Some Assembly Required

Written by Karen Jessee. Posted in Organizing.

"If the box on this year’s Christmas present uses "some Assembly required", you might want to be fully armed and dressed for battle"

When I was growing up and my mother would announce that she would have to call someone to fix or assemble something, my father would respond with the typical male growl,

“ That’s ridiculous; I can do it.” 

This always translated into: “ First, I’m going out to spend a lot of money on tools that I’m only going to use once.” Hours later, he would return from the store hauling in the hardware to do the job right.
I could never hang around to watch how my father did things because the scene usually became dramatic rather quickly, sending everyone into hiding.  Minutes into any project, my father would begin to sweat, swearing about the directions, the product, or that his purchase was missing parts.   Sometimes his endeavors involved another trip to the hardware store.   Sometimes  something else got broken too.  Sometimes his efforts involved bandages.  Once, they required a trip to the hospital and stitches.  They always involved more time than he had allotted to do the task, which only added to the sweat and the swearing.  Somehow, the job got done right, and he had yet more tools to add to his growing collection.


When my father passed away, I chose the toolboxes and tools I thought I might need to keep my own home together. Designing and working in theatres had taught me how to use tools and assemble things; I considered myself somewhat capable and handy.
One Christmas, I decided that as a gift to myself I would simplify my bathroom.   I was sure a set of spring-loaded, corner shelves in the bathtub would be the perfect solution for dealing with cleanliness.  My toiletries would be elevated in one corner and not scattered around the surface of the tub.  And... it would be easy to assemble.  Every box of those shelves said so.
The first set of shelves had to be returned; a part was missing.  I spent more money at a different store for a better set.  They had to be returned; a part was missing. With the third set opened, complete, and scattered across the bed, I read the directions and began assembling the unit.  I noted that some of the pieces should be placed with the arrow facing up.  Reading glasses, a magnifying a halogen lamp, and a flashlight failed to reveal any arrows; I resorted to common sense.

Now assembled, the unit failed to move gracefully from the bedroom to the bathroom.  It really depended on that spring tension to keep it together, and without it would insist on falling apart, loudly scattering in different directions.  After the third attempt and the third failure, my patience vanished.
Swearing and sweating, I tried a new approach and carried the unit into the bathroom like a javelin.  Moments away from success, I placed the unit into the tub, and shoved the spring-loaded tube against the ceiling.  The unit was too long. I dragged it away from the ceiling and it fell apart into four segments, clattering loudly in the tub. Small print disclosed that should the unit not fit, cutting of the small inner tubing would be involved. Searching through my father’s toolbox, I found a measuring tape, hacksaw and vice grips.  The cut was successful. A return trip to the bathroom, however, revealed that a city home and its bathtub do not have to conform to any specifications given on the box. The outer metal tube was too long. More cutting of different gauge metal would be required. I needed a different blade.  I yanked out the shelving again;  it fell apart noisily.
Returning from the hardware store,  I looked again at the elegant picture on the box.  There was no hint of the frustration and torture involved in assembling these shelves whose ultimate function was to hold fragrant shampoos and puffy body scrubbers. The claims “easy to assemble”  and “in no time at all” had become pronouncements of doom, right up there with “this won’t hurt” and “the water is fine.”
Many hours, two different saws, a broken flowerpot and band aid later, my spring-loaded pole unit with its four shelves was snuggled perfectly into the corner of the bathtub. I arranged my fragrances and soaps, pleased  that the results were  finally what I had wanted.  But most importantly, I had returned stuff, broken something else, hurt myself,  bought tools, and learned what “some assembly required” really means.    My father would have been proud. 



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