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Why I Really DIY

Previously, I posted about why I DIY, full of ideological and good ethical reasons to preserve and restore the existing versus throwing it into the landfill and building something new out of inferior materials. Now, I want to say why I really enjoy DIY, at a visceral, riding a rollercoaster, kinda level. 

The conceptual stuff is motivating, but hard to keep doing if the fundamental enjoyment of the process isn’t there. This may just be the key to a happy life. Aligning ideological goals and enjoyable past times.1

The DIY2 I do checks off many things on my list of life’s pleasures: 

There’s physics. A whole lot of home structure and maintenance are rooted in Physics 101. Things like how to put pieces of wood together to resist the downward force of gravity and the sideways force of anything else, which fasteners are best in which situation and how to maneuver lumber into tight spaces. Principles in electricity are important to understand so as not to get electrocuted when doing minor changes to fixtures. The way water and air flow is good to know to understand plumbing and heating, especially when things in the walls go bump in the night. 

There’s also math. Figuring out quantities, angles, patterns to fill space, and fractions of distances – like where the midpoint is. 

And some biology and chemistry. The biology is mostly about the different tree species and the lumber they make. And a bit about the critters that want to invade your living space – fungus, insects, rodents and more. Also in understanding how the weather and its impact on the earth can play havoc with built structures (I don’t think there’s anything positive it can do, other than leave them alone, except heat and sunlight cure and set asphalt, adhesives and paint). There’s loads of chemistry in building and finishing materials, from the way that paint dries, to the properties of various caulking materials, to the difference between mortar, grout, hydraulic, levelling and regular cement. 

A bit of history too. When renovating old buildings, the various phases and materials we’ve gone through in the past 150 years is astonishing. Mostly, old ones are abandoned or replaced because they’re toxic (which is a good thing) or a newer, less durable but cheaper version is available (which I think is a bad thing). Have I mentioned how I love plaster over drywall, solid wood floors over engineered lumber and hot water heat over central air? And it’s fun to find stuff like apple sacs in the walls, newspaper in the floors or old hardware while dismantling. 

High school curriculum aside, DIY is good physically. It keeps me moving, better than a sedentary hobby like playing cards, knitting or dream sports. It goes a few better than basic activity on the fitness scale, with weight bearing exercises like carrying lumber or tiles, moving equipment around above your head (e.g. paint roller, drywall sander) or applying force scraping, sanding or prying stuff apart. 

Benefits to mental health too: There’s peace in repetitive actions, such as painting rooms, tiling floors, or stripping old wall paper. Doing something useful that doesn’t require concentration, my thoughts wander here and there, enjoying the ride. 

When the physical processes delivers visual results, I squeal with delight at a seamless joint in woodworking, a freshly painted room with a whole new feel, or hear no more floor creak now that its firmly supported on the foundation. 

Problem solving is another fun aspect of DIY. Whether it’s how to stop the deck piers from heaving, the right angle to cut a cross brace or why water is dripping from the ceiling, there is always another unusual situation to address. 

My day job involves sitting, reading, and talking. It’s fine, but doesn’t provide the satisfaction that DIY projects do, when you stand back and look at what’s been accomplished, even if it’s only as sexy as some properly fitted collar ties in the garage. 

More than anything, what jazzes me about DIY is that I’m not supposed to be doing it. A lady of a certain age isn’t the typical visitor to the contractor desk at the DIY stores. She isn’t the one who knows her way around a lumber yard or wants to get dirty, dinged and physically exhausted trying to do stuff she doesn’t have the training for. 

That’s what I’m all about. DIY: Doing (stuff) I’m (not supposed to) but Yearning to. 🤘

1 Various business theories, like hedgehogs and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs support this. And the wisdom of old age. Business theories often resonate common sense to me. People satisfy their basic needs first, then work on being social, and achieving great things (that would be Maslow). The ideal occupation for any person is one in which they are passionate about the big picture, have skills to donate to the cause whilst making a living out of it (my interpretation of Jim Collin’s concept of the laser-focused hedgehog intersection of purpose, ability and value creation).

2 I was surprised when I googled the definition of DIY, which encompasses everything from repurposing table clothes to digging drainage ditches. My DIY is construction related. I suppose this relates to the typical gender activities I was brought up with. Things that are more like decorating, or craft-like I don’t think of as DIY. I do them, but consider them different from the home building/maintenance/renovation activities that use power tools or difficult to handle materials like insulation or cement. Perhaps the best distinction I can make is the use of creativity versus skill. Both definitely have their merits but imagining new window treatments comes from a different part of the brain than troubleshooting drainage issues that lead to water in the basement.

Thanks for reading.

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