Extreme DIY: Columbus communities seek self-reliance

  • Photo by Jodi Miller
    Danielle Allison.
By Columbus Alive
From the January 12, 2012 edition

The do-it-yourself attitude in Columbus is trickling beyond arts and crafts and garden plots. Extreme DIY is using what’s already in your home to make something practical such as cleaning supplies, toiletries or cosmetics — a DIYer is an eco-conscious MacGyver meets a budget-savvy Martha Stewart. Tools of the trade include kitchen staples like baking soda, vinegar, oil and fruit peels.

And for some people, handymen and handywomen of a hammer-free sort, being “extreme” is not that extreme at all. For various reasons, this is everyday life.

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In 2008, author Rob Hopkins published his manifesto “The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience.” The book outlined how to create a “Transition community,” a neighborhood of individuals working together to live sustainably.

At its root is self-reliance. Go local. Go green. Go happy.

Nearly four years later, the Transition Initiative has gone viral, spreading to communities in 14 different countries.

“Part of this generation, part of this whole wave of people, are people who are informed and are looking for answers and connectivity, and they’re willing to step into the responsibilities that awareness brings up. And those responsibilities are huge,” said Mary Cunnyngham, executive director of local eco-friendly nonprofit Simply Living.

Cunnyngham would know. Simply Living was promoting Transition Initiative mantras before transition was a proper noun. The group started in Columbus in 1992 after an Earth Day event.

“Simply Living allows me to express and live my values,” said co-founder Chuck Lynd. “We use the word ‘joyful’ a lot in our mission and vision. That’s how we live.”

Living joyfully for Lynd included DIYing when possible, and if Simply Living’s longevity and current base of more than 700 members is any indication, other people wanted to live that way, too.

“We’re the grandmother of a lot of other sustainability organizations in central Ohio,” Cunnyngham said.

Simply Living’s leaders have been pleasantly impressed with a demographic increasingly interested in what the group has to say about living clean, green and locally lean: young Columbus.

“The thing that is really attracting younger people is the concept of re-skilling,” Cunnyngham said. “That’s the idea of renewing and relearning things like knitting and canning. Things that provide a greater sense of self-sufficiency. Simpler crafts that take you back to what you started with. Young people are asking us about things like using lemons, baking soda, things like that around the house as opposed to buying chemically or expensive products.”

Lynd and Cunnyngham added that many of their members are looking for fellowship. With a younger generation less inclined to become involved in organized religion, Simply Living’s social gatherings are “a kind of alternative to maybe a strictly religious community,” Cunnyngham said. “It’s about making lifestyle choices as opposed to making dogmatic choices. It’s a way of living, to tread lightly. It’s a way of being a little more inclusive. It’s just a matter of intentionality.”

Beyond the philosophical aspects of extreme DIYing lies a more practical one. Making your own supplies with what you already have can save money.

“A lot of ‘green’ comes from frugality and thrift. Living as a college student, I started doing the recycling and some of that to save money. Then it became more about making less of an impact and being healthy,” said Danielle Allison, treasurer of Green Columbus and founder of the blog GreenSpotGirl.com. “And sometimes it’s more convenient. You already have those things lying around the house. Like air freshener — just throw orange peels and cinnamon sticks in a pot of water while you’re cleaning.”

There are business opportunities in this way of life, too. Earth’s Crust Pizza and the Krazy Monkey JuiceBar owner Michelle Taphorn, for example, recently started a business called Dirty Girl Cleaners that uses homemade or environmentally friendly cleaning supplies to de-dirty clients’ homes.

Taking these further steps to be self-sufficient and eco-friendly might just be the next level in the DIY chain of command.

“[Columbus organization] Local Matters has been re-teaching people how to grow their own food. It’s shown us that this may seem difficult, but people used to do this all the time and you really save money,” Allison said. “Seeing empty city lots turn into fresh gardens really makes you realize you need to be self-sufficient and not rely entirely on someone else.”

Back to the basics. Help your neighbor. What’s old is new again.

“I grew up in the ’60s. We were just amazed that the world didn’t change overnight,” Lynd said. “But I think we set in motion a lot of change, and now it will be even more so. People are ready.”