Ground down and screwed up? You’ve got the wrong lifestyle

First published in SMH in 2001

Put away the drill and polisher – judgment day for DIY fanatics draws near, writes Julie Ihle .

The other day I arrived at my sister’s place and found her renovating the fridge. That’s when I knew something was wrong. This is the woman who wouldn’t know a polished floorboard if it poked her in the eye and thinks a pergola is some kind of coffee.

She was sitting on the kitchen floor, one hand on the fridge door, one hand on the fridge seal crying out help. She had been trying to change the seal in her fridge – “But it looked so easy when Noni Hazlehurst did it,” she wailed.

That really is the problem – lifestyle programs make it look so easy. They make it look as though whipping up a zen fountain or remodelling the freezer can be done by a couple of preschoolers standing on their head. And it made me wonder how many other people all across Sydney at that moment were trying to reseal the fridge and crying tears of frustration into the ice-cream.

Yet, still we tune in by the truckload. So what is it about lifestyle programs that has us so hooked? What is the big attraction?

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Sure, Noni Hazlehurst looks just like the earth mum you never had, sure Suzie Wilks looks cute in a pair of hiking boots and clingy pink tee, and sure there’s a nice bit of bicep action on Backyard Blitz – but aren’t we kidding ourselves a little bit here?

Is it really worth spending years of our life on our first “reno” just so we have something in common with the neighbours? Is it really worth spending our entire weekends gluing and screwing, drilling and spilling, measuring and arguing and then spending hundreds of dollars on things we’re never going to use, like glass cutters and tile grinders?

Well, apparently it is. Because we’re all doing it, not just in Australia, but all over the world. Wherever there’s reality TV, there’s a home-grown version of Backyard Blitz, Better Homes and Gardens or Changing Rooms. Every culture has its own Noni, its own Suzie, and its own pair of biceps, but at the end of the day they pretty much all say the same thing – it’s really easy and you can do it.

But why do we even want to try? That’s what I want to know. Are our lives really too cushy and lacking challenge? Or is it a deeper longing for a more homespun existence, a kind of primeval need to feel a bit of four by two in our hand, or some throwback urge to carve our initials in clay? Or is it just that television networks are too lazy to make a drama?

My fear is that in five years, when we’ve either come to our senses or been hit on the back of the head with a piece of plywood, and are lying in our folk-art coffins, that a whole lot of home-made trashy constructions are going to come tumbling down. There will be a royal commission into DIY, and a new pack of programs hosted by another earth mum in sensible shoes and a believable-looking handyman-type on how to get rid of your dodgy home improvements.

And as for the fridge seal, we had to get the man next door to reattach it. He didn’t watch lifestyle programs – but he sure knew how to fix a fridge.

Julie Ihle is a Herald reader who can’t tell one end of a hammer from the other and has no intention of trying.

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