Freya Hill


DIY: For Recreational Use Only

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Earlier this year I had a small life pause.  I had finished one life in Sydney and wasn’t sure quite where or when the next life would start, so I was at home with my parents for a ‘Winter of dis(content)’. On one hand it was great – lots of time to do things, little things to do etc etc. But as anyone who has ever had a period of ‘between jobs’ knows, the endless days of shopping, coffee and good times dry up quickly when you have no money to spend and no fellow unemployed friends to have good times with. It all became a bit of a boundary-less blur. When I eventually had a start date for the next chapter of my life, the fog of ‘what next’ lifted and I had a burst of and the urge to create something tangible. I started doing a bit of ….

Kiwis are a little bit nutty for the joy of a job done ourselves. We make TV shows about DIY, read magazines on it, go to home shows, drool over catalogues offering DIY paraphernalia and many of our adverts are based on the maxim that a real kiwi bloke does DIY. When it comes to the fruits of our DIY labour, we act like proud parents. Sure its wobbly, it’s unhinged, not safe for children to play on or near and let’s not mention its existence to the local or central government. But by golly, “I built that deck/ BBQ/wall/ random extra thing myself and, mate, it’s a bee-you-tee”.  The attitude seems to be, why pay for it to be done well when you can have it done to an ok standard yourself. Now, this is not to say that there aren’t a lot of brilliant DIYers out there who do a professional job, but there are a lot who don’t.

Despite having seen a few home handyman disasters, I quickly began to see the appeal of indulging in a bit of recreational DIY. For my Winter project, I hauled an old kitchen table out from my parent’s laundry and set about stripping and sanding it. I felt quite the part out there in my ear muffs and face mask, wielding an electric sander as the clutter of surrounded me. I even had the radio set up just like a real workstation. Chuck in a pair of battered stubbies and a hard hat, call me Hillo and I could have a whole new career, almost.

I quickly learned a couple of things:

  • Stripping lead paint is very satisfying for the first 10+ hours but after that it’s just an unjustifiable waste of braincells as you inhale the noxious fumes (even though wearing a mask)
  • Your parents telling you ‘Oh we didn’t know that paint was poisons when you kids were young’ fills you with both dread and understanding
  • Tools are heavier than you think – tradies’ arms are not built in the gym
  • The pride you feel in having achieved your first DIY project far out ways the realisation that the wood your table is built from wasn’t worth anything when it was made and is worth less now.

I got so consumed in my brief dalliance with DIY that I found myself prescribing it as a cure for writer’s block when I went to a party of academics. I’m sure there was a whiff of mania with undernotes of varnish and paint about me that night  as I preached ‘No really, it’s great. You should try it when you’re next stuck on what to write in your chapter on Freudian theory in early 20th century detective novels….’

Like a child who’d created her first botched finger painting, I had that glee about me that we get when we complete something, no matter how poor the standard.  Spurred on, I sewed cushions (like every good middle school student can and should) and now proudly display these in my home, careful to cover up the split seams and jammed zipper when visitors come.

So yes, I can understand the DIY bug. I can understand why homebuyers reason they’ll renovate themselves because ‘it’s cheaper’ (putting no cost on their own time, their relationship or the cost of hairdye required to cover the premature greys from stress). But I would also like to argue for the value of paying for quality and craftsmenship and not always thinking ‘Yeah, I can do that as good myself .’ I’ve recently started a pottery course and on our first night we went around and shared why we had signed up for the course. One woman explained:

“Well, I was at an art gallery the other week and I saw a vase there I really liked, but it was $550. I thought, bugger that, I can knock one of those off myself with a little know how.”

”And that” replied the sweet and slightly downcast tutor ”is both a classic Kiwi attitude and also why I’m perpetually poor. Kiwis don’t want to pay for things they think they can do themselves for cheaper.”

I realise art and DIY are worlds apart but there’s a common link. We are sometimes at risk of overlooking, and quietly starving, our skilled craftspeople and experts in all fields – from carpentry through to graphic design – because we think we can do it to a near enough standard. We’re a country descended from people who had to be jacks of all trades, but there’s no shame now in supporting those who have become masters of one thing and learned to do it very well.  To quote William Morris ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’. If my DIY and sewing attempts are anything to go by, I’ll be looking to the experts to produce most of what I have in my house.


buildingcraftscreativitycultureDIYNew ZealandNZrecreationthesistools

freya • November 14, 2012

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