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Excerpt From 'Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World'

I like knowing that I can make something the way I want it to be. I'm proud of the things I make and use, despite their imperfections. When I haul my kids around in the wagon I rebuilt from scrap wood, the wagon tells me the story about the time we spent together building it — including my silly mistakes, like mounting the axles too close to the wagon, so the wheels rubbed against the wood (solved by adding spacer blocks). When the wagon acts up, I can pinpoint what's wrong with it and know how to fix it, because the construction is imprinted in my mind. It took me all afternoon to make the wagon. In that time, I could have earned enough money writing to buy two or three brand-new, factory-built wagons. But I didn't make the wagon to save time or money. Slowing down was the point. DIY is similar to the slow food movement that started in Italy twenty years ago. The planning, selection of tools and materials, creation of the workspace, method of construction, documentation, and final product of a DIY project are things to be savored, not to be thought of as hassles or expenses. The end result of what a DIY-er makes is important, but it's also a reminder of an experience that serves as its own reward.

Even if I'm unsuccessful in an attempt to get something done, like installing a water line to the automatic ice maker in our freezer, at least I gain an awareness and appreciation for it. As an amateur maker, I study how objects are constructed and the materials they're made of. The appreciation for the things we already have extends to a wariness about things that we don't have. Now, instead of grabbing shiny items that catch my eye at Target or Costco, I ask myself if it really will make my life better or if I am buying it just because it's new. Recreational shopping, it turns out, is no match for recreational making. We're now keeping our stuff longer than we used to, trying to fix it ourselves when we break it; and when we do have to buy something, we buy a model that will last a long time or can be repaired instead of needing to be replaced. Because we take care of livestock and grow some of our own food, we're more observant of the environment and cycles of nature around us. Because we have achieved a small degree of self-reliance, we feel more free.

Adapted from Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder by arrangment with Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright 2010 by Mark Frauenfelder. Read an interview with Mark Frauenfelder.