May 26, 2010 / 2:44 PM / 10 years ago

Connecting with the world through DIY: one man's chronicle

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A lament that products stopped coming with instructions, a diagram and replaceable parts sent one man on a do-it-yourself regimen that connected him to the wider world and his own unexplored talents.

“Made by Hand, Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World” by Mark Frauenfelder, is the author’s chronicle of a year spent getting to know himself, his family and the world around him through a variety of do-it-yourself projects.

Frauenfelder, who is also editor in chief of Make magazine, suggests that society lost its way when the average person can no longer make their own repairs and just throws out the old and buys a new one.

“It used to be that consumers fed, clothed and educated themselves,” said Frauenfelder, 49. “Do-it-yourself is a deeper level of engagement with the world as an active creator.”

Deciding to take the alternative road for himself, he finds fulfillment by keeping chickens and bees, modifying his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. He also tried and failed to help his eldest child with math.

Though his wife is not so enamored with everything he does, he lives for the moments of recognition from her of a job well done.

“Do-it-yourself has changed me,” Frauenfelder said. “It’s opened me up to the idea that making things is a way to challenge and reward myself.”

Frauenfelder admits he’s not a great carpenter, plumber or any other tradesman. He learns as he goes by heavily researching online, technology making his own odyssey easier, and meeting an assortment of characters with names like Mr. Jalopy.

“They are all so different: different ages, religious, atheist, all sides of the political spectrum, varying incomes,” Frauenfelder said. “The one thing they have in common is their willingness to fail. And they are all very willing to share what they know and want their ideas freely used.”

Along the way as he finds and begins projects, suffering setbacks before ultimately completing them, and gets a general sense of purpose by finding value in the small things of life.

“The day can shoot by with an energized feeling that puts me in a different place, away from all the minor irritations that hound you,” he said.

Frauenfelder points out that DIY would not be so enjoyable if he did it for a living and had a boss telling him what to do. It can also be stressful when he messes up and creates havoc for the family.

He cites the smell of burning bees after they invade the interior of the house and reside in the ceiling light cans as one instance. Having to make a fence to protect his chickens from coyotes the day of his daughter’s birthday when his time and talents are needed elsewhere is another.

But Frauenfelder suggests the example he sets his two daughters is one of the biggest benefits to his do-it-yourself program.

“My children take away the idea that they don’t need to rely on outside solutions for everything,” Frauenfelder said. “They can be alive and happy with a deeper sense of control and understanding of the world around them.”

Reporting by Nick Olivari; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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