11/16/2011 02:16 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2012

Tough Times Creating More Fix-It-Yourselfers

"If you want a thing to be well done, you must do it yourself."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project."
--Napoleon Hill

"The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm."
--Swedish proverb

"Think globally, act locally" is a saying normally applied to conservation. It can also apply, however, to specific actions people take to live more lightly on the earth. These actions include neighborhood cleanup projects, recycling activities, and creating community gardens. Individuals have long been taking steps to make their lives more environmentally friendly while preserving our precious planet and its invaluable natural resources.

The impulse to live lightly, eliminate waste, and preserve the environment, combined with our continuing, challenging economic times, is leading to the resurgence and increasing popularity of yet another movement that's been part of the American psyche since our country was founded -- the impulse to fix one's things oneself -- i.e., good old American self-reliance.

Rather than dealing with the high cost of a professional service call, or the even higher cost of replacing something working poorly or not working at all, Americans are becoming more comfortable with a whole new home improvement vocabulary. These words include: repair, rebuild, adjust, recondition, restore, reuse, recycle, mend, fix and maintain. Bottom line -- extending the life of what you have; not tossing it or placing it in someone else's care. And doing so without the aid of experts or professionals.

The advantages of becoming a fix-it-yourselfer are appealing:
  • Save thousands of dollars on overpriced repairs
  • Eliminate time spent waiting for the repair person
  • Catch minor household problems before they become major disasters
  • Gain confidence to begin and complete projects
  • The discovery that fixing your things can be empowering and fun
  • Keep your home running smoothly and efficiently
  • Better for the environment since you're repairing rather than discarding

Fixing things and the do-it-yourself ethos was much more common for previous generations, who were trained each day in all sorts of life and household skills by their parents, grandparents, magazines like Popular Mechanics and Mechanix Illustrated, and shows like Bob Vila's "This Old House." That training is becoming increasingly rare, partially because families (and TV viewing, for that matter) are becoming more fragmented, and partially due to the American educational system. As philosopher Alan Watts once reflected:

"Our educational system, in its entirety, does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don't learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses, how to make love, or to do any of the absolutely fundamental things of life. The whole education that we get for our children in school is entirely in terms of abstractions. It trains you to be an insurance salesman or a bureaucrat, or some kind of cerebral character."

Filling that training void these days for practical, home-based projects is a plethora of books, magazines, websites and training media designed to assist the aspiring fix-it-yourself amateur with professional-level advice. offers 3,215 "fix it yourself" titles. Google "fix it yourself," and you'll get 229 million results. This is clearly more than just a trend; it's a veritable outbreak of self-reliance.

As just one example, the online retailer serves the fix-it-yourselfer with over one million appliance parts and 500,000 parts photos and diagrams, allowing people to easily match theirs. The company is in production on a variety of three-to-seven-minute do-it-yourself videos for its own channel on YouTube. And if you have a very specific appliance issue, CEO Roman Kagan offers, "On our site's Appliance Repair Forum, customers can post any repair questions and get professional responses from the technicians on hand."

Through using your own knowledge and common sense, combined with research acquired from friends, family, books, online experts, TV reality fix-it shows, and sometimes even simply following directions in the product's instruction manual, you become, in effect, your own professional repair person.

Is there any downside to the fix it yourself movement? Well, it does take some effort and ability to follow instructions and safety procedures, plus the commitment to see things through to completion. For those who do so, however, the rewards often include the realization that the fear of diving in to the repair is usually far greater than the repair's level of difficulty--which is quite often surprisingly simple. And that's a big relief.

Experts say that each time you repair something, it gets easier and you become more knowledgeable about and comfortable with future repairs. And then one day the inevitable happens -- you become the repair expert your friends and relatives consult. Just don't take advantage of the situation -- or at least give them a discount on your fees.