Do It Yourself or How Not to Build a Bookshelf
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

Do It Yourself or How Not to Build a Bookshelf

Some Assembly Required: Chana relays the trials and tribulations of home improvement.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

Full of self-confidence and boredom (never a prudent combination), I ordered a flat-pack bookshelf online. Don’t worry. I am not a novice in the do-it-yourself universe (I have the bruised fingers to prove it), and I was pleased that by building the bookshelf myself, I would save more than $100, which was an additional fee for a fully-assembled similar piece.

Even though it took more than a month for the flat-pack to arrive, I was full of spunk and great expectations when I opened the package. There was a slight blip, however; I had ordered the shelf unit in faux mahogany wood, but the pack I received was black laminate. Fortunately, “flexibility” is my DIY middle name, and I understand that mix-ups that originate in foreign countries do happen from time to time. I wasn’t picky, so I decided to keep the black laminate and not go to the trouble of repacking and returning my kit, likely delaying the replacement delivery another month or more. I was rarin’ to go.

Online, the kit assembly had looked simple enough, and I eased myself into my DIY zone, an alternate universe which is so often comprised of 90 percent optimism and 10 percent reality. Unfortunately, the sheet of directions was in foreign languages on both sides. But the instructions were illustrated, so I was still feeling capable and hopeful, determined to maintain my cheery outlook.

I laid all the nine pieces on the living room floor and identified the pieces and hardware according to the pictures. This took a long time because all the pieces looked the same, and I had no recourse but to distinguish the pieces according to their pre-drilled holes for screws. Then, when I had everything in order, I began.

When I was finished, I had some screws and one shelf (I think it was a shelf) left over, and I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong.

I’m not a quitter (although I did give up learning to drive a school bus in the 1980s). Therefore, I took the whole thing apart and laid out all the pieces again. I got it put together, but, in this round of assembling, my project came out lopsided.

Upon closer scrutiny, I saw that I had used one of the shelves as a supporting end. Another disassembly ensued. I’m embarrassed to admit that I considered throwing up my hands and getting back to the cheesy novel I was reading; I felt a disturbing wave of self-doubt creeping in, but instead of giving in to my obvious incompetence, I decided to break for a restorative bowl of left-over pasta, then I resolutely returned to my project. Now I had only one aim: conquer the enemy. I filled my bowl with more pasta and took it with me, for sustenance, to the construction site.

My husband, who is smart enough to stay away from me when I’m DIY-ing, had been surreptitiously watching me with poorly-guarded looks that meant “Give up, already,” and his vocalized advice, although it had merit, was not appreciated: “Stuff the pieces in the box, and throw the whole thing away. It looks like you’re nearing a total meltdown, and you’ve had enough pasta.” Naturally, this emboldened me to prevail over him and the nine-piece hurdle seductively luring me back to the living room floor.

I tried again and failed. There are times in battle, alas, when one needs to call in reinforcements, and I was considering whom to call, when — miracle of miracles– one of our daughters came by to drop off a chair for my scrutiny before taking it to Goodwill (family members know not to give anything away which I, committed do-it-yourselfer, could put to good use some day.)

In spite of my husband’s fatherly warning to her to get out fast, as I sat back and packed on the carbs, my daughter agreed to take a look at my project. She, of course, put the whole thing together lickety-split, and took her leave. Her parting words were, “Mom, that pasta’s not good for you. Stop.”

After finishing the pasta (there wasn’t much left), I moved the finished bookshelf to its designated location and was glad I had saved $100. In case you’re wondering, I would have offered the $100 to my daughter if she hadn’t mentioned the pasta.

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