I’m not very good at fixing things.
This inability has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Nothing is more frustrating than reading “THREE EASY STEPS!” on the package of your new Venetian blinds and then failing to progress beyond step one. To my credit, installing blinds actually takes about eight steps that have been condensed into three for the purpose of making it sound easier than it is, with several pertinent details omitted (like what to do when the plaster chips away and the blinds fall down).
But mostly, I just don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
My father was the fix-it man around my house when I was a kid. An engineer by training, he had a knack for taking 2x4s and assembling them into highly useful objects. He built the deck, the staircase railing, the wheelchair ramp, my brother’s bed and a bookshelf. He even built a boardwalk out back so that we could walk down to the creek — not to mention that he dug out the creek to create a fork that formed a mini island to which he built a bridge. And, of course, none of his work looked homemade. Like everything else my father endeavored (or so it seemed to my young mind), his woodworking was graced with both perfectionism and professionalism.
He inherited his handiness from his father, who made, among many other things, a copper pot rack and several stained-glass lampshades. But unlike my father, I never really had the chance to learn many DIY skills from my dad. By the time he passed away, he had taught me the basics: how to sand wood, how to hammer a nail and how to know when to use a Phillip’s head or a flathead screwdriver. But you can’t very well teach a nine-year-old everything she will need to know when she becomes a homeowner later in life. At that age, I was far more interested in making mud pies out of the sawdust that spewed from his table saw than I was in learning how to hang Venetian blinds or patch holes in lathe and plaster.
So now I’m learning all of these things without his help. Tears and profanities are often involved, but I’m slowly making progress. The lessons I’ve learned to date:
- Silicone dries faster than you might think. Do not wait until you’ve applied it to the entire wall of bath tiles before you smooth it out.
- Many products you might buy for your house contain instructions and hardware for mounting onto drywall. If your walls are made of lathe and plaster, you may need additional hardware and you definitely will need a drill. Drywall anchors don’t exactly push their way through wood.
- A clogged garbage disposal does not require the help of a plumber. All you need is a really big Allen wrench. Insert it into the hole on the underside of the disposal and turn. (There — I saved you $75.)
- On a similar note, if your dishwasher starts to back up, you also probably do not need the help of a plumber. Instead, use a fitting to secure the drainage tube to the top of the underside of your counter top. (Another $75 — plus another $200 if you first make the mistake of a calling a bad plumber who punches a bunch of holes in your walls and yet doesn’t fix the problem.)
- It’s probably best to hang your blinds from the window frame rather than the lathe and plaster. They’re just too damn heavy.
- Read all supplied instructions before beginning your project. (By the way, this also applies to recipes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself halfway through making dinner only to read, “Place bowl in the refrigerator for 24 hours.” FML.)
- When in doubt, call a handy friend.
Next lesson on the docket:
- Patching: AKA repairing the damage you’ve caused to your walls thanks to your failure to hang blinds.