What is the Meaning of DIY and What Does DIY Stand For?

Ask the vast majority of people ‘what do the letters DIY stand for’ and they’ll tell you without hesitation it means ‘do it yourself’. But these days, DIY is more than just changing a plug, building a flat-pack wardrobe or regrouting the bathroom. In this article we’ll give you our definition of DIY.

14 March 2023

To define DIY according to the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘the activity of decorating, building, and making repairs at home by oneself rather than employing a professional.’

In the interests of fairness, we also consulted the Cambridge Dictionary which has a similar answer when we looked up the DIY meaning. They say:

‘DIY is the activity of decorating or repairing your home, or making things for your home yourself, rather than paying someone else to do it for you.’

We know the answer to the question ‘what does DIY stand for’ so let’s look below the surface and try to get to the true definition of DIY. First though, we’ll take a look at the history of DIY.

The History of DIY

Tool selection! (Photo: Traimak_Ivan via Getty Images)

DIY in one form or another has been carrying on uninterrupted throughout history. The earliest hominids made their own tools and eventually this morphed into shelters. As materials and knowledge got more sophisticated, so did the DIY projects. Of course it wasn’t called DIY back then.

Today, everything is online. From choosing the right paintbrush to building a house from scratch, you can find someone who will tell you how to do it yourself, but when did we start following instructions?

Perhaps the first DIY project as we’d recognise it today was uncovered by archaeologists in Italy. They unearthed a temple-like structure dating from around 2,600 years ago that was accompanied with detailed building instructions.

In the 1680s, a book called Mechanik Exercises described how people could do joinery at home. At the start of the twentieth century in America, magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science Monthly answered the question on everyone’s lips; ‘what does DIY stand for?’

By the 1950s, DIY was in the common parlance. More and more people were taking on home improvement projects and there were plenty of magazines available to guide people through the ins and outs of home maintenance. Later, more books and magazines, and eventually TV shows, videos, DVDs and the internet showed us what to do and how to do it.

Latterly, online platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok have come to define DIY, or at least redefine DIY. There are also thousands upon thousands of websites and blogs that will show you anything from changing the washer on a tap to living off grid.

What Does DIY Stand For?

DIY crafting (Photo: Vanessa Shaushkin / EyeEm via Getty Images)

In the literal sense we’ve answered that question but as we said, DIY is no longer just about doing practical things around the house.

In a broader sense, the definition of DIY is all things to all people. For some it means what it has always meant, painting bedrooms, assembling flat-pack furniture, putting up shelves and general home maintenance.

For others, it means making things at home like cakes, candles, bath bombs, jewellery and a million and one arts and crafts ideas.

What about writing and self-publishing music or books? Making your own clothes or designing birthday and Christmas cards for family and friends?

The true DIY meaning is then different for everyone.

When Old Becomes New

Upcycling (Photo: Dougal Waters via Getty Images)

One of the most recent evolutions in the definition of DIY is upcycling. This involves taking something unused, unwanted or coming to the end of its original life and transforming it into something new and interesting. For lots of people, this answers the question ‘what does DIY stand for’.

It could be as simple as giving an old chest of drawers or a wardrobe a lick of paint and some new funky handles, turning an old watering can into a super-cool desk lamp, kids’ wellies into plant pots or even an old suitcase into a coffee table.

It’s a form of recycling and one more way to define DIY. Upcycling is a great way to care for the environment and help to ensure a sustainable future.

Next time you’ve got a bedroom to paint or old furniture to restore, stop and think for a moment. Do you call someone who’ll charge you the earth or do you think to yourself ‘what do the letters DIY stand for?’


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