I didn’t know my children suffered from a shameful lack of homemade marshmallows until Martha Stewart told me so.
Here I was, blissfully ignorant that my bags of Jet-Puffed were unacceptable substitutes for the “real” thing.
But then I saw Martha on Oprah and my thoughts turned quickly from “wait, you can make marshmallows?” to“maybe I should be making homemade marshmallows,” to “I’m totally bringing homemade marshmallows to the kids’ Christmas party—so fun!”
I think of those marshmallows when I think of “DIY,” or “Do It Yourself.”
It’s a funny term, these days conjuring up thoughts of Pinterest boards, Etsy shops, and IKEA hacks. But then I think, haven’t women been doing it for ourselves forever? I wonder, what is the difference between the zweibach my grandmother made every Saturday and the homemade artisan French boule I’ve been trying to perfect over the past year?
Well, I don’t think the desire to create is anything new. Nor is the feeling of accomplishment you get from hearing that last “pop” and knowing that ALL the jars sealed properly.
Like our foremothers, we share the impetus to do more with less and the satisfaction of knowing we’ve rescued and repurposed something that might otherwise have gone to waste. And for many of us, having the recipient in mind when we make a gift or prepare a meal blesses both the creator and the creation.
What’s changed, I think, is the “why”—why are we doing it for ourselves?
For my grandmother, it was the basics—food, clothes, shelter. Doing it herself meant saving money and, in many cases, it was DIY or don’t get it at all.
For my mother, there was more wiggle room. There was more money, more products available, and (once she started working outside of the home) less time—DIY became reserved for “the extras”: the up-all-night-to-finish decorated birthday cakes and the Christmas wreath crafted at Sewing Circle. She bought the necessities and saved her creative efforts for “worthy” projects.
For me, it’s usually much cheaper or easier (often both) to just buy it. Grabbing some tomatoes at the store costs me a couple of dollars; starting a garden and tending to tomato plants takes months, materials, and a lot of money. (Yes. It was satisfying to eat “my” tomatoes. But I did the math—those tomatoes cost me about $25 each plus many hours.)
Because I don’t have to do it (and because a lot of the how-to’s out there are available only to those with money or time or both), what I stand to gain from DIY is not only the thing I make but also, if my project is not done with the right “why,” a sense of pride.
Not the healthy self-satisfaction that comes from completing a job well done, but the pride that comes from knowing I have the wealth and/or leisure time to eschew the somehow inferior store-bought and from the sense that everyone else knows I have those things too and admires me for how well I use them.
The problem is, if I’m DIY-ing to win some kind of “she has it all together” award, it’s a short leap from feeling proud of my DIY to feeling ashamed for the things I didn’t do myself. For feeling bad about the days when I (gasp) bought bread for the next day’s sandwiches. Or (heaven forfend), I let the kids buy school lunch.
That’s when I start comparing my choices to those of other women, feeling like I’ve fallen short when I don’t make my own toothpaste (true story).
Is it bad to DIY? Heavens, no! Pinterest your heart out, chevron it up, and make your backyard wedding mason-jar-tastic. Use your God-given talents to make new and wonderful things. Release yourself from the shackles of consumerism that trap you into thinking that happiness is something you can buy at Target. Appreciate how difficult is the act of creation and be inspired to cherish the work of your hands all the more.
Just be careful. Ask yourself WHY you are making it yourself.
If you don’t really need to or want to but you feel like you should because everyone else is, then maybe it’s okay not to do it. Maybe it’s okay not to lose sleep over that homemade birthday cake (even if that’s what your mother always did) or that upholstered headboard (even if it’s pinned eleventy-nine times).
But do you need to DIY? Then may you be blessed in the doing.
Do you want to DIY? Then may you be grateful for the opportunity to create. Do you want to make your own marshmallows? Go for it!
I’ll be picking mine up over in aisle 8.
Amy Kroeker is a Canadian transplant living in Minneapolis, Minn., where she attends Emmanuel Mennonite Church. She holds an MA in English from the University of Manitoba and keeps her semicolon skills fresh working as technical writer. She is married with two children. This piece originally ran in the Winter 2015 issue of Timbrel, the publication of Mennonite Women USA.