Pacific Institute Insights

Notes from the Field: DIY: Do-It-Yourself as a Way of Life

by Misha Hutchings, Research Associate
September 17, 2011

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Transport-it-yourself: Various water containers that are filled and carried back to neighboring homes with no running water – a 20-liter jerry container, when full, can weigh about 45 lbs. Tallo, Makassar.

DIY is one of those terms that is at once so familiar to me and seems universally used and understood, but in reality it takes on a very different meaning in different contexts, cultures or countries.

Although the term DIY (do-it-yourself) emerged in the 1950s, in the past 10 years it has come into widespread use in the US to describe the “can-do” attitude to complete a job without the aid of experts or professionals (who are usually widely available) or not purchase a ready-made product and instead to do or make it yourself. DIY projects range from hand crafts such as knitting and jewelry-making, to gourmet cooking, and home and car repairs. In one sense, it is a hobby. After all, you could probably choose to have someone else with knowledge and experience do it faster and sometimes more cheaply, but it must be out of pleasure that you take the task upon yourself.

In another sense, it is a show of self-efficiency and cleverness (“Why yes, I did brew that beer/install that veggie oil fuel system/make that music video/build that composting toilet all by myself in my spare time.”). Somehow, at some point our culture got out of touch with performing some of the most basic tasks and instead chose to outsource, and it has come into fashion to choose to do some of these things with our own two hands again. Whether for cost-saving, quality control, or hobby, DIY by and large is a trend to show others that you simply can.

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CIY – Clean-it-yourself (right): Water filtration with a cloth next to a household water well, in Banta Bantaeng, Makassar.

Why? Because there is a choice involved. Once interest or patience in doing-it-yourself fades away, one can simply revert back to having others provide you with most everything you need or desire, cheaply.

But what if there was no choice? What if you had to grow your own food, make your own clothes, or go out and find your own bathing and drinking water by yourself? Without training or knowledge to undertake the task, how safe would the water collected be for your family to consume, every day?

I couldn’t help but think about this contrast as I visited different communities in Makassar, South Sulawesi. When it comes to basic needs, such as supplying household water, Indonesians are no strangers to DIY, because some of them have few or no options.

There are some services that are better performed by specialists. But if the specialists aren’t making their services available, what do you do? If the services are basic necessities and yet aren’t affordable, what choice do you have? DIY, then, is not a choice, but a way of life.

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