This morning I sat at the kitchen counter pouring over one of the myriad of home catalogs that arrive daily. I was looking for a shelving unit and came upon what I thought would be perfect. Made of chrome it looked sturdy enough to hold the plates I had in mind. The dimensions were just right for my space, but the clincher was the words, “Easy assembly, no tools required.” My life has always been one of “assembly required”. It doesn’t matter what I do, it seems to be more labor-intense than the finished project warrants no matter what it is. So, I was relieved to find a product offering instant gratification. At least that’s what I thought as I dialed the 800 number, credit card in hand. (I like to make personal contact when ordering anything.) Not so easy. Upon second examination of the description, I found that there was too much space between the shelves, which would have been fine had I wanted it to hold books or large items, but totally wasted for holding flat plates.
While I was put on hold I noticed the copy said the shelves were adjustable in one-inch increments. The operator (or rather, “sales associate”) was most helpful when I asked if I could order extra shelves and trotted off to wherever they go to find out if this was possible. The Musak was pleasant enough and her southern accent, when she returned, made the answer more palatable. “We don’t have the number of the manufacturer and therefore can’t ask the question. Perhaps you can find it on the Internet.” I thanked her and immediately lost interest in the project. So it seems that “minimum assembly required” is fine if all things are perfect. I consoled myself with the knowledge that assembling the parts was not going to be so easy after they were spread out on my living room floor and probably a screw or some essential part would be missing and, contrary to stated myth, a tool was indeed needed and it was not included and not an item carried at my local hardware store because the product is made somewhere other than the U.S. Worst of all, the instructions undoubtedly would be written in Japanese or Chinese.
I am more comfortable with “Assembly Required” when I’m familiar with a product or a process. This is the current slogan for the Craft and Hobby Association, of which I am a member. They are most surely under the misguided assumption that there is a world of do-it-yourselfers out there that actually respond in a positive way to this sort of challenge. On a basic level I understand this way of thinking. It’s the way I’ve lived my entire life, a curse passed down to me by my mother and my grandparents. If I can do it myself it gets done, if I have to call someone else to do it, it doesn’t. Those who like to jump in and get your hands dirty know what I’m talking about. We don’t have to have any life experience with the task we’re about to tackle, but on some base level we have confidence that we can figure it out. This is fine with most things, but assembling an item that comes in a zillion pieces with directions written in a foreign language is not. Parents of small children know this better than anyone from pulling Christmas Eve all-nighters.
If the do-it-yourself approach is what makes you tick than you’re pretty much stuck with it. You’re lucky and cursed at the same time. It takes a concerted effort to turn this attitude around if you are so determined. For example, taking the shelf incident, most people would find the shelving unit that came closest to suiting their needs and order it. But the “assembly required” person looks for ways to make things difficult, if only on a subconscious level. We look at a product that might serve to make our lives easier and then go about the business of thinking how it could work better. Most of the people I know are like this because they are born of a creative nature and thrive on problem-solving, whether they know it or not. We simply can’t accept life on a simple, need–to-know basis. .
Sometimes household problems are solved in unusual ways resulting in an interesting outcome because the obvious is not all that exciting for the do-it-yourselfer. For example, in a “call in someone” household, a badly stained wooden floor would be professionally sanded and re-polyurethaned. In our house it gets painted and sponged or spattered or stenciled because we know how to do that and the obvious and easiest solution isn’t always as appealing. The problem with the do-it-yourself approach is that it takes a long time to solve the problem.
Buy it or make it? That is the question. Do-it-yourself or get someone to do it for you? Fixing a squeaky door, planting a garden, ,painting walls, caulking tile,, redecorating, refinishing an old dresser, fixing a drain pipe, hanging curtains – any one of a hundred things can seem like a nightmare or a creative challenge. Maybe a little do-it-yourself and a little let-someone-else-do it is the best of both worlds. For now I’m stuck with “assembly required”.