By Erika Mathieu
Crafty, industrious, or resourceful; call it whatever you wish, but the ability to alter or create something new out of existing materials and breathe new life into them is the hallmark of a true DIY-er.
Also known as up-cycling, DIY offers access to nicer things, paid for with the commodity of time.
As a catch-phrase, “one person’s trash, is another’s treasure,” does technically encompass the essence of thrifting or up-cycling, it fails to touch on the transformative process of taking something and altering it in some way to reinvigorate its purpose. A more fitting phrase might be, “one person’s trash, is another’s project.” DIY has limits, absolutely, but many people avoid taking on projects because they are worried about messing it up. If done responsibly, there are no real downsides.
5) Safety first: An overused catch phrase? Yes. However, it is a fundamental guiding principle to any DIY project. Part of this tenant is knowing your current limits at as a DIY-er. Avoid any electrical, plumbing, major construction, and/or demolition unless you are explicitly trained to do so.
If you have big plans for these kinds of projects and aren’t sure where to start this is not the time for experimental learning. Lack of knowledge or experience in building a deck has much higher stakes than repurposing pallets to make a coffee table. When selecting a project, be sure you have the adequate space, proper tools and PEP, and clean materials to work with. Budget-friendly DIY using cheap or free materials is completely achievable, but the chosen materials and tools should be structurally sound, and free of hazardous materials and pollutants. When up-cycling materials, considerations should be made to ensure the materials are appropriate and safe in the project’s new context or configuration.
4) Failing is learning: It is normal to want your project to turn out well, however it is crucial as a DIY-er to keep the stakes and costs low as you are gaining the confidence to approach DIY projects outside your current skill-set or comfort zone. After a very humbling first-attempt to upholster a chair, a few things became clear: some projects are more difficult than others, adequate tools for the job matter, and sometimes shortcuts make for one ugly-looking chair. In any case, knowing what not to do is actually really valuable. When mastering a new skill, it is always advisable to source free or budget-friendly supplies and materials. When things don’t work out the first time: call it a prototype and move on.
3) Ask the question: what would make this work? Then be really honest about time constraints, your project budget, and whether what is required is actually worth it to you. Sometimes a project in it’s entirety is not worth the headache. Determining whether a project is “worth it” to invest considerable time, effort, and money into it can be tricky, since many issues don’t arise until the project is already underway. However, sometimes a bit of foresight can make all the difference. If you aren’t an expert at any given skill, it can be helpful to abandon the notion that the entire project has to be “from scratch.” Embrace ways to incorporate finished or pre-fabricated elements into the project. If you aren’t keen on the idea of building your own coffee table, for example, consider ways to DIY specific elements of the project (such as the surface of the table), to make a project more manageable, affordable, or enjoyable.
2) Be Open: Sourcing materials is going to vary greatly depending on the maker’s unique vision, budget, and skillset. Just leaning into an object’s potential is one way to transform an object. For many DIY aficionados, working within the constraint of existing objects can be an empowering way to increase the functionality of an object or space. There are clear limits to what can be accomplished by throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, but when working on prototypes especially, resourcefully adhering to the constraints of what you have on-hand (MacGyvering) is a valuable way to know exactly what materials are required to make a project successful. When it is safe and reasonable to do so, be open to the ways everyday objects can function beyond their intended utility.
1) Seek out maker communities: Even if you are not planning on actively participating in these DIY or maker communities, online DIY communities can be found on practically every social media platform. These spaces act as a conduit for exchanging tips, information, and ideas. Online marketplaces, local swap and buys, forums, social media accounts focusing on every conceivable genre of do-it-yourself projects.
Rejecting the archetype of what kind of person actually engages in DIY projects. Whether you are artistic, mechanical, technical, or curious, adopting a DIY mindset is liberating.
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