Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To DIY or Not to DIY...

I guess one of the major reasons that I started this blog was to reflect on this question. I had put it aside for awhile during the busiest part of the gardening season. It woke me up the other morning when the radio was chattering about the "DIY Revolution," and the commentators were questioning the cost-effectiveness of doing things yourself. Everyone who makes something knows it's not only about cost. Whether it's DIY food, music, furniture, or adventure, there's more to DIY than saving money; although, it can be a kind of salve for a frugal soul.

The radio program reminded me that I knew how to make my own yogurt. My friend Sue gave me instructions for making "Sleeping Bag Yogurt," which is very simple, but takes some time. You heat up some milk, mix with yogurt, store in a warm sleeping bag for 6 or 7 hours, then refrigerate. I generally have two practical goals when I choose to make, grow, or cook things myself: 1) save money 2) reduce packaging waste. The third, less practical goal is to get a level of quality that you can't get when an industry does it for you. Usually, the cost comes in hours of labor. In the case of the yogurt, I can buy a 32 ounce tub of Stonyfield organic yogurt here for $4.00. Making my own organic yogurt costs a little less than $2.00 for the same amount. (I can save 50 cents more if I use my yogurt to start the next batch rather than buying a small plain container of yogurt.) Now, if I have the time to do it, it makes sense. Sometimes the extra money is worth the convenience, as any busy person knows. And sometimes the extra packaging is worth the money. Have you ever been diligent about using reusable shopping bags, just to go looking for a trash bag for the bathroom and find that you've run out of them? I use my yogurt containers for all sorts of things.

I've weighed the costs and benefits of DIY for many things, down to the tiniest details, and I've saved money. But I've realized that there's a lot more to it than frugality or conservation. So, I've realized that the fourth goal is gaining a greater understanding of or connection to a certain process. My first DIY project was actually playing guitar. Although I'm not very good at it, I can say that I have made "homemade music" on a couple of occasions. After learning to play, I began to hear acoustic guitars and singing at a deeper level. Next came gardening, bread-making, beer brewing, and knitting. You might think that learning a new skill would take the mystery out of it, pull back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz and expose his true nature, so to speak. Instead, it simply opened a door to another set of doors. There is always more to learn and new ways to be creative. For me it's about being connected. I appreciate what it takes to brew a good porter, make fresh yogurt, or knit a fair-isle hat. It makes you understand that labor *should* be expensive. But seeing something through the entire process is enlightening. And it's nice to feel grateful and empowered.

So, maybe I started growing my vegetables and raising chickens to save money. I have saved some money. But what I've really gained is a level of appreciation and connection that I didn't have before when strangers did these things for me. Making things, rather than buying them, has become more of a novelty in our relatively financially wealthy, but time-poor lifestyles. So, I guess if I'd been making my own yogurt my whole life, the store-bought stuff would be pretty exciting. But I get much more of a kick out of the homemade stuff. I can't help but think, "Hey, I made that!"