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RACHEL BEGLIN COLUMN: The best part of DIY is the empowerment that comes with it

The DIY alternative might not always be obvious, but it can always be found and maybe winter is the best time to brush up on your skills.

Photo of Rachel Beglin with quote
Pioneer graphic

I’m a millennial. Born in 1995, I have never known a world where hammers didn’t come from Home Depot, clothes didn’t come from the mall and the world wasn’t, relatively, made of plastic.

Occasionally, I watched an old TV show, " How It’s Made ," in awe, but for the most part, these items are a mystery. How did they get all the salt? Where does clay come from? How do they make a Barbie doll?

These items seem to spring up out of nowhere to flood our department store shelves, which perhaps hides some industry secrets as well. We’ve made the entire process of making them largely invisible.

For a long time, I accepted that completely as the norm: we get jobs so that we can have money so that we can buy the things that we need, which are made uniformly in factories both here and, mostly, abroad.

If that’s your speed, that’s all fine and well, but I’d like to at least point out another way.

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Because once upon a time, human beings knew how every single tool and food item in their home was made. Because I don’t trust all of our stores to source their materials ethically or pay their workers fair wages. I don’t trust the products to not be laden with chemicals or covered in unnecessary plastic wrapping, and I don’t always have the loose change to pay for those things, anyway.

But the good news is -- we can probably make a lot of it ourselves.

I first learned this in Panama when I met people who genuinely practiced subsistence agriculture and used their land to feed themselves.

Gardening is a gateway drug for DIY. Any gardener knows the almost naughty joy of eating a tomato that they didn’t buy at the grocery store. Grocery stores seem like the only place to get produce, at times, but the truth is that we can produce a lot of that stuff on our own with a $2 seed packet and some innovation.

It’s mind-boggling that a tomato can grow in my backyard, never be USDA approved or certified, never get a barcode, never pass through a register and still be mine. Tomatoes like these taste like best-kept secrets.

Since gardening, I have seen coffee filters made out of cut-up shirts and coat hangers that lasted years. I’ve seen a piece of wood, a drill and a screw used to open a bottle of wine.

I’ve seen someone dressed head to toe in only clothing that she crocheted herself. I’ve had meals that were entirely foraged in northern Minnesota. I’ve seen gorgeous furniture come together from pried-apart wooden pallets, and I’ve watched videos on how to grow your own baking and brewing yeasts at home.

So why make it yourself instead of buying it at the store?

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If you’ve read any of my columns, some of my answers might be predictable: it’s better for the environment, it eliminates waste and it saves you a few bucks.

Fixing your own headlight is going to save you money; reusing jars for canned tomato sauce prevents waste; composting reduces food waste and provides you free fertilizer. It’s not like it’s hard to learn: just about everything you might want to do has 200 different tutorials on YouTube. There is a free education online to be had.

But personally, the best part of Do-It-Yourself is the empowerment that comes with it.

We are encouraged to purchase everything. Of course we are -- it’s how businesses make money. And women are especially discouraged from getting dirty and playing with tools. There have been so many times where I’ve realized that my male counterparts have been taught how to do certain tasks from an early age that no one ever considered to show me.

But learning how to make something all on my own, or use a tool that I’ve never used before, severs my dependence on capitalism just the tiniest bit. It forces me to problem-solve, think creatively and be present.

I haven’t found a solution to creating everything homemade and I’m not saying we all have to switch to Home Economics right away.

I don’t have time right now to sew myself an entire wardrobe. But there are some really great, sustainable DIY alternatives staring us in the face: to stuff our pillows and dog beds with cattail fluff instead of fibers from the store. To burn dried sage and cedar instead of purchasing candles. To patch a tear in a beloved pair of pants that still have some life in them yet.

The DIY alternative might not always be obvious, but it can always be found and maybe winter is the best time to brush up on your skills.

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Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast. She can be reached at beglinr@gmail.com.

Related Topics: FOODENVIRONMENT
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