What is DIY Culture?

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DIY culture says “no” to the idea that there is an established answer.

And it says “yes” to empowering an individual to develop answers for herself.

DIY (do-it-yourself) culture is not new. In fact, it’s always existed. It’s part of our unique make up as human beings, the thing that separates us from the rest of the animal world.

We don’t merely exist in the world that is presented to us. We use our environment, we manipulate tools, we actively form patterns of thought that help us cope with stress and anxiety.

Our most fundamental perceptions of both the physical and spiritual worlds arise from a need to conquer what is presented to us in a way that brings deeper understanding.

But DIY culture has seen a resurgence in the last 15 years. From the rise of craft supply stores & big box home improvement stores that cater to both contractors and hobbyists to the emergence of DIY superstars like Martha Stewart and television programming like the DIY network and TLC, DIY is pervasive.

We associate DIY with weekend remodeling and handmade jewelry but DIY is present in modern culture at all levels. There is DIY religion, DIY gourmet food, DIY farming, DIY music, DIY movies, DIY finance, and DIY self-help. In the 21st century, we use our unprecedented level of access to knowledge and technology to craft our world to our exact specifications.

Why?

From the dawn of history to the late 20th century, societies have been codifying every element of our lives: organized religion, organized shopping, organized entertainment, and organized marriage. We have succumbed to the convenience of being told the “right way” to do things because it was convenient. It was one less decision to make, one less obstacle to getting to putting food on the table or getting into heaven.

We have put our trust in mechanisms we don’t understand.

As populations grew and urbanization took hold, prescribed ways of doing things were all we knew. The industrial revolution even took the clothes we wore and the furniture we sat in away from the craftsmen and artists and into the realm of machine. Our food supply left our backyards and ventured into the factory.

Things got cheaper & easier to find.

We bought as one, we ate as one, we worshiped as one, we laughed as one.

But technology has begun to turn the tide of its own sea.

The human-made world is mostly beyond our comprehension. Our daily survival depends on seemingly magical gizmos that provide our food, water, clothing, comfort, transportation, education, well-being, and amusement. But you can make your world a little less confounding by sewing your own clothes, raising chickens, growing vegetables, teaching your children, and doing other activities that put you in touch with the processes of life.
Mark Frauenfelder, MAKE

DIY culture embraces a powerful notion: you can have what you want if you can learn to make it yourself.

As our access to information & resources grow, so too does our desire to create what we’ve always (or maybe just now) wanted.

While that statement may seem like the DIY movement is quite egocentric, there is great evidence that the opposite is true. By reflecting on our own needs, by creating with our own mind, hands, fingers, toes, by relying on what has come before and projecting into the future what will be, we have become open to the ocean of possibilities that others are creating around us.

This is the new paradigm. Alexis Neely defines the new paradigm as a rejection of “either… or” and an embrace of

both… and…

We can both create to serve our own needs and find the deeper value in what others create.

We can both learn how to make what we desire ourselves and consume goods made by others.

True, the danger of DIY culture is that we try to become entirely self-reliant. But the joy of DIY culture is how we begin to find our interconnectedness, our talents swimming & swirling with the talents of others in our community.

What does DIY culture mean to you? When did you learn to say “no” to what’s in front of you & “yes” to what you might create?

20 thoughts on “What is DIY Culture?

  1. To me DIY culture is a ‘can-do’ world. It doesn’t mean that I will do everything, but more that I am not limited to my current skills and circumstances.

    For me I grew up in a DIY family and in my late teens I shunned it to ‘just be normal’. But after my contact was not renewed during the beginning of the GFC, I found it again and this time on my own terms. It was just what I needed to find.

    I love that I can create the future that I want and need as well as something with my hands, like a bag or skirt.

    1. Hey Dannielle!

      I love how you differentiate “do all” from “can do.” I have a flip side version of this post that I’ll be putting on my other blog on exactly that! I’ll be sure to quote you.

  2. WOW!
    This entry puts into words what only my heart & Spirit could say!

    The one thought pattern that I gather from this is…
    DIY what? LOL! If you think of all those things you listed as DIY in the beginning of the entry, it’s rather ironic that all the things that are considered a DIY lifestyle now were simply LIFE 200 plus years ago.

    I mean no mockery by saying DIY what? It’s just really ironic the way society has formed us. NO WAIT! It’s the way we allow society to form us! And you’re so right, it’s all organized. It’s time to unorganize, unschool, unteach, un-uniform… lol! (now there is a new word!)

    Thank you for your inspiration! I’m going to go UN-do something now! :O)

  3. Love this post and am reflecting on all the connections between DIY culture and the art of improv (something near and dear to my heart). I approach my life itself in a very DIY way… carving my own path, straying from the mainstream “script” time and again. I don’t literally make a lot with my hands, though, aside from cooking, and maybe that’s something for me to think about… I bet it would be a nice, grounding complement to all the more conceptual DIY activity in my life!

  4. I totally agree with your last subheading.
    I personally have found that creating for my self has placed greater value on the skilled work of others. Learning how something is made makes me aware of what goes into a good —–, and I become unsatisified with the mass produced version. Often just understanding a skill doesn’t make me skilled at it, so I am paying the skilled craftsman, as a result of ‘doing it myself’.

  5. Who needs to wait for someone else to do it for you when you can always do it yourself! I’ve been doing for myself since I was a very young girl and luckily no one ever told me to stop! P.S. -I enjoy you!

  6. I remember as a young woman, with very little money to decorate my home, I would have ideas for how I might create my own alternatives for those things I wanted for my home, but I was really bound by the idea that DIY was hokey and unacceptable. As a middle aged woman, even though I can more easily afford to purchase things I want, I find the resurgence of DIY and “do it your way” to be so freeing. No more being limited to a prescribed formula of how things should look.

  7. I struggle with the DIY concept so much. I am an avid DIY-er. With the vast amounts of information found online these days, it just feeds my DIY tendencies. My thought is, why pay someone to do that, I can just do some research and learn how to do it myself. But, hours upon hours later, I wonder why I didn’t just pay someone to do it who could have done it in 3. I am in a constant struggle to find that balance.

    1. But all that work and research gives you a new appreciation for the professional who has spent the time to learn and perfect such a skill. Being a pro house painter I really appreciate when people understand how hard it is to do what we do. It makes them value our work far more than people who think anyone can paint. Thanks from the pro world for understanding exactly how much hard work your money is buying.

  8. This is a great post! This notion, “you can have what you want if you can learn to make it yourself,” is precisely why I started taking sewing classes. I know exactly what I want — and I got sick of settling in the stores.

  9. My DIY projects typically arise from necessity. When I want or need something I go looking to see what the commercial world can offer. Usually what they have is complete unsuitable or OMG expensive for what I want so my only alternative is to make it myself.

    When I got into wine I wanted a wine rack. All the commercial ones were tiny and expensive (12-24 bottles & $200+) or room size that looked like a child built them out of unfinished Lincoln Logs. I wanted a piece of furniture that would look nice but hold a lot of wine. So I spent $300 on supplies and made a deal w my dad who knows carpentry. I bankrolled the operation and in exchange he got 2 of the wine racks. We made 5 wine racks 3 ft tall that held 70+ bottles of wine each. They have an over-hanging top that protected the necks of the wine below so you couldn’t drop anything on the rack and kill your wine. I assembled and finished them with stain and poly while my mother marble-ized the tops of her racks. They are made sturdy and to be a nice piece of furniture that will last. It took time and dedication but I couldn’t be more proud of myself (I like to show them off to our visitors).

    Thanks for this awesome post Tara- you always rock!

  10. I lived in a very rural area for 5 years, taking care of a farmstead for some friends. This farm had been homesteaded in 1886, and we lived in the drafty little farmhouse that was 1 3/4 miles from our mail box, 8 miles from the nearest paved road and 22 miles to the grocery store and gas station.

    Living in such a remote setting gave me a lot of time to reflect on the roots of the DIY culture. The pioneer woman who set up housekeeping in that very placed over 100 years ago lived and breathed DIY. This experience totally changed my perspective. I had a beautiful organic vegetable garden. So did she – except that this long-ago homemaker depended on the harvest of her garden to feed her family.

    Now that I am a “town girl”, when a solution becomes a little too difficult to find, I pause to think of that pioneer woman in Bird City, Kansas, who came before me, and I am inspired to DIY.

  11. I lived in a very rural area for 5 years, taking care of a farmstead for some friends. This farm had been homesteaded in 1886, and we lived in the drafty little farmhouse that was 1 3/4 miles from our mail box, 8 miles from the nearest paved road and 22 miles to the grocery store and gas station.

    Living in such a remote setting gave me a lot of time to reflect on the roots of the DIY culture. The pioneer woman who set up housekeeping in that very place over 100 years ago lived and breathed DIY. This experience totally changed my perspective. I had a beautiful organic vegetable garden. So did she – except that this long-ago homemaker depended on the harvest of her garden to feed her family.

    Now that I am a “town girl”, when a solution becomes a little too difficult to find, I pause to think of that pioneer woman in Bird City, Kansas, who came before me, and I am inspired to DIY.

  12. I am also an avid DIYer especially when it comes to food or what would be considered crafty, sewing, knitting, etc. I applaud the “movement” and would take it even a step further… The DIY culture is also informing and shaping the entrepreneurs of today with the same adage of make what you need, create the job/career that will satisfy you.

    When I couldn’t find the job I wanted I decided to create the job I wanted. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how out of the norm that line of thinking is because it had been so ingrained in me. If you’re capable of defining what you need/want you are capable of creating/making it.

    Here’s to making!

  13. For all of you interested in DIY culture, check out this website:

    http://www.dodiy.org/

    A friend of mine runs this site, which serves as a networking and sharing resource for artists, musicians, and people just looking to take matters into their own hands! Good stuff.

  14. DIY, for face value, is self-explanatory and cutting out the middle man! I appreciate your take on this subject and for further exposing this culture. I take pride in my DIY projects!

  15. As a 54 yr old male, I like what you have to say. I was searching for some DIY resources and discovered DIY was taking on a different meaning. Your description of the DIY culture was fascinating and then I read the first lines on your website http://www.taragentile.com/
    “The jobs just aren’t coming back.

    They left on what was supposed to be a round-the-world cruise and the ship sank somewhere off the coast off China. ”

    and I am intrigued. I’ll have to read more.

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