The Bricoleur (or why it’s good to become a regular MacGuyver)

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter”

Bill Mollison (Grandfather of Permaculture)

Bricolage is the French art of using what is at hand.  The skill and capability of the bricoleur turns the unwanted into something of value. Thus resources are endlessly recycled into an ever increasing array of products, tools, solutions and equipment.

I am a novice bricoleur. I don’t know why I have gravitated towards this way of living. Perhaps I watched too many MacGuver episodes as a kid (that would be exactly one). Perhaps I have hoarder tendencies? More I think this relates to an appreciation that our linear production and disposal chain is very brittle. We have very cheap disposable products now, but our children inherit a heavily polluted world where resources and materials will be very scarce. It’s like we are in a giant race to turn beautiful natural things into toxic spent junk!

In part I’d like to pass the homemade bricoleur torch to my son who I hope will have sympathy for healthy natural ecology and the skills to turn trash back into treasure. I also think the process of father and son out in the shed learning how to solve family problems with found materials will be more educational, interesting and beneficial for both of us than watching cartoons on TV or playing the video game Warcraft together (from two different rooms in the house).

I now measure my life in terms of what I can produce as opposed to what I will buy. With every bricolage success and every failure, my sphere of knowledge and skill expands. Even failure makes me more confident in my ability to fix, repair or reuse the things that I have found around my cheeky little hamlet. I say cheeky because I don’t stop at the boundaries of my property. Like a magpie bird that collects shiny trinkets I will happily reconnoiter and recover things from around the neighbourhood that are being wasted.

My goal is not to become entirely self sufficient. That seems unattainable and lonely. Instead I am looking to revive the abilities of my grandfather and my father and pass them along to my son. It wasn’t so long ago that all families were engaged in bricolage as a core component of everyday life.  Our recent ancestors were bricoleurs of the finest caliber. Their innovation, invention and husbandry skills allowed them to tame nature in small family bands. Waste not want not was their motto, but we have forgotten how to make our own beer, how to build a new wardrobe, how to make vinegar, how to compost or how to harvest our grey water.

We need to overcome our waste a lot want a lot culture and rediscover the bricoleur in us all.

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