DIY - “Do It Yourself”
“Do It Yourself”, or DIY as it’s more commonly abbreviated to, is a method of renovating, remodelling and repairing things as an amateur, without having to employ builders, joiners, electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople, professionals or experts.
The main reasons we engage in DIY activity are either because we have (or wish to develop) a good level of skills and expertise to carry out designs, maintenance, repairs, modifications and restorations ourselves or because we don’t want to spend the money paying a specialist professional to do them for us.
The phrase “do-it-yourself” came into common usage in the 1950s as a result of the growing post-war hobbyist culture that saw people using their increased free time to engage in home improvement and handywork activities as a leisure pursuit. The added benefit to undertaking recreational repair work was that it helped people to save money that they would normally have spent on paying a pro.
The history of DIY
In Southern Italy exist the ruins of a 6th Century BC site at Torre Satriano identified as an educational space within which instructions were being given, presumably to everyday amateurs, on how to put together masonry. This is the earliest-known evidence of do-it-yourself practice in the world, pre-dating the phrase and its abbreviation itself by over two-and-a-half-thousand years!
Fast forward to the 20th Century and, in the first half, we see a wave of publishing across Britain and the USA that promotes DIY practice, such as Popular Mechanics and Electronics World (both of which were founded in the first two decades of the 20th Century and are still in existence to this day), helping readers to keep up-to-date with all the latest techniques, tools and materials.
The 1950s was the time of the department store boom as post-war western societies settled into relative luxury and leisure of the liberated world. Artists and craftspeople, however, saw the mass production methods being employed in order to cater to such large, new customer bases as having a negative impact on quality (they probably had a point in many cases). And, as a result, a reactionary culture of DIY was spawned, which grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s, turning into books and TV shows about the do-it-yourself movement.
The DIY movement
The neo-ruralism of the 1960s hippie movement is catalytic in terms of establishing an ethical philosophy of DIY. In 1967, British philosopher and hippie guru Alan Watts gave a speech in California that put into words the growing sense that individuals should make an attempt to take back responsibility for maintenance of their own homes:
“Our education system… does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don’t learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses… It trains you you be an insurance salesman or bureaucrat, or some kind of cerebral character.”
This taking back of responsibility led to many young American adults in the 1970s not only employing DIY methods as a means of achieving a more environmentally-friendly approach to their everyday lives, but also buying up and renovating old, cheap, run-down homes as a means of giving themselves a quality of life they might not otherwise have been able to afford.
A growing subculture of DIY books found a much broader new audience that same decade and (like a great deal of 20th Century and contemporary innovation) found its hub in California with the establishment of Sunset Books. And, throughout the 1970s, DIY expressions such as bricolage (which largely refers to a mode of DIY centred on building, maintaining and repairing things using found items and what is already freely available) took a greater and greater hold on the public imagination.
As DIY culture grew and grew throughout the world, large retail stores like B&Q, Homebase and The Home Depot sprang up to cater to the ever-growing numbers of people looking to do it themselves, as well as offering trade discounts to professionals in order to compete for their business and position themselves as the tradesperson’s choice.
These stores offered expanded ranges of products by the likes of Black & Decker, Bosch and DeWalt that made DIY easier and more appealing to the amateur audience. From power tools, hardware and workbenches to pressure washers, paint and paving stones, these expansive retail outlets give everyday people access to do-it-yourself products merchandised in a way that mirrored department store operating practices.
DIY television shows
Out of this increased availability of DIY products grew a whole power tool and home improvement culture, the perceived machismo of which was the core character flaw of the star of one of the most popular family TV shows of the 1990s, Home Improvement: Tim “the toolman” Taylor played by actor Tim Allen. But the sitcom was just the beginning of DIY’s relationship with the small screen.
In Home Improvement, the character Tim “the toolman” Taylor was the host of his own DIY-themed show focused on power tools, Tool Time. Back in the real world, with the growth of reality TV, it was just this type of show that began to really capture the imaginations of television audiences. Now, in America, there are whole networks dedicated to home improvement programming.
Established in 1992 (right around the time that Home Improvement became one of America’s biggest grossing family sitcoms) by Discovery, Inc., HGTV (aka Home & Garden Television) is a pay TV channel that broadcasts some of the world’s most popular DIY reality shows, such as Nicole Curtis’s Rehab Addict (which helped to finally rid DIY culture of its macho reputation), to a global audience of more than 95.5 million do-it-yourself-hungry viewers.
In 1999, HGTV spawned a spinoff network, DIY Network, which started out specialising in instructional programming that gave people useful DIY hints and tips but is not focused more on documentary-like reality shows about home repair and renovation such as Building off the Grid, Bath Crashers and Tiny House, Big Living.
The tiny house movement
Synonymous with both fiscal and environmental responsibility as DIY has become, in recent years, it has led to a cultural revolution focused on the downsizing of people’s lifestyles. This has become known as the “tiny house movement” or “small house movement”, which advocates the simplicity of living in mostly self-built homes big enough to accommodate our need for relatively luxury lifestyles within the smallest space possible.
Any independent home smaller than 37sqm can be considered a tiny house. The movement was pioneered by a small number of highly influential green architecture advocates such as Whole Earth Catalog Editor Lloyd Kahn with the publication of his groundbreaking book, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter in 2012, which demonstrates how people are able to self-build homes that offer fulfilling, cost-effective and sustainable living.
After the great recession of 2008, the tiny house movement began to gain serious attention, particularly in the USA where it was thus named, for its ability to provide affordable, eco-friendly housing with just a little bit of basic DIY knowledge.
DIY as fashion statement
DIY approaches to living have captured the imagination of fashionistas, both in and outside the home environment, who have, in the 21st Century, taken to “pimping” their cars, “bejazzling” their clothes and “hacking” their flat-packed furniture to create new, exciting and, most importantly, unique versions of their favourite brands.
In this instance, DIY operates not simply as a means of providing for necessity cheaply and in a fun way, but also as a complex, paradoxical statement of conformist individuality. Both being a part of the crowd by engaging fully in consumer culture, but also being above or beyond it in terms of not respecting the limits of mass production.
The extension and politicisation of DIY culture
Now, more than ever before, the concept of DIY has extended to incorporate more and more aspects of life than just the types of homes in which we live, though, and is more widely reflective of a general “self-made” culture of inventing, creating, crafting and customising without – or with very little – specialist knowledge or training.
Not simply focused on home remodelling, renovation and repair, do-it-yourself can now be seen to refer to everything from the self-publishing of books, handmade music formats such as cassettes and CD-Rs and crafts such as pottery and jewellery making to self-made electronics (AKA ‘circuit bending’) and amateur radio production.
Politically speaking, DIY culture, is ethically rooted in the dogma of self-sufficiency and a decreasing reliance on paid experts and mass marketed products as a means of living a rich, fulfilling life within a society perceived to be stretched by the rising costs and environmental damage caused by consumer culture.
Instead of artists, artisans, musicians and craftspeople relying on the support of factories, advertising and mass distribution to take their wares to market, DIY producers reach their audiences self-sufficiently by making, marketing and distributing products themselves, giving them control over methods, sustainability, costs and return-on-investment.
This broader perspective of DIY has led to a whole subculture of books, “zines”, videos and tutorials on how to live more self-sufficiently according to do-it-yourself principles.
And it’s all a part of the rich tapestry that makes doing it yourself appealing to a hugely broad spectrum of people from all walks of life and expressed in all manner of ways, according to each of our different socio-economic conditions, our tastes and our abilities to make something amazing with just a saw, screwdriver and cordless drill.
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