeat jobs.

    Mostly I appreciate the amount of intelligent conversation that takes place here on Make, as opposed to the blubbering idiocy that many forums have degraded to. Thank you all.

    Doing it yourself does have consequences, and may sometimes be of lower quality than a professional, but as noted above, in some cases it may be of better quality. It also has intangible benefits of metal stimulation and entertainment, two things the author neglected.

  8. “DIY” is a very broad spectrum that encompasses everything from hackjob repairs with baling wire to the most elegant repairs and modifications.

    Clearly, the author of the article quoted doesn’t have the requisite skills to make the cut nor the patience to earn her wings. Her punishment? Being forever destined to pay too much to let someone else do it for her.

    As for the environmental impact: Eco-friendly is a separate attribute from EVERYTHING. Car owners can opt to walk or ride a bike for shorter trips. Makers can opt to use renewable resources. I don’t know any Makers who do it “just for the Earth;” They do it because they have a fondness, a knack, a curiosity that can’t be satiated. Some of them are also eco-conscious and take that into consideration along the way.

  9. The article is sarcastic folks…. it’s not serious in the way people are reading it to be. If you look more carefully at the journal title, you will see that this is an artistic approach to the idea of DIY. Artists have been inverting meanings and intentions for centuries; this is just a provocative example of that, meant to turn a commonly held belief on its had for the purposes of artistic exploration. It’s there to stimulate a little discussion and perhaps a new perspective, not to authoritatively comment on the DIY phenomenon.

  10. I don’t know about the rest of you but I paid for my utopia in cash.
    I doubt anyone is close to defeating consumerism anytime soon, but I also doubt that sticking your head in the sand with aphorisms about bartering and neighbors and ‘real’ experts is going to get us there.
    I am left with several questions: How many ‘experts’ have people hired only to find their work not up to expectations? Why is having your neighbor do it not considered DIY? …unless your neighbors are the perfect compliment vendors for your particular needs.

    My biggest problem is with the anti-intellectual aspect of the article. DIY means committing yourself to an experiment, to testing a hypothesis, to expanding ones knowledge. Sometimes that knowledge leads to a beautifully finished project, sometimes it leads to the ability to choose between and expert and a hack. Sometimes it leads to the ability to help your neighbor fix their house.
    How exactly does the author expect us to decipher the complex issues of consumption, resource use, value and expertise without getting our hands a little dirty? More importantly how to you become skilled enough to have something to offer for barter until you try?
    I know the Idiot’s guides get a bad wrap but what is their crime? Trying to parse a huge amount of knowledge so that someone just beginning can understand?
    The author succeeds in a fatalism of some opponents of consumerism. Perhaps she should hire an expert to help her out of it.

  11. Just from the excerpt I read here, I can tell this article was written for the general masses. Some of the commenters here mistook that it was aimed at the MAKE community users, who are in a different league of DIY.

    The article was also written to help slow consumerism and increase jobs for professional handymen/craftsmen. Which by the way, many MAKE members happen to be professionals in one field or another.

    I have to fully agree with a previous comment regarding Greening of homes. Remodelling completely is not a green activity. If we really wanted green homes we would go back to packed earth/sod style homes with modern conviences like floors, water and electricity built into the walls during construction.

  12. Her criticism really only applies to those who DIY badly. It forgets that the DIY spirit is also the source for much innovation. I DIY’ed myself an electric car conversion that I drive daily. Can’t have that done professionally. I’m teaching my contractor father (who likes to do things the old-school way like a lot of pros) about advanced framing techniques (and saving a boatload of money in materials and energy costs) while we work on my remodel project together. More like D.D.I.Y.W.D. (don’t DIY while dumb).

  13. I like the article, in that it makes you think… Even us, Makers and Crafters, I’m sure can stand to take a step back & have a look every once in a while.

  14. Sounds like a person with a spouse that has too many tools for too few jobs.

    seriously though …

    – if you don’t try it at least once .. .you won’t know if your neighbor is even doing it right

    – bartering is still taxable (cringe) in most places

    – this article does indirectly support hacker spaces though … do it yourself .. with someone else’s tools and space :-)

  15. There’s a good point (and a good warning) to all DIYers in this article. Don’t be duped. The magic of DIY is really about not doing those things mentioned. Much like the way advertisers have “greenwashed” their marketing techniques, DIY is now being marketed as well. On a experiential note, I can remember entering a craft store to buy some supplies for figuring out how to screenprint. I was told that I COULD NOT do it the way I was planning on (a picture frame with a curtain stretched across and some mod podge as resist), and was then bombarded by suggestions of kits and whatnot. I don’t know the solution to this problem, other than just keep on plugging, and know in your heart what DIY is to you.

  16. There’s a lot of truth there. I try not to buy tools and tackle a project’s learning curve unless I know that I’ll be doing it again a few times in the future – fixing broken windows, replacing brakes pads, repairing concrete, maintaining bicycles. These skills and tools are useful over and over again.

    There are some tasks that are once in a lifetime, or take a lot of skill – like installing a chimney flue, or rebuilding my home’s staincase. For those, I have been very happy to know that my money is going to my community masons and carpenters, not to some multi-national mortgage holding corporate bank.

  17. D.I.Y. Projects are-(for me)- about further educationg myself. I would rather have a handcarved coffee table that is not quite symmetrical and spent me the better part of a year to finish than something out of an IKEA catalog. It’s much more satisfying to fix the toilet yourself than hire someone else to do it, not to mention cheaper, and I don’t worry too much about the money the plumber might lose. If you can’t quite get something right, you try again, it’s called learning, and it can only be accomplished through failure. Personally I have never left a project with a leak/bent hindge/crooked door or any other gross mistake. These are signs that you have given up, and not only on the project but on your self. This woman clearly has watched far too much “Home Improvement” and thinks DIY results only in comedic electrocutions and a cluttered house. I hope one day I can charge her for fixing something.

  18. I tend to agree with D’s point, that the article is leaning purposefully towards the absurd. Nonetheless, I’m sure many here have more tools and materials in the garage than can be effectively used in a lifetime, but none of us should give it a second thought.

    I would hazard to say that few of use take up DIY projects to save a dime. It’s the working with the hands, the working with the brain, the feelings of discovery, success, and failure, the smell of solvent, the checking of the weather forecast, the sweeping of sawdust and metal filings that ignite most of us. When I step out into my garage, I do so with the prospect of real fun. The tools and materials are there for true work, but their real day-to-day value lies in triggering my imagination and creativity. I vaguely remember some old Bukowski poem about a barfly gazing fondly upon the array of bottles behind the bar because of the joy and promise that each bottle held. I’m the same way with tools and materials.

    Fun like this need not be justified. The DIY joke around the house is “twice as long, and twice as much” and that’s just fine.

  19. I think her final statement shows the author’s true intent. She doesn’t really mean to bash DIY-ing, but to warn us against letting our revolution against blind consumerism turn into a consumerist fad.

    Especially when you read great zines like Make and Craft and you come away with inspiration overload, the temptation to take on too many new things is always there.

  20. While people talk about Making and DIY, it is irrelevant. We are billions of monkeys with opposeable thumbs, through history. Who knows and who cares what the point is of this, it’s what we do.

  21. There was a time, now absent from the memory of anyone living, when everything was DIY. It was a time of self-reliance, skill, craft, and poverty. There is only so much one can accomplish in a day with just their own hands. Want a new shirt? OK, start with the hand loom and make the fabric first.

    Mass production has meant the end of general poverty. Want a shirt? Go see the hundreds on display in any store. You might even find one close enough to your size to be useable. The down side to the abundance of mass production is that it is impersonal.

    Those are the extremes. Handmade and personalized but, scarce or mass produced and impersonal but, abundant.

    The task today is to appropriately use a mix of custom made / hand made vs. mass produced.

  22. Here was the situation. Christmas 2007, my fiancee and I find out suddenly that we would be hosting 7 family members for dinner. We had a table for two (at the most) and no money to buy a table. So I sketched out plans, went out the next day (christmas eve) and bought $40 worth of lumber and screws.

    7 hours later I had a table large enough to comfortably seat 10 people. The next month we finished it with stain at an additional $5 cost. My point? I am not a carpenter. I built the table in my living room with a hammer, a cheap electric drill, and a miter saw. The only thing I had (and I believe most true makers have) that perhaps some others lack is that I was not afraid to tackle the project the way I knew it could be done versus worrying about how it SHOULD be done. And the resulting table? It looks great, it’s strong and we still use it as our main dining room table today. I prefer it to most of the tables I see for sale and guests always compliment the table BEFORE they know I built it. So take a freakin chance on something and who knows, you might learn something new, gain a sense of self-sufficiency, and maybe your parents won’t have to eat Christmas dinner sitting on the floor

    Learning and pushing yourself into new experience is a lot of things, but it is almost never comfortable. Perhaps the author of the passage in the original post is afraid of failure or too worried of only attempting those projects that are assured success. But anything worth doing contains an element of risk.

  23. Gregory has an interesting point. There is a big difference between DIYERS and MAKERS.

    If I go out and buy 1000 feet of Bruce hardwood flooring, a hammer and some nails and install my own kitchen floor, I am a DIYER. If I mill a fallen oak tree, kiln or air dry the lumber, joint it into tongue and groove boards, install it, stain it and varnish it, I am a MAKER.

    If I buy a print, matte board, an Exacto knife, and a ready made 11×17 frame and put them together I am a DIYER. If I paint a watercolor on handmade coldpress paper, miter my own frame from shaped moldings and do my own glazing, I am a MAKER.

    If I buy a kit (clothing, electronics, craft, furniture) and put it together once, and never do anything more with it, I am a DIYER. But if I learn from what I have done, build another from scratch, modify one from it’s original form, or use what I learned to design something new, I am a MAKER.

    The DIY revolution is DEAD! Long live the MAKERS!

  24. I read it twice and I really can’t tell. When you boil it down the article basically suggests a mercantile specialization of trade, something I thought was pretty old school thinking… I’m all for people mastering one thing, and doing it well enough to provide value from it, but to suggest the I shouldn’t pursue other interests outside of that is terrible.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that nearly 90% of all inventions are just synergies between two or more completely different fields of work and study, and that to really innovate you must broaden your spectrum of understanding to more than just your trade. If I’m a cabinet woodworker who like to build electronic gadgets in my spare time, and I happen create a power tool that will make my job (and the job of woodworkers everywhere) easier, then my DIY ethic has paid off and provided innovation.

    Whether or not consumerism has affected the DIY ethic is out of my understanding, and I don’t even care to think about it. I’m too busy making things :)

    If the argument is serious…then its seriously flawed.

  25. Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach become critics.

    Her point of view is a bit extreme, but worthy of some consideration.

    If you are a liberal arts graduate, don’t try to do it yourself, if you aren’t willing the spend the time and brain cells to do it right. On the other hand, if you have a more practical bend of mind, understand crafts”man” ship, and if its not too far away from your specialties, and are willing to give of yourself, by all means try doing it yourself. Enjoy someting you can do yourself.

    Glad to see this discussion has struck a nerve. Might be a good topic for an article or two in Make. DIY idiosycrancies. Maybe a column.

    By the way, have you noticed how most all of the articles on metal machining in magizines like Home Machinist or whatever, are how to use expensive machines to make other expensive tool accessories or jigs? Its like some people get caught up in the tools so much they never actually “produce” anything…

    :-)

  26. MAKE already has too much lifestyle fluffery and pseudo-intellectual noodling for my tastes. Much more and you will be driving this subscriber away.

    @wonder-wheeler: Toolmaking is a great way to learn technique while making something of practical value. Why buy an inexpensive micrometer boring head from China when you can make an equally mediocre one yourself for far more money?

  27. I think the author understands DIY to be in love with alternative culture and radical politics at its heart.
    I think she understands that deeper then our love of making stuff is material relations that have the potential to bind us together in radical ways that are true to the spirit of diy in that they remaking our fractured social networks (how is that for diy… doing our own safety net.)

    So, in long live DDIY, she is rescuing diy from a material fetish and returning it to the roots, about getting away from the teat of corporate hell in what every individualistic form it takes.

  28. @weebee The author understands DIY to be in love with alternative culture and radical politics at it heart? Huh? I sincerely hope that DIY and Making don’t have ANY kind of politics at their heart. The author may MISUNDERSTAND DIY to have some political agenda that’s been pilfered, but to read that kind of bias into the movement is as misinformed as the article.

    Some of the suggestions like borrowing tools instead of buying them doesn’t mean you’re not doing it yourself, it just means you borrowed the tools to do it yourself (and used common sense in borrowing a tool you’re only going to use once). The author seems to have something against money. Bartering is great and all, but money is not evil, its simply a representation of the value someone saw in your ability. Money replaces bartering when you are trading with someone who cannot offer something of value TO YOU.

    Bottom line, if its something I want to learn, I’m going to do it. Making and DIY is about the experience being an end in itself, not just the product I’ve created. Nobody is going to stifle my never ending interest in the world with a silly article. The article just feels like dark age thinking in a post enlightenment world.

  29. so your not interested in politics, but you are interested in a post-enlightenment world. What’s the difference?
    How about a post-oil world or a post industrial world or a post money world.
    You might not have a choice about how much you want to consume, I’m just sayin’.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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