Two Great British Obsessions – Tea and DIY
The reasons why people engage in DIY have always been numerous and complex. For some, DIY has provided a rare opportunity for creativity and self expression. For others it has been an unwelcome necessity, driven purely by economic considerations. Then there has been a group which feels that a building can never be a home unless it has been altered and modified to reflect a change of occupancy. A final group has traditionally taken the line that if you want a job done well, you must do it yourself.
The same four basic species of DIYers exist today, although these various motives may now overlap very substantially. The perfectionist in search of the good job done well is often also driven by a desire for creativity. There are also two new categories of motive – the pursuit of DIY as a leisure activity and DIY as a form of occupational therapy. These, again, overlap with other reasons.
DIY as necessity
There is a significant number of young homemakers (38% of our informants) for whom there is no option but DIY. Their new home, whether bought on a mortgage which consumes a major slice of their income, or rented at similarly challenging rates, will often require essential refurbishment and even structural repair.
Some of these people are reluctant first-time DIYers. They would much prefer to hire professionals, but can't afford to do so. The majority, however, welcome the opportunity that need has forced upon them to get involved for the first time in the real business of creating a home – with all of its unfamiliar physical labour and the learning from scratch of new techniques. In time, many will migrate to one of the other categories of DIYer, continuing to exercise their new found talents and enthusiasm when no longer forced by financial constraints to do so.
DIY as territorial marking
Even those who have bought a brand new 'starter home', the type which increasingly proliferates around the edges of our towns and cities, will feel compelled to add personal touches of a less dramatic kind to disguise its otherwise bland and expressionless nature. Putting a 'personal stamp on the place' was one of the most frequently reported motives for DIY, with 72% of sample seeing this as being a very important aspect.
DIY as self-expression
Many young people today are frustrated artists – their latent creative talents just waiting for the chance to reveal themselves. There are also those seeking opportunities for a sense of achievement and personal fulfilment. DIY provided just such opportunities for the overwhelming majority of our informants (84%). They spoke at length of their sense of pride after completing their very first DIY task, and about how this experience gave them the drive to tackle more ambitious projects.
This sense of creative achievement comes both from the choices made by the first-time DIYer – the selection of colours, textures and components to apply to the 'canvas' of the home – and from the application of specific skills and techniques. The manufacturers of DIY materials clearly understand this and now provide a wide range of 'arty' products to fuel creative urges. At the same time, they make the materials themselves much easier to use – the DIY equivalent of painting by numbers. Special paint effects, which once required the specialist knowledge and training of the true professional, can now be achieved straight out of the can with a simple brush. While ragging, dragging and distressing may be considered passé in the colour supplements, a new generation of home decorators takes pride in new-found talents.
DIY as perfection-seeking
A large proportion of first-time DIYers (63%) distrust builders and decorators. They feel that most are 'cowboys' and that even the more reputable ones are very unlikely to have the same loving attention to detail and care as the DIYer. Some had previously suffered from the alleged bodges of small builders, while others were proud of the fact that no tradesman of this kind had ever set foot in their home.
Within this group there were those who were content for builders to perform basic or structural work, and to undertake tasks such as plastering which are beyond the competence of most DIYers, particularly the younger novices in our sample. The finishing work, however, was something these people kept for themselves – the final 'perfecting' of what otherwise would be just a mediocre result.
This drive for perfection was also evident among the 'strippers' in this group. The idea of putting wallpaper over existing paper, or even paint on the top of preceding coats, was anathema. Everything needed to be taken back to the bare plaster or the naked wood before any new decoration could be applied. Some informants recognised that this search for perfection could sometimes go to far: "It's an obsession for me really. There's always something I'm working on. I'm never happy with anything."
The problem perfectionists face is that progress can be very slow. One young female partner of a such a perfectionist said: "My boyfriend spent so long decorating the bedroom that I had to hire in someone to do the living room." The living room was finished first. When perfectionists are obliged, by nagging or circumstance, to speed things up, other problems can result: "The only time I rushed a job was when we had friends coming for the weekend. I was so unhappy with it that I painted it again after they had gone."
DIY as leisure activity
For a significant minority of first-timers (28%), DIY is seen as a novel and entertaining pastime. It is not really work, but something akin to entertainment, shared by both partners and even the children in the case of young families. "It's just great fun" enthused one of our sample.
The idea that DIYing is akin to a trip to the lions of Longleat may seem strange. But for these informants home-making was sufficiently different from, and infinitely preferable to, the dull routines of weekday work to constitute a weekend break. The results of such activity were rewarding, but probably less so than engaging in the activity itself.
DIY as therapy
"It's therapeutic isn't it? I'm always in my own little world when I'm doing DIY – it's great." So said a young man of 27 in our sample. "For me it's occupational therapy" said another informant. For them and others it was their way of getting rid of stress after a long day at work – a way of switching off and using the repetitive nature of many DIY tasks as a way of relaxing. Others hinted at a similar process, where DIY was almost an end in itself, rather than just a means to achieving a better home. In this sense they were similar to those who saw DIY as a form of leisure, but it was the psychological effects which were emphasised by 18% of our sample.
While people in this group might sound like sad anoraks, lacking the basic social skills to get a life outside of the home, they were quite the opposite. DIY provided a transitional stage between work and play – something which allowed them to unwind and rid themselves of tensions, becoming more sociable in the process.