The DIY movement has become popular in recent years, but its roots can be traced far historically. Manuals teaching the layman to apply themselves at a craft or trade have existed for centuries. People have resorted to DIY work during times of economic hardship, such as the Great Depression or the aftermath of World War II.
Still, the movement has seen widespread adoption over the last two decades. This has coincided with the internet’s democratization of information. Never before have we enjoyed easy access to in-depth guides and tips in various skills, often free or at low cost.
But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should take the DIY approach. Cost-effectiveness, which many see as the biggest selling point of DIY, isn’t the real source of value in this undertaking.
Finding the right person
In pre-modern times, most people would’ve had to go the DIY route because there was no other choice. Widespread inequality, combined with a lack of socio-economic mobility, meant that commoners didn’t have the option to pay someone else to carry out necessary tasks.
Trades were also more accessible then because technological requirements didn’t present a barrier to entry. You could get any job done around the house using simple tools. Nobody needed to learn how to operate machinery.
Since the Industrial Age, technology has developed at an accelerating pace. Trades have become both diverse and specialized. There are also strict regulations in most professions. You can’t work in any role in the construction industry, for instance, without passing a CSCS test to ensure safety on the job site.
All of this goes to show that even with the abundance of information available online, for any task you’re about to DIY, you’re seldom the best person for the job. Excluding the most basic tasks, there’s someone else who can do it with greater efficacy and safety, simply because they’ve trained for it and you haven’t.
Embracing shadow work
A lot of people believe that DIY allows them to get results that are acceptable, or even close enough to professional standards, that the gap in quality is negligible. And they certainly assume that you’ll end up paying a fraction of the cost of skilled labor.
There’s a chance that this proves to be true, especially if the task at hand isn’t very complex or if you already have some degree of competence in the skill.
But if the task is difficult, requires multiple skills, or a greater level of proficiency than what you currently possess? You may waste materials through mistakes made. You’ll likely spend more time wading through steps that a pro would breeze through.
DIY invariably represents some form of sweat equity and time invested. The time element is crucial because we live in an age of shadow work.
Corporations are increasingly passing on aspects of paid labor to the consumer in the form of self-service options. Our lifestyles have become mostly accepting of this change, as we exchange unpaid time and effort for greater convenience and personalization.
Yet unlike self-service at a bank, gas station, or fast-food chain, DIY is seldom convenient. Household maintenance and repair, remodeling, or landscaping work might be among the most labor-intensive things you do all week. Selecting this option means fully embracing the added burden of shadow work in your life.
Enrichment through novelty
On this evidence, functional DIY activities are revealed to be a lot more costly than expected in terms of time and effort, and sometimes money as well.
But studies on the motivating factors behind DIY efforts show that only one cluster is primarily driven by functional value and cost savings.
The truth is that many people choose the DIY route because it offers a novel experience. These DIYers apply themselves to tasks, knowing that they are less efficient than professionals because they seek self-expression and uniqueness in addition to functional value.
While such work always serves a purpose, from fixing problems around the house to creating something useful or beautiful, its value isn’t really about the results or ROI.
You adopt the DIY ethos because you want to do something personal, a taste of the creative process, even if it’s guided by steps provided by some online resource person.
Like the similar trend towards artisan products and craft culture, DIY is about actively moving away from professional work in exchange for personal experiences. You might fail or create something flawed, but the end product is yours alone.
That has value in itself, given the modern context of sameness and compartmentalization in our jobs and lifestyles.
Do it yourself, not because of illusory cost-effectiveness, but out of the genuine desire and appreciation for what novelty can do to enrich your life.