What’s worth making?

I’ve been thinking about what’s worth making and what’s worth buying. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy finished products used (or even new) than to buy the raw materials to make my own, especially in terms of common clothes and accessories. On the other hand, there are benefits to using and developing my DIY skills, such as cooking and sewing (and maybe eventually woodworking again).

Thinking about my considerations for that make vs. buy decision can help me improve those decisions. If I can make that “make” decision better, I can benefit from improved skills, more satisfaction, and possible savings. If I can make that “buy” decision better, I can take advantage of the capabilities of industries. Here are some factors that nudge me towards making things instead of buying them.

When something is much more expensive to buy than to make: Considering the quantities I use, the characteristics I want, and the cost of raw materials and time, it can be much cheaper to make things than to buy them. Cooking generally falls into this category. Sometimes sewing does too, especially if I can use fabric from sales or the thrift store.

When I want to adjust for personal fit, taste, or needs: It’s been nice to enjoy our favourite meals without being limited to what’s offered in restaurants. I also like being able to make several copies of simple blouses that fit me well in colours and fabrics that appeal to me, instead of trawling through stores to find the intersections of fit, style, fabric, colour/pattern, and price.

For that extra bit of satisfaction: I feel a little more satisfied when I enjoy something I’ve made compared to something I’ve simply bought. I’ve noticed this with the clothes I wear and the meals I make, and I’m looking forward to enjoying this even more as I learn how to make accessories.

When something is difficult to find: It’s often hard to find the things I want in store. Sometimes even online searching can be a hassle, especially with international shipping.

Independence from market trends and frustrating shopping experiences: Along those lines, it’s nice to be able to skip noisy malls and arbitrary trends.

Conversation starters and identity signallers: There’s a less of this because I don’t usually pay extra for novelty prints (well, aside from that Marvel comics one! =) ). I don’t feel the need to wear my geekiness on my sleeve – it usually comes out pretty quickly in conversation anyway. Still, it’s fun to infuse a little bit of personality into the things I make, like adding a cat-shaped pocket to a peasant blouse or making things that match each other. Who knows, maybe it will lead to interesting conversations with other crafters.

Convenience, not having to search: A well-stocked pantry lets us make something we like without having to look for a restaurant that’s open with the kind of food we might want to eat at the moment. Likewise, I want to eventually develop an organized stash of flexible, easy-to-coordinate fabric so that I can make things as needed (ex: apparel cotton, flannel, lining, knit, PUL). I haven’t quite sorted out my system yet, and I tend to do things in single colours/patterns because I’m not confident about coordinating. Someday, though!

Gifts: I’m pretty meh about giving and receiving gifts. It’s better when things are consumable or home-made, or preferably both. =)

Developing skills and appreciation: The more I make things, the more I learn about how things are constructed. This helps me appreciate the things around me, and it might even help me make those buying decisions more effectively.

Fuel for thinking/writing/sharing: Experiments in making things can often be turned into blog posts and ideas.

Ethical considerations: Although manufacturing can be good for the economic growth of developing countries, I’m not too comfortable with ethical issues in factories for clothing or other consumer goods. Besides, I like the waste reduction of repurposing things that might otherwise be trashed or turned into rags.

The intrinsic enjoyment of the activity: Cooking is fun, especially when W- and I cook together. Sewing is starting to be pretty fun too. It has its frustrating moments, but I’m starting to build up a good stash of “Look! This actually works!” memories.

In terms of decisions to buy instead of make:

  • There are things I definitely don’t have the skills or materials to make, so that’s an easy “buy” decision.
  • If I could make it, but it’s much cheaper and easier to buy things, then I might put off making them.
  • I tend to put off buying things if I know I can buy them inexpensively on short notice. I’ll wait until I have a clear need for them, since it’s often better to make do than to have more than we need.
  • I’ll buy in advance if I have a clear idea of our usage, or if there’s a good enough sale that I’m comfortable with the trade-offs.

Sometimes I also consider the question: “What else could I be doing with this energy, time, and money?” My life is pretty flexible at the moment, so it’s usually a choice of:

  • doing more consulting: good for building up skills and savings, but can be too tempting compared to the long-term value of other activities
  • doing something else in the real world: other DIY things, taking care of chores/errands/exercise
  • coding or learning something intangible: automating parts of my life, developing skills
  • thinking/drawing/writing about stuff: good for understanding, remembering, and connecting

There’s time enough for a little bit of everything, so I don’t worry too much about the decisions moment by moment. Still, it’s nice to be clear about the factors to consider so that I can recognize them more easily when they come up. =)

Based on our enjoyment of DIY videos on YouTube, I think I’ll enjoy a life that’s tilted even more towards making things. It would be awesome to be able to think spatially and draft my own patterns, and maybe get more into laser cutting, 3D-printing, and woodworking too.

We’ll see how things go!