the danger of DIY culture

waitress sterling silver rings

On one hand, DIY culture teaches us that it’s better to make than buy, better to do than accept. On the other, the New Economy tells us that we can embrace our entrepreneurial spirit, do what we love, profit from passion.

In the middle there is a choice – buy or make – where the two collide and threaten our happy little arrangement.

in practice

On Saturday, I had the privilege of speaking to the Pittsburgh Craft Collective about blogging. As part of my shtick, I asked them to think about their ideal audience. Often, when I ask people this question, they just describe themselves.

“Wrong!” I say. “You wouldn’t buy from you, you’d create it yourself.”

And not only that, DIYers not only do their own work, they do others work. On purpose. Not maliciously, of course, but out of a distinct desire to do it themselves. Which means, they’re not buying.

I’m generalizing, of course, but isn’t always easy to see things when the picture is painted in broad strokes?

new direction

The thing is, I have a lot of faith in folks at the Pittsburgh Craft Collective to figure out how to use their creative talents to make an honest living. Perhaps, the most honest living that can be made – one that emanates from your own passion & skills. A job where there is no pink slip except the one you give yourself.

As the old economy withers away and a new economy is born, we have more freedom than ever to do what we love. To approach the world with the eyes of an entrepreneur. To create our own career. Answer our vocation.

Heck, even Suze Orman agrees:

With one in six Americans currently unemployed or underemployed, the competition for work is fierce. So focus on what is in your control—selling yourself and your skills.

But you can’t do this if people aren’t buying. This is the quintessential case for mindful spending.

The new economy is a cycle in which our dollars are spent in our communities – whether local or virtual – and then come back around to our wallets as we sell our own skills & services. The new economy relies on creativity & innovation from a whole class of people and not just the creativity of an individual.

The new economy dares us to sell what we love to do and purchase what others love to do.

If you want others to support you with their dollars, you have to support them with your dollars.

We’ve learned SO MUCH from DIY.

  • how to sew
  • how to remodel
  • how to grow food
  • how to build
  • how to cook

I am so thankful for all that knowledge. And at the same time, I’m thankful for the people who do each of those things professionally. I am thankful that I can seek out high quality and save myself time by paying for it.

At some point DIY falls a little short and it pays to be aware that fact.

That might mean buying that painting for above your sofa instead of trying to recreate it – sorry, Martha. Or it might mean hiring an accountant instead of trying to keep your books yourself – sorry, Quicken. It might mean purchasing custom invitations instead of trying to design them yourself – sorry, Photoshop.

I’m of course thankful that, with the myriad of DIY websites out there, many people choose me to build websites for them.

The danger of DIY culture is that we can lose track of where we fit into the bigger picture of the new economy. We concentrate on becoming less commercial, more “by hand.” And so we stop buying and start making. But buying keeps us all in business and it allows others to try their hand at selling their craft, whether it be quilts or technical writing or biomechanical engineering.

When we do everything “in house,” we miss out on the expertise of others. Not to mention their passion & enthusiasm.

I want to continue to make a living doing what I love so I choose to support others who do what they love.

Embrace DIY when it comes to expression. Embrace conscious consumption when it comes to expertise.

Which way do you turn in the intersection of DIY and the new economy?

{i am an artist not a waitress rings by kathryn riechert}

45 thoughts on “the danger of DIY culture

  1. Hey Tara,

    Have you heard about the LETS groups? The abbrevation stands for Local Energy (or Exchange) Trading System. I just heard about them in the weekend, and I think this is some kind of answer to your question, some kind of solution for the problem, when ppl do not have the money for buying things. This system has the ability to enhance local trading and community life – though in the long run. And I think this perfectly fits into the DIY life.


  2. I am definitely supporting the creative tithing idea. It’s true, if I can make it myself, I prefer to do it. And rather than the new craft movement, it’s my grandfather’s thrifty, post depression (the first) ways that hold sway over me. He made a sailboat in his horse barn, for goodness sake!

    And yet, to take myself seriously as a small business woman, I am coming to realize that I need to outsource certain things. I am still working on taking myself seriously, though. Or BELIEVING myself worthy.

  3. Such a coincidence that I read this article today. I spent hours last night scouring the internet for inspiration for my own wedding invitations. In my own DIY nature, want to do it myself. But, there is that part of me that thinks I can’t ever make exactly what I’m envisioning. So why not patronize someone who does have that expertise?

  4. Wow, this is so true! I think I definitely used to be on more of the “if I can make it, I’ll do it” train, until I started my own business. You hit the nail on the head for me with your last statement about when to embrace DIY. Your posts are always so engaging, thank you!!

  5. I recently hired a bookkeeper and had an accountant before. And just recently eikcam ( – your business partner) did some style shots for me. This was really smart as I am starting to fill that I’m taking on too much! My style shots from Grace at eikcam are amazing and they come in really handy for many magazines get in touch for shots or for making professional looking 4×6 postcards!

  6. I could not agree MORE with this post! The ONLY way we WILL come out of this financial crisis is to WORK TOGETHER. We cannot “FORGET” to buy because while consumerism put us in this mess, CONSCIENTIOUS BUYING is a whole different animal.

  7. Very well summed up. I have been considering this idea for a few months now…what happens when we’re all going down this same path. I think your statements are well put and thoughtful without sounding as if you’re condemning the idea of DIY. Thanks for this!

  8. Such a great point!

    When I do craft shows this fall, I’m planning to take a little time to make the rounds and see if I can find some Christmas gifts for friends and family while I’m there. Hopefully I’ll be able to cross a few people of my list, and support fellow crafters at the same time. :-)

  9. This is a very important point that I think needs to be reinforced with indie crafters. Other considerations:
    -spreading the word-
    That accountant may not *yet* purchase indie crafts, or any crafts, but their exposure to you may make them rethink their own buying decisions.
    -marketing your work-
    Perhaps advertising on that indie craft blog might not be the best way to promote your work. Or it might. Unless that blog is nothing but ‘here’s how to make this craft project’ directions…
    -creating your work-
    Items that have a very, very ‘handmade’ look my only appeal to those who can already make them. Learn to properly finish a seam, completely hide that solder line, finish that binding with secure knots. Craftsmanship that comes from long practice is always admirable.

    So, thanks for the great post, Tara, I will be back to read your blog often!

  10. On point, Tara! As a DIYer by nature, there are many things I think I can do myself, but when it comes down to it, I really don’t have the time. Supporting each other’s unique expertise is the answer. Great post!

  11. Generally, I react to great how-to’s with “that’s terrific, love how she did that, I should totally do that,” but if it’s not in my skillset, there will never be follow through. So rather than make an impossible to-do list longer, it’s time to support others’ expertise!

  12. As an entrepreneur, I’ve always had to fight this battle. Thanks for summing up the way I’ve been feeling for a while. I’m reading “The Happiness Project” and it talks about “spending out”. I like your point about “mindful spending”. Wonderful article, thank you!

  13. Just imagine – Americans solving their economy issues by being creative and buying from each other, which, in turn, keeps the jobs here.

  14. Tara,

    Thank you for the extremely insightful piece! I have to say I love reading your blog! I have been a silent reader for a few months now, but this post is so timely to me that I would like to share with you and the rest of the readers the way in which it touched me.

    …I can’t say I have an entrepreneurial spirit or that I am good with crafts or DIY projects, but I find your blog particularly interesting because it addresses topics that are easily projected into other areas of life or understood from the perspective of all kinds of people…I would consider myself to be more of a consumer when it comes to crafts. My expertise is numbers – math, finance, accounting. I have a passion for handmade things – buying them that is, not creating them because really I am just not good at it. But recently, I have started to long making some of the things that I like, to be able to “do it myself” as a way to escape the feeling of constant consumerism. What ended up happening is I got caught in a vicious cycle (also probably because I tend to go from one extreme to the other, but…) I would see something I like and would refuse to buy it because I would wish I could make it myself, but I won’t because I consider it rude to copy someone’s idea and copy it bad at that since given my not-so-crafty nature I would probably butcher it and end up wasting time and energy. So I would end up empty-handed and very unsatisfied even mad that I cannot create. Now I know that I can’t assume failure until I try it and I am more prone to experiment in some areas (food – I made fig jelly from scratch just last week) than others (clothes – a pretty silk chiffon dress that I saw in a magazine), but at least I won’t stress over it now and I will accept the fact that I can’t make everything myself and that for the things that I can’t make I can support the ones that can. Maybe I am just delusional and I am simply looking for an excuse to buy my next favorite item :) Joking of course.

    Sorry for the long reply and I hope that was not completely out of topic. Maybe it was not the intended reaction to your post, but just the way I read it. Either way, keep up the amazing work!

    P.S. I just noticed that at the very bottom of your website below the Copyright signature it reads “Powered by….and iced lattes” – I love the personal touch and the level of detail. Amazing!

  15. GREAT article. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think it’s very important to remember that while we CAN make everything ourselves sometimes we shouldn’t.

    While shopping my husband will frequently tell me, “You could make that!” I politely remind him that I could, but the time & money would be better spent supporting someone else to do it.

    Technically, I COULD make a boat, or a car, but some things are better left to professionals!

  16. You know, I think I have been so focused on what I can do myself, that I completely missed this concept. Thank you for reminding me that it is important for me to continue the cycle. If everyone can make jewelry or do photography, what do they need me for?

  17. This is true. I think the DIY culture is currently reflecting the different phases that a small entreprenuer goes through. In the beginning, Quicken and Photoshop can be a God send because you don’t have any money. Then, you start making money and realizing you can’t or don’t want to do it all, so you hire or outsource. I think there is space for both as there will always be people at different stages.

    I also think bartering/trading should continue to be a good consideration in small biz circles.

  18. Tara, I’m really enjoying this series of posts you’ve been writing lately about mindful spending and tying it in with the art/creaft/diy cultures, you’ve been bringing up so much food for thought and I’m so glad you’re putting all of these ideas out there!

    Like a few others have commented here, I tend to say “oh I could do that myself if I really tried” and either end up denying myself the item because I never get around to trying to make it, or I will try and it takes a long time and lots of frustration and ends up looking so amateur-ish that I wish I hadn’t. And I’m constantly bookmarking how-to’s all over the internet! But, as I’ve been getting back to my own artistic urges, working on developing my painting skill and style, I’m starting to see that my time is better spent on developing my own passion, and leaving those other crafty things I’d kinda-like-to-do to the people who do it really well – and hoping for the day that we can all support each other in what each of us is passionate about, as you illustrate here!

  19. Great post.This is something that I have been thinking about too.Recently i purchased(on Etsy) wonderful mailers sewn from recycled feed sacks.Could I have made something myself,yes,and I have but it is a better use of MY time to buy from another and she also gets business .A win/win for sure.

  20. tara, i am so with you on this. i’ve been thinking about something similar a LOT lately.

    my husband and i don’t have much money. he makes a decent salary and my business is growing steadily, but we’re about nose-deep in student loan debt. we have enough to have the things we need, but not much more than that, and sometimes when emergencies arise, we find ourselves in a pinch.

    and yet more and more i find myself hiring out things that we could do. the further i get into this indie biz thing, the more i find myself not only needing to have other people do things that i don’t have the time to do, but wanting to support the folks who bust their asses out there to eke out the same meager wage we’re eking out. so we hired the local bug guy to help us with our carpenter ants (they live in our trees, but we will NOT let them take over our house) and we’re going to have someone come in and do a one-time major clean of the house. we’re the last people you’d think would be hiring maids or whatever, but you know what? i value the fact that there are people out there who are far more skilled and knowledgeable about things like how to clean mildew off a bathroom ceiling, and i’d like to help those people put food on their tables.

    it’s not like we go to the movies anymore or spend our money on concerts these days. we’ve got two tiny kids. so i like knowing that i’m spending my money on things (and people) that make my life and someone else’s that much better.

    1. Julie!

      Bless you! So sorry to be far behind the curve on this, have just discovered Tara and this wonderful blog. As I was scrolling down the comments and nodding nodding yupping sighing agreeing, I came to your post and my heart went out to you in thanks for “getting it.”

      I hope this message gets to you and finds you at a place where your life is getting more blessed with every day that goes by.

      I’d also like to encourage you to reconsider denying yourself the gift of live music or plays or films or whatever. If it helps, you can always tell yourself that musicians need to eat too and they are really good at something it would take you huuuuuuuge amounts of work to get as good at yourself.

      Art is not extra!

      Thanks so much,
      A flute player and singer :)

  21. This is possibly your best post ever on many levels & not just the DIY or creative world. My son is a financial advisor. One day he became annoyed with me because I really wasn’t interested in an aspect of his business. I said to him “Can you teach a child to read? I can, you can’t. You do what you do and do it well.There are slots for many areas and that’s why we have teachers and mechanics and lawyers,etc. Everyone has their expertise and we all can’t do everything for reasons of time, ability, talent.etc.” Find your slot is my motto and it applies to the creative world as well. I admire those who create one fabulous object over and over again. I love the crispness and orderliness of their shops and booths & the single mindedness of one great product. I make lots of things and am a bit all over the place. That is who I am and I support the painters and jewelry makers and woodworkers because though I may be ‘able’ to do those things, I won’t. I support my passion and theirs. I buy,sell and create….that’s balance.

  22. Such a great post! I definitely have to be careful not to go overboard in trying to do everything myself…the control freak in me says I can duplicate anything if I try hard enough, but I think I am self aware enough to know when I’ve reached the end of my talent level. A good example is a super-old school piano stool that my husband and I found at a yard sale. It was missing an original spindle and a knob had broken off. It was painted black and had the most horrid 70s upholstery you can imagine. So I searched etsy, found a great fabric remnant, and one evening I repainted, ripped off the old fabric, cut my new fabric using the old as a guide, and nailed in the new upholstery nails myself. It’s not absolutely perfect on one of the corners, but it looks great and it cost almost nothing. However, my husband and I recently scooped up the most gorgeous french style wood frame sofa. The wood is an ugly stain and it has forest green fabric. But there is no way I’m attempting to upholster that piece myself! It has the potential to be so stunning, and I know the difference between stunning and ok will be a professional upholsterer. It’s worth the money.

    Thanks for such a great thought provoking post! I also stopped by to let you know that I named you for a blog award, so I hope you’ll stop by The French Mouse and accept your well deserved award!

    Have a wonderful week!

    Hope Ava

  23. This is such a fantastic article and so very very true. I hear those words all the time at shows in booths near me – I could make that. Not as much in my booth unless they want to invest in a very expensive piece of machinery (letterpress) but I hear it none the less.

    The fact of the matter is that I can create many of the things that I buy but where is the fun in that? I totally agree with that statement “If you want others to support you with their dollars, you have to support them with your dollars” and besides – who has time to do it all?

    I love to draw, paint & print. Everything else is just smarter purchased from another artist. I enjoy their goods and in the meantime I have more time to draw, paint & print!

    Anyway, fantastic article – your blog is so very thought provoking.

  24. Really wise, Tara. And timely for me, too, as I’m on the verge of opening an etsy shop (wheeeeee!).

    Along these lines, I have to admit I’ve been a little put off by blogs that claim to have more integrity than others because they don’t accept or post ads. I typically have three ads in my sidebar and was recently asked by someone if I felt I was getting too commercial. Huh? What is that about? I think it’s a modern miracle that today’s creative spirits can actually make money from corporate sponsors (preferably ones who fit our mission & values). When I click on a blogger’s sidebar ad or affiliate link and purchase something, I like knowing that in some small way I’ve been able to support their mission and creative life – whether they get a small commission from what I buy or wind up with a very happy sponsor. The blogosphere has provided artists with a whole new world of connection and earning potential. Let’s embrace each other with our hearts and wallets!

  25. Another great & thoughtful post! Even if we can make it ourselves, we don’t always have the time, access to the materials or equipment to do so. Also, no matter how many different skills we might possess, we can’t do it all ourselves. Maybe you’re great at knitting, but not so adept at silver smithing, it makes sense to pay someone else to do silver smithing for you, while you sell your knitting or arrange a trade, if that’s agreeable to both parties. You could DIY, while supporting handmade. I know there are skills, equipment or even, sometimes time, I do not possess, it’s better for me to pay someone else to do those things or take the time to make those things. It might be fun for me to try those skills & learn something new, but I am not going to be as skilled or professional in my results, so it’s better to actually purchase from another seller (whose stuff is going to be far more interesting & unique than a mass produced version). Another great topic, well worth discussing, thank you Tara

  26. Fantastic and thought-provoking, thank you!

    Buying from other artists leaves me with more time to take on custom work — and it gives me a real thrill.

    What’s more, artists from whom I’ve purchased jewelry and paintings have later come to me when it’s time to order their wedding invitations or baby announcements… that was not the intent, but it’s a nice by-product of building relationships the handmade community!

    I love buying handmade — it just doesn’t have to be with *my* hands.

  27. i have always been DIY, and I’m pretty resourceful and stubborn so I’ve made a lot of things outside my skill set or comfort zone. But when I started my business in 2005, I suddenly became exposed to such a wealth of creative artists and crafters in my new circle, that I was tempted daily to buy others treasures! I can’t do everything, but I certainly can attempt anything. What I appreciate more than the making, the thing that makes me buy from a fellow crafter is that they came up with this thing I love, and I want to reward them for it. Sure they DIY thing would be to make one of your own, and I could try to copy it, and maybe even do it relatively well, but I really love the community of DIY and being a buyer and a seller… my favorite part about is trading with my fellow vendors at the end of the show!

    Great conversation starter, Tarah. :)

  28. I feel this post was very well written.
    The longer we go on thinking we can do everything ourselves and spreading ourselves thin, then the longer we remain in danger of being only mediocre at most things.
    It is impossible to hone your craft if you are constantly diverted with other DIY tasks. Often it is out of necessity that we have to DIO, but when the time finally comes and you have the means to outsource or buy from others it is such a satisfying feeling and such a relief. Because finally you don’t HAVE to do EVERYTHING yourself. Then you can become REALLY good at what you do and others will be more likely to buy from you.

  29. Thank you for this post.

    I often purchase items that I could very well make myself, but will NOT. Why? Because I didn’t conceptualize those items. Someone else did, so I prefer to credit that person and support his/her work by buying it. We need to ensure that diy does not become a movement where people make everything themselves without actually thinking creatively for themselves.

    On a similar note, I sometimes stumble upon blogs with photos of my items, posted with the sole intention to copy and not promote my work. I wish these bloggers would understand that not everyone finds this flattering. Photos posted in my shop are there to sell my work so I wish that a little more respect were given to me for my efforts.

  30. Thanks for this post. As someone who is just starting to attempt to get out of her 9-5, lovely as it is, and begin to work from home as a freelance designer and crafter,, this is a great note of caution. I’m a first-time mom to a 4.5 month old, a wife, and a creative person, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I simply can NOT do it all myself. Sometimes, like other posters her, I want to. I so, so want to … but it’s impossible.

    Keeping up with laundry and planning meals on top of a full-time job and an adorable baby is more than enough for me … even if there are a few DIY projects on the back-burner, I need to know when to buy and support others. There’s plenty of other people in the same position I am, and we can’t call ourselves a community until we’re willing to keep each other going together.

  31. Great post! I try to do everything myself all the time and sometimes realize that it would be better if I just paid an expert to do it. I am going to do this more often. Thanks!

  32. You know, I’ve been struggling for a really long time with figuring out who my audience is. Not just for my blog either, but in a similar vein, I know I really need to figure out who the target market is for my handmade goods as well. And you know what? I am TOTALLY one of those people who thought, “Oh, my target market is people like me.” And you are TOTALLY right—this is actually wrong. Figuring out who my audience & market are is hands-down one of the most confusing things I’ve encountered in regards to handmade business, and I have no idea how to figure this out. I would love it if you did a more in-depth blog post about this topic, Tara! xoxo

  33. Ack, I know I am late to the party on commenting, but just wanted to say how much I enjoy how these dots are connecting. I am continuing to purchase a piece each month by an artist, and love consciously supporting and adoring fellow creatives.

    Thanks for continuing to write on this topic. I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!


  34. I really enjoyed this article. I think everyone just needs to find a balance, you know in life, and in all aspects of life. If you are someone who makes handmade things, then support it. I love being creative, some things I do better than other things, and sometimes I don’t have time to do it all. I always pick a handmade item over a factory made item. However, just finding a balance and supporting each other is really important. We could really change things if everyone could grasp this a little bit more.

    Great read, thanks for the post!

  35. THANK YOU for this post. I’ve struggled with this since I started selling my crafts, though in a little bit different way than you describe. Sometimes I’ve felt guilty about selling to people. I’d think to myself, “if you were REALLY a proponent of DIY like you say you are, you’d be encouraging people to make their own jewelry instead of selling them yours and *gasp* taking money for your craft!” Now I see the flaw in my reasoning. I feel like a light bulb just went on in my head, so thank you for that!

  36. Luckily, we can’t all make everything – I might not buy jewelry from another artist, since I can pretty much make what I want, but I do buy other things. For example — I bought a beautiful set of nesting bowls as a wedding gift, but I’ll make her shower gift to save money since the purchased handmade gift was on the pricey side.

    Also, many DIYers can earn monsy from another skill – teaching! In the past, I’ve taken classes from artists I admire, and am now considering taking an online class.

  37. Brilliant, Not only were the drawings fantastic and fun, it made me really think. I might even have to watch it again. thanks for posting this, I’m going to be sharing this with some people.
    I’d love to do it all, but I can’t, this goes back to another post you recently had. I got to relax and pay someone else to do something for saves time, and it helps the whole indi movement. I like Leah, am too taking classes online to improve my ability in another craft I love. I love to teach and who knows I might get a pinch in the rear and span my horizon!

  38. Hi Tara,

    thanks for your article! It is true, a lot of people who are creative and crafty have many skills, but it is good to focus on what you do and love best. I can do a lot of things, but if I try to do too many things at the same time, I won’t get anything done properly. And I just get stressed and run around in circles because I run out of time! So I stick to my knitting…and when I have money to buy, I buy nice unusual things from fellow crafters. I find this far more satisfying than buying one of a thousand samey things in a high street shop.

    I also find that creatives and crafters often do buy from other crafters or swap with them, especially on local markets. Because we appreciate handmade…

  39. This is such a great insight – thank you for crystallizing it into words.

    Recently after wasting two days trying to design my own business cards, I finally outsourced it to a talented work-at-home mom / graphic artist. In just a few hours she created two gorgeous designs that took my breath away with how perfectly they captured what I was seeking.

    Why didn’t I just outsource in it to begin with, instead of wasting two days trying to DIY it? It was a huge lesson for me.

    But buying art / craft items is one area where I do consciously support others who do what they love.

    I’m a jewelry artist myself, and sure, I could possibly get the supplies and make a copy of some of the items that I’ve bought from other jewelry artists. But copying is against my nature – and I LOVE the spark, the energy, that comes from a piece that’s created by another artist. Copies never have that spark.

    And if I copied jewelry designs I like instead of buying the original pieces from the people who created them, I’d miss out on all the lovely relationships I’ve built with the artists.

    As a result, I have a wonderful collection of jewelry made by new friends. And when I’m choosing which jewelry to wear each day, I smile as I think of the individual talented people who made them. Right now I’m wearing Lynda Carson’s earrings and loving them! :)

    I love knowing that in buying other artists’ work, I’ve encouraged them to keep creating beautiful things to put out into the world.

    But if I’d copied their work, to DIY my jewelry collection instead, I would have deprived these new friends of an opportunity to profit from their passions.

    That would make the world narrower and emptier for them and for me.

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