Do-It-Yourself Improvement

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Do-It-Yourself Improvement

The term "do-it-yourself" applies in its broadest sense to a range of tasks, usually domestic projects of repair or improvement, completed by individuals who are amateurs in the field. Instead of hiring professional contractors, many homeowners enjoy the challenge of learning new skills, adapting individual styles, and incorporating materials and techniques from local sources to beautify and improve their homes. The high degree of personal satisfaction, not to mention cost-of-labor savings, provide substantial incentives to many do-it-yourselfers. Many view the work they do on their homes as a hobby, and do-it-yourselfers can now learn and master home improvement methods and techniques from an enormous variety of books, television shows, and mulitimedia computer programs.

Though people had relied on manual skills before industrialization, personal skills and expertise gave way to organized labor and specialized craftsmanship by the early nineteenth century when early industrialization and the infusion of power-driven machinery created a revolution in manufacture. Items which had been hand-crafted and individually created could now be produced by machine automation. The novelty of mass production generated a craze in the purchase of prefabricated goods. By the 1950s in America, mass production had spread to home building, as evidenced by the first neighborhood tract homes.

People have turned to hand-crafting in times of hardship such as the Great Depression and World War II when there were shortages of building materials and sundry items. Shortages fostered the development of independent home improvement solutions ranging from construction using found materials to the brewing of homemade beer. Propaganda during war time also encouraged individual thrift and problem-solving as important contributions to the war effort. In addition, following the Allied victory, many people returned home with new skills gained through military service and focussed on rebuilding their homes and families. Do-it-yourself home building kits were available in America as early as the late 1940s.

But during the prosperity of the 1950s, home improvement was enjoyed as a family hobby and social activity among neighbors. By the 1960s, young homeowners began home-crafting and personalized home improvement less as a hobby and more as a statement of individuality. While rebelling against what was generally called "the establishment," young people saw opportunities in home industry which provided an avenue of freedom from commercial and industrial ventures. Homemade items from clothing to bread to wall-hangings and interior decorations enjoyed popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Interest in homemade items waned in the 1980s as Americans returned to more conservative politics, but the spirit of being able to "do-it-yourself" continued not only among first-time home-buyers, who were principally interested in savings (not to mention putting a personal "stamp" on their new homes), but also among the wealthy who continued the trend in home improvement as a personal hobby. Many chose to develop home improvement projects themselves not because politics or economics dictated that they do so, but out of the personal satisfaction derived from individual achievement. A weekend painting project, for example, provided the opportunity to enhance one's self-esteem as well as reduce stress. People who do-it-themselves tend to see themselves as competent, capable, and goal-oriented.

In this light many women increased their involvement in home improvement activities throughout the 1990s, taking on plumbing, minor carpentry, and mechanical repair jobs which were previously considered to be a man's job. In this way women have been able to express their self-confidence and ability in ways which had previously been discouraged.

By the end of the twentieth century, do-it-yourself projects were supported by a growing network of home improvement stores. With vast inventories and knowledgeable salespeople providing instruction, stores like the Home Depot, Home Base, and Lowe's Improvement Warehouse helped people finish their own projects.

—Ethan Hay

Further Reading:

Consumer's Guide, editors. Do-It-Yourself and Save Money! New York, Harper & Rowe, 1980.

Family Handyman Magazine, editors. The Family Handyman Home Improvement Book. New York, Scribner, 1973.

Gladstone, Bernard. The Simon and Schuster Complete Guide to Home Repair and Maintenance. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Price, Bernard. Do-It-Yourself Projects from Attic to Basement. New York, Rodale Press/Popular Science Books, 1986.

Reader's Digest, editors. New Fix-It-Yourself Manual. Pleasantville, New York, Reader's Digest Association, 1996.

Roberts, Jason, editor. The Learn 2 Guide: How to Do Almost Anything. New York, Villard, 1998.

Schultz, Morton. Fix It Yourself for Less. Yonkers, New York, Consumer Reports Books, 1992.

Tompkins, Susie. I Can Fix That: A Guide for Women Who Want to Do It Themselves. Toronto/New York, Harlequin Books, 1996.

Vivian, John, editor. Living On Less. Arden, North Carolina, Mother Earth News, 1997.

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Do-It-Yourself Improvement

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