September 13, 2021
Melissa bought a new chair online and it arrived at the house last week. Like so many large items that come through the mail, it arrived with “some assembly required.” This was going to be another Do-It-Yourself (DIY) project. When I opened the box the pieces all slid out and formed a pile in the middle of the living room floor. I was not intimidated because after all, this was a chair. How hard could it be, right? The first thing I noticed was there was no instruction book to walk me through assembly. Again, not a problem. The pile did have a single page picture guide that vaguely associated the various screws with the multitude of holes they were designed to fill. There was no writing but that was just as well. Translated instructions tend to confuse me. Half an hour and several restarts later Melissa had a chair.
When I looked online, I found the term DIY is defined as “the method of building, modifying, or repairing things by oneself without the direct aid of professionals or certified experts.” The term “do-it-yourself” has been associated with consumers since at least 1912, primarily referring to home improvement and home maintenance projects. The phrase came into common usage by the 1950’s with the emerging trend of people taking on home improvement and various small craft and construction projects. These projects were both a creative-recreational activity and a cost-savings. Since the 50’s, DIY has grown to a broader meaning that covers a wide range of skill sets and has been described as a “self-made culture” of designing, creating, and repairing things without special training. As I worked on my chair it became evident that I lacked “special training.”
DIY has grown beyond home repair to become a social concept of people sharing ideas, designs, techniques, methods, and finished projects with one another either online or in person. DIY can be seen as a cultural reaction to modern technology and the increasing academic and economic specialization. Specialization forces the experts to focus on a tiny area of any given field of research. The DIY movement then becomes a holistic engagement of your field of study. A DIY ethic is the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks without a paid expert. The ethic promotes the idea that anyone can perform a variety of tasks, if they decide to Do-It-Yourself. I have found that true only to a point.
Thoughts: When I worked for the state, we were in a cost freeze and purchases were tightly monitored. My stapler was continually jamming, and I finally decided to take time to fix it. As I worked on this DIY project, the state architect joined in to help me figure out the problem. After working with the stapler for an hour, I realized between the two of us we had wasted about $50 worth of time on an $8 stapler. I put it on the floor, stepped on it, and said, “Oh look, it’s broken.” I requisitioned a new stapler from supply. I have found DIY projects to be both fulfilling and frustrating. When I get the project to work, it builds my self-esteem. When I struggle it can have the opposite effect. While DIY can be a fun way to solve problems and creatively explore options, there are times when we need to differ to the experts. None of the home remedies devised to “cure” the covid virus have been found to be effective, and many can be harmful. Perhaps this is a time to defer to the experts. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.