DIY supplies

The DIY trend has taken over the design world and inspired people across the globe to roll up their sleeves. DIYers spend hours happily getting crafty, painting and building from scratch — and I count myself among their numbers. But the real question is, is DIY always the best bet? When doing it yourself costs more, takes longer or creates more waste than it would to simply buy something new, is it really a better option?

The answer is no, not necessarily and not always — and that’s saying a lot from a DIY fan like me!

Dissecting DIY

I’ve compiled a list of four ways to know when DIY simply doesn’t pay off and you’d be better off putting down the paintbrush and paying a pro instead.

1. When it takes waaaay longer

DIY stain project
If putting in a little elbow grease can save hundreds and yield a pretty big payoff for your time, DIY is a no-brainer. Image Credit: Andrea Obzerova / Shutterstock

I don’t mind losing some time to a DIY project, especially if it’s a little update that results in a huge difference in the finished product. While I love the DIY life, I am not a chef by any means. I look at people who spend hours creating elaborate meals and I think, “Don’t you know you can pay people to do that for you?,” which is, I imagine, what non-DIY-ers think when I tell them I’ve hand-dyed my bathrobe or refinished a dresser. I admire the expert chefs who can whip up culinary masterpieces, but I have absolutely zero desire to be one.

A quick round of sanding and a fresh coat of paint can make a beat-up old dresser look good as new! If putting in a little elbow grease can save hundreds and yield a pretty big payoff for your time, DIY is a no-brainer. But if you’re spending two weeks meticulously constructing a decorative birdcage out of recycled wire hangers or whittling pallet boards into toothpicks, you might want to reconsider your approach, because doing it yourself may be unnecessary and a waste of time.

2. When you need to buy 17 new tools to do so

DIY tools
If you need hundreds of dollars of supplies or a garage full of brand-new tools to complete even the simplest project, DIY may end up costing more and being more wasteful than the alternative. Image Credit: Stock-Asso / Shutterstock

We all know those DIY-ers who have entire rooms filled with supplies that they bought for one project two years ago, the wood workshop constructed to house the shelves full of tools and materials needed to make that one birdhouse, the fabric table and cutting tools used for a single failed foray into quilting.

Of course, every new project you take on will require a few supplies to complete, but if you need hundreds of dollars of supplies or a garage full of brand-new tools to complete even the simplest project, DIY may end up costing more and being more wasteful than the alternative. Remember that the DIY craze was born out of a desire to simplify, to save time and money and reduce waste. Splurging on one-time-use tools and supplies fulfills none of these criteria. Consider renting tools to cut down on unnecessary expenses and possessions, or simply outsourcing the parts of a project that need specialized equipment.

Remember, you can achieve both of cost savings and waste reduction by shopping secondhand — no hammer or glue gun required. When you shop at garage sales, thrift stores or consignment shops, you give an item another life and avoid the packaging you’d have to dispose of had you purchased a new item. Especially with the return of shabby chic, Scandi and boho decor trends, having older furniture or unfinished wood with a bit of character beat into it looks better and better every day.

Avoiding DIY in favor of buying secondhand (or even new in some instances) can be more efficient and a better use of your time — freeing you up to take on bigger challenges with greater payoffs. If you’re DIY-ing for the simple joy of it, go ahead. But there’s no shame in outsourcing a complex job to someone who can do it quicker and better.

Lastly, and an added bonus  when you buy things secondhand, you can easily see how they’ve held up to the test of time, and easily find quality-made items, rather than buying big-box store junk that disintegrates after mere months of use.

3. When you’re in over your head

DIY carpentry
If one of your friends is into DIY, ask them if they’d consider taking on a project for you. Image Credit: Carlos andre Santos / Shutterstock

There are some things that simply shouldn’t be DIY. Electrical work, for one. If a project requires intricate scrollwork etching or you’re looking at taking on an elaborate flooring job that outstrips your skill level, there are plenty of experts willing to help and do the job safely and effectively.

When you pay an expert, you’re not only paying for their skill, you’re buying their expertise, too. There are some things that experts know that us DIY-ers simply don’t — for example, all those pallet wood projects. Many pallets are treated with harmful chemical compounds to enable them to resist water and mold, so while DIY-ers are eagerly building garden boxes and headboards with upcycled pallets, an expert might warn about the potential dangers of doing so and suggest a less toxic alternative.

I absolutely love transforming old furniture and creating things, but I’m often limited by my small space how many origami paper crane mobiles does one lady need? Therefore, I would jump at the chance to flex my DIY muscles for a friend, especially if I got the chance to pamper my hands with a manicure after all that hard work.

If one of your friends is into DIY, ask them if they’d consider taking on a project for you. You provide and pay for the materials and they can get their hands dirty. Depending on their preference and how much time it will take, you can offer to provide compensation either by returning the favor in an area you excel at (changing their oil or doing their taxes) or with a nice meal, a spa gift card, or even a bottle of wine or case of beer. This is the shared economy at its finest.

Admitting you’ve bitten off more than you can chew can also save you money. Admitting when you’re in over your head and knowing your limits means you won’t be taking on (and ruining) projects that might then need to be redone by pros in the end, anyway.

Alternate Markets

If your friends are just as DIY-averse as you are, and you’re looking for something specific that you won’t be able to find secondhand, I do still have one more option up my sleeve!

Conventional big-box stores and shopping malls aren’t the only places to buy things; try to find what you’re looking for at local stores, craft fairs or farmers markets. Supporting local artisans is incredibly important, and you’ll likely form a connection with the seller rather than simply dealing with a bored retail cashier.

If none of these turn up the object of your affections, try going online to a site like Etsy.

  • The site caters primarily to crafters, and you can narrow down your search to your country or city (a great idea since Etsy changed its terms to allow third-party manufacturing and many items are now, unfortunately, mass-produced overseas).
  • Etsy is fantastic because even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you can contact a seller and request a custom-made item, often for no additional charge.
  • Etsy is my go-to spot for hard-to-find items or things I simply can’t make myself. I recently bought a purse upcycled from an old leather jacket, just what I was looking for and, since I can’t sew, definitely outside my skill set.

Finally, if you’re on the fence about whether to DIY, especially for big projects like home repairs or renovations, there’s a site called Diyornot that provides information on thousands of projects, including time estimates for doing it yourself versus hiring a pro, and the rough costs of DIY versus hiring it out. Being able to see a side-by-side comparison of this information can go a long way to help you determine whether the 47 hours a project would take you is really worth saving $150.

4. When you simply don’t want to

Casual man lying on floor using tablet pc for DIY instructions
There are actually “next-best options” — environmentally and financially — to DIY when you simply don’t want to go there. Image Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

Just because DIY is trendy right now doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon, too. Especially if you know that it’s not a great match for your personality or skill level. Supporting others — crafters, handymen/women and renovation professionals — in their efforts has the potential to be just as impactful as if you did it yourself, especially if you make an effort to source eco-friendly materials and support those who have green business practices.

So, in this era of Pinterest projects and upcycling, there are actually “next-best options’ — environmentally and financially — to DIY when you simply just don’t want to go there. DIY is not for everyone, and even when the enthusiasm is there, the reasons to do so might not be.

Feature image courtesy of donatas1205 / Shutterstock

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.