The 6 Qualities All DIYers Have — Do You?

By Kentin Waits on 10 September 2014 1 comment

Look closely and you'll find them. They tool around in old trucks with homemade campers, they create wild sculptures from scrap metal, they fix what's broken and improve what's not, and they putter contentedly in basements and garages deep into the night. These are the DIYers — the tinkerers, the eccentrics, the handymen and handywomen who ingeniously reclaim, remake, and recycle bits of our world every day. (See also: Is DIY Home Renovating for You?)

Modest and a little magnetic, these folks would be last to sing their own praises, so I'll do it for them. I've known one or two in my day and they each seem to possess a special mix of characteristics that drives their passion and fuels their creativity.

1. Disregard for Convention

Like most things in life, the really interesting stuff happens a little off kilter. In the late 1970's my uncle Hank bought a battered hardware store delivery truck. His part-time pursuit for the next decade or so was transforming that rough set of wheels into a family camper. One weekend at a time he outfitted it with cabinets, a fold-down bed, and other essentials he crafted in his garage in rural Iowa. I loved seeing his progress every chance I got. I think I was as impressed with his disregard for convention as much as I was with his skill. Even as a child of eight or nine, I realized that his camper would be a lot like him — not so glossy, but gutsy and entirely unconventional.

2. Vision

Vision makes it all happen. It shapes what's around us and gives new use to the world's refuse. Vision helps us see what an item could be or how random cast-offs could come together in a new way. A dear friend of mine in Austin, Texas makes banjos from old wooden cigar boxes, elaborate tree sculptures from storm-fallen twigs and branches, and amazing desk lamps from salvaged plumbing pipe. His vision keeps him restless and destined to never be fully retired or ever bored. That's a wonderful thing.

3. Ingenuity

If vision is the "what," then ingenuity is the "how."

DIYers know that for an idea to be successful, the final product has to work. And though their projects may not always be pretty by conventional standards, they're beautiful in their authenticity. When you look at something hand-crafted from a set of discarded or random parts, you're seeing not only the object, but the mental flexibility it took to conceive and build it. Like Hank's wild and wonderful makeshift camper, appreciation can't be separated from the inspiration.

4. Stubbornness

Some of the roads that tinkerers take aren't on any map. And when you're literally winging it, you have to accept a certain degree of failure without throwing your hands up and opting for a better-traveled route. Trial and error eventually give way to success, but not without patience and persistence (and maybe a few favorite swear words thrown in).

5. Self-Reliance

It almost goes without saying since self-reliance and the nature of DIY are so closely linked, but beyond just doing it yourself, tinkering, creating, building, and repairing is a solitary way of being. Buying may be social; shopping definitely is. But making can often be a maddening, isolating, and a wholly internal pursuit.

6. Love of Dirt

At the risk of over-generalizing, most of the diehard DIYers I know are a little rough around the edges. Their fingernails aren't always clean (in fact, sometimes they're chipped or one is missing altogether). If you run into them in the hardware store, they'll likely be covered in sawdust, have grease on their cheek, or be sporting a fresh bandage. Their commitment to their craft means they live with a bit of dirt, accept the occasional bump and bruise, and sometimes drop into bed completely un-showered and woefully un-flossed. It comes with the territory and if you're married to a DIYer, if your parent was one, if you're one — well then, you know exactly what I mean.

One of the most encouraging signs of the last 10 or 15 years is the rise of the DIY movement. Every time I read about someone in a remote outpost doing their own thing — making furniture, salvaging crumbling barns, turning license plates into birdhouses, converting diesel engines to biofuel, or making jewelry from sea glass I think of my parent's generation when doing it yourself was the only way to get it done. For the love of art, for the love of craft, or out of necessity, DIYers today are channeling the very best of our past and quietly reviving a noble movement.

Are you a tinkerer or do-it-yourselfer? What qualities are most important to your way of life?

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Guest's picture

I love to try stuff out. With so many videos on youtube you can learn anything. I took a class recently on how to finish your basement. It got me excited to a lot of work, but at the same time I learned that I also can't do everything myself and it would be better to hire someone than spend too much time doing shoddy work. DIY'ers are entrepreneurs in the home self improvement business.