What Does DIY Mean? Everything You Need to Know (and How to Get Started)

published Aug 30, 2023
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Close up of a hammer pounding a nail into a picture hook on the wall
Credit: Sarah Crowley

A do-it-yourself approach to home design has likely existed for as long as people kept returning to the same four walls under one roof. But these days, it seems as if DIY — the acronym for do-it-yourself projects — is a true lifestyle. On TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and more, you’ll find intrepid homeowners and renters alike taking on DIY projects that range from tiny (doing paint touch-ups on walls) to giant (renovating an entire room).

Following their lead is easier now than ever, thanks to the tons of available resources — those aforementioned DIYers that share their know-how, plus a range of video tutorials and written step-by-steps. So it’s no wonder that when a newcomer sees a dark bathroom turned into a spa-like retreat, or salvaged furniture transformed into an expensive dupe, they eventually ask this question: Can I do that? The answer, put simply, is yes. 

Read on to learn more about what DIY is, how to get started in DIY land, and a few . Before long, you’ll feel empowered to make all sorts of changes and upgrades to make your home feel like your own.

Quick Overview

What Is DIY?

DIY stands for Do It Yourself. A DIY project is anything you can take on as a non-professional. At home, DIY projects can include painting, repairs, maintenance, upgrades, and more.

What Does DIY Actually Mean?

DIY stands for Do It Yourself. DIY describes any project you can complete as a non-professional. That doesn’t mean that you need to go in with zero prep, though: DIY projects will usually require some research beforehand to execute correctly and safely. DIY YouTube channels are a great place to start. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

How to Get Started with DIY

When you’re ready to become a do-it-yourself aficionado, otherwise known as a DIYer, it’s important to carve out a path that’ll speak to your passions — that way, you’re more likely to stick with it. 

If you love to paint, for instance, maybe you can work on creating a mural or accent wall in a room. Someone who appreciates vintage furniture may be interested in restoring it, just as a peer whose passion is penny-pinching may love to learn about the secondhand-to-sell circuit. And for one last example, maybe textiles are more your speed. In that case, sewing, embroidery, or upholstering may be your lane of choice. The most important part? Settling on a subject matter, if only to settle your nerves.

“I’m definitely a creative person,” says Alex Onsager, CEO and co-founder of Character. “I love drawing and I still play with LEGOs. I love the creative part of making things on your own, and the improvisation that happens as you build it.”

Onsager grew up in a family of DIYers, and was always improving his surroundings as an adult. “Most of my DIY projects have been improvements to the apartments I lived in over the years, and more recently, improvements I’ve made to my first home,” he says. “This has included hanging pictures and shelves, replacing light fixtures, installing new faucets, restoring furniture, building tables, and lots of painting.”

Follow DIYers who are creating things that you’d like to do, and then pick one or two for now. One great place to start: websites with DIY project ideas and tutorials.

Types of DIY Projects

Still not sure where you’d like to devote your DIY skills or what types of DIY projects interest you? Check out these types of DIY projects that you can attempt and then perfect.

  • Needlework or fiber arts: Needlework includes cross-stitching and embroidery. Fiber arts include knitting, crocheting, punch-needling, and so on.
  • Repairs: Fixing or restoring broken appliances and technology.
  • Painting: Covering a wall or a canvas with your choice of colors.
  • Photography: Taking pictures of nature, friends, or family and printing them according to your color and crop selections.
  • Decor: Arranging wreaths for a front door, arranging a bouquet of faux flowers, spray painting objects, and so on.
  • Building furniture: Constructing a piece from scratch or using IKEA as a starting point for a DIY favorite, the IKEA hack.
  • Installation: Hanging shelves, changing out light fixtures, updating hardware, and so on. 

Take Onsager’s advice as you consider your options. “Do the projects that you are most excited about,” he says. “When I moved into my first home, I wanted to make the interior of the home look less dated, so I did all the most visually striking projects first — wiring in new light fixtures, swapping out my old faucet for a more modern one, and painting my office.”

He says that you can build your confidence with projects that can be done, from start to finish, on a weekend afternoon. “Start small and work your way up to bigger renovations,” Onsager continues. “And do-it-yourself does not mean do it alone. Ask a friend who has done the project before to come over, and ask for help when you need it.”

Credit: South_agency/ Getty Images

DIY Project Ideas

In order to follow through on your interest in DIY projects, read on for a few ideas pulled from Apartment Therapy’s archives. As far as tools go, Onsager recommends the following for those who want to get in the home repair lane. He advises buying a multi-bit screwdriver — “probably the most-used tool in my toolbox,” he says — a full-size hammer, a level, adjustable wrenches, and pliers. 

“As you start to do more projects, definitely get a power drill,” he adds. “A 12V battery drill has a more compact, lightweight size than power drills designed for professionals, and will be more than enough power for most DIYers.”

DIY Bookmarks

As far as a streaming-while-you-work project goes, making DIY bookmarks fits the bill. Gather the supplies and make a few on your own — or, better yet, ask a newly formed or ongoing book club to join in.

DIY Floating Shelves

DIY floating shelves maximize vertical wall space in any room of a home, and it’s possible to make your own in more ways than one.

DIY Coffee Tables

There are endless coffee tables to buy online, and sometimes, what you find isn’t exactly your style. To ensure that your coffee table reflects your tastes, see if one of these DIY coffee table options calls to you. At the very least, it’s a fun way to spend a weekend!

DIY Headboards

Your bedroom will never have hotel-ready vibes without a headboard, and there are lots of DIY headboard ideas to consider. Be sure to pick one that’ll help you rest comfortably.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

DIY Abstract Art

Creating your own DIY abstract art is an easy and budget-friendly way to add personality to a blank wall in your home, and this project suits any skill type. Pick colors that’ll complement other shades in a space for a more high-end finish.

Credit: Erin Derby

DIY Mirrors

DIY mirrors are also a cost-effective way to add practicality or art to a home, and this roundup provides six ways of going about individualizing mirrors. One note? Be extra careful when working on this one.

DIY Drawer Pulls

Creating DIY drawer pulls is a simple way to make a big-store find feel more unique. You can find a refreshing solution for each set of drawers in your home.

DIY Candles

DIY candles make for ideal gifts, and this project makes use of two familiar objects: crayons and Popsicle sticks. As long as you have a microwave on hand, you’ll have colorful scented candles in no time.

DIY Furniture Painting

Here’s a problem you’re bound to run into if you start claiming secondhand furniture: how to paint it. Thankfully, you can find plenty of creative inspiration for DIY furniture painting ideas. Who knows, you may even be compelled to sell a piece on Facebook Marketplace when you’re through.