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Lucy Mangan: Why we’re saying, ‘Bye, bye DIY’

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"Oh please. Oh please, whatever benevolent gods are out there and from whom I really ask very little on the whole – please, please, please let it be true. Rumour has it that – at last, at last, at last – the DIY boom is over. Spending on tools, tiles, paint, plaster, spanners, strimmers and the rest of the depressing list of everything that is required to makeover your home, garden and any bits of decking in between is down for the fifth year in a row and has dropped by a third overall since its peak in 2004 (even though we are still shelling out an astonishing £10.5 billion a year Doing It Ourselves).

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. At last I can hope for a summer free from the sounds of endless sawing and frantic hammering and conversations about MDF that make me want to burn any newly sanded, polished or painted houses to the ground.

More important than the external quiet I hope this new trend will bring is the internal peace I hope it may afford us all. First of all, it may lift the guilt that permeates my house every weekend as I tot up all the little jobs I could be doing and improvements that I could be making but am not. There is a cupboard door in the kitchen that has been hanging off one of its hinges for 18 months now. I know it needs just one screw to fix it, because that’s how many fell out. But where it goes, what size it should be and whether the shape of the indentations in its little head matter, I do not know. I just keep buying new saucepans so I don’t have to open the door to reach the old ones and risk the second, now overburdened, hinge going too. The totality of my lack of practical skills is outdone only by my sloth and I am shamed by both.

The makeover craze was a national game of outdoing the Joneses

But second and slightly more seriously, I welcome any sign that the makeover mania that has held the country in its grip for the last decade or so is on the wane. It has been a fundamentally unhealthy thing. Of course we all want to make the best of where we live. (Yes, even me, despite what my kitchen cupboards will tell you. I mean, I can’t attempt home improvements, not just because I’m lazy, but because I have no taste and can’t even put into words what I would like my house to look like. When we moved into our current house five years ago we painted the entire thing magnolia, put brown Ikea rugs over the worst bits of the – beige – carpet and that’s been it. People die of boredom just stepping over the threshold. If we ever invite you to dinner, don’t bother coming.) Improvement is both natural and admirable – especially in Britain, where your home is viewed as an extension of yourself, a display case not just of the things but of the values you hold dear. An Englishwoman’s home is her castle and all that, yours and yours alone. If you don’t keep it up to scratch it reflects badly on you not just as a homeowner and neighbour, but as a person. Anyone who saw my place would damn me, and rightly so.

But the DIY and makeover craze was of a different order altogether. It was a national game of outdoing the Joneses in spending money to tart up a property, turning a profit as quickly as possible before moving on without a backwards glance. It wasn’t about expressing your personality, it was about creating inoffensive, saleable homogeneity, not creating a home but bolstering an asset. And even if you didn’t wholly buy into the mania (literally or metaphorically) it still became increasingly hard not to be affected by the attitude of improve then move. We started viewing the hearth and home as a passport to something else and losing our sense of it as a sanctuary and personal refuge from the world.

Of course much of the drop in all sorts of spending is due to the effects of the economy and real, important and difficult levels of saving that changing circumstances are having on people. But perhaps the recession is also having an effect on the mindsets of the people not (yet) too heavily afflicted by it. Perhaps their ceaseless drive for bigger and better is waning because those of us lucky enough to have homes are realising that we are all right where we are. Four walls and a roof, whatever the square footage or carpet quality they enclose, are sanctuary enough."

Photo credit: Rex Features

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