The grand cleanup #705

#705 in a series of true experiences in real estate

We have some new clients whose house is exceptionally orderly and more than that, immaculately clean. I love going there. It feels so good to be there with everything very clean and in its proper place. But when I come home, my place looks bad by comparison, and this is probably why I recently embarked on a grand clean-up.

I started in the basement where there are a garage, recreation room and furnace room. These spaces contain quite a lot of stuff including boxes of kindling for my fireplace, tools, holiday decorations, extra furniture and many other items that I can’t seem to let go of: my children’s baby clothes, for instance.

I made big progress at first. It was fairly easy for me to reduce by about half my collection of clothes I haven’t worn for some years, and I found quite a few old Easter baskets and cookie tins that I stacked neatly on one side of the garage to give away.

I was feeling great. Everything was still a mess and there was still way too much of it, but I had newly boxed belongings all packed and labeled, and a big vision of the clean, open spaces to come. Now I needed a spot to neatly store my boxes. I needed, I decided, some new shelves.

Home Depot has a variety of shelves for sale: press board and metal shelving (very heavy, hard to get home), units made of plastic (the shelf spacing, unfortunately, can’t be adjusted), and steel shelves that come in a box ready for assembly. These last cost only $30 and, while not very pretty, I thought they’d do fine. I bought two, thinking I might go back later for more.

Anet enjoys organization, perhaps even more than I, and she is infinitely better at reading and following instructions for putting parts of things together and so, one afternoon she eagerly opened the first of the two boxes of steel shelving. Anet’s humming wasn’t audible, but I knew she was humming nonetheless. She could hardly wait to whip those shelves together.

And that is what I expected to happen. I was anxious to get the assembly over so I could rush on to completion of my project: lining up my boxes on the shelves, then standing back to admire the orderly picture.

In addition to the shelves and posts, the box contained a number of plastic bags full of bolts and nuts, some little plastic things to attach to the “feet” of the posts and some skinny pieces of metal for cross bracing. Anet laid all the pieces out and began to read the instructions. Already impatient, I got out the boxes of baby clothes, exclaiming over them, holding up a few to show to Anet. She murmured in my direction, plainly not interested in cooing over baby clothes, then went off to find the electric screwdriver and the socket wrenches.

For half an hour or more, Anet fiddled with the posts which come in two pieces, the holes in each intended to line up before being joined with the bolts and nuts. Now it was time to attach the shelves. I stopped fooling with the baby clothes, grabbed a few bolts and screws, and prepared to pop the first bolt into the appropriate holes. But the holes didn’t line up. Anet and I pushed and pulled, succeeded in starting the bolt, wiggled the metal some more, and finally got the bolt through. Now the nut needed to be screwed on, but it wouldn’t go. There wasn’t enough clearance; our fingers wouldn’t fit, nor was there room for the socket wrench.

In order to reach the holes where the bolts belonged, uncomfortable body contortions were necessary. One or the other of us lay on the cold concrete floor, legs flung out behind. We reached over our heads or under our arms to insert or tighten the fasteners. Much of the time we couldn’t even see what we were doing.

And so it went for the rest of the 3,000 or 5,000 – whatever the number – of bolts and nuts needed to put those shelves together.

Three very long, tiresome hours later, Anet said, “It kind of takes the fun out of cleaning the garage, doesn’t it?” We were looking at one, somewhat rickety, but upright and standing, set of shelves. The instructions state emphatically that all the nuts and bolts should be tightened only after the entire unit is together, so we still had that left to do.

We had added pliers and a hammer to our tools, the hammer for banging bolts, the pliers for squeezing metal into place. Our fingers were sore. We’d found that a number of parts were missing; simply not included in the kit. Bracing pieces, for instance, had come up short. There were supposed to be 8 braces, but only 5 were supplied. This was actually ok because we couldn’t have used more. The bolts were too short to join the metal pieces together.

Now that Anet had been reminded, she started reminiscing about other assembly projects she’d been involved in: the bicycle she put together once. From what Anet was saying, the bicycle was a hard one. But nothing like the granddaddy of all assembly puzzles, a German press wood desk. The instructions for the desk were in German and the measurements, metric.

“I’m sure glad I didn’t get 6 shelving units,” I said, and we laughed. “How much more do you think it would be worth to get shelves pre-assembled?” I asked. “Well, the non-adjustable plastic ones for $20 more are looking pretty good,” Anet answered, and we laughed some more.

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