Sunday, April 3, 2011

Assembly Required

Whatever happened to the days when things came pretty much assembled?

I’m not talking about kids toys that parents spend all Christmas Eve assembling. Those have been around for what seems like eons! I’m talking about the everyday items that are used to furnish a home. You know, the kind where all you would have to do is open the box and attach a handle on a dresser or a set of legs for a table, couch or chair.

Back in the real old days – before I was born – you either made your own furniture or you bought it preassembled. A delivery truck would show up at your door and bring in the finished piece and even position it for you.

Even when I was younger, the delivery guys would sometimes help you take things out of the boxes for you if you asked nicely and gave them a small tip.

I remember ordering a pair of tall bookcases for my apartment back in the early 1980’s. The delivery guys brought them in and positioned them where I wanted them. All I had to do was place the adjustable shelves at the levels I wanted. I also ordered dressers that were completely assembled – even the handles were on!

Then, sadly, things started to change. Manufacturers realized that they could save money by leaving some of the assembly to the customer. That way their packaging and labour costs would be less. Shipping would also be less expensive. They assumed that most customers would embrace a slight inconvenience (read: do it yourself work) to save a little money.

They, of course were right. Who doesn’t love saving money? Most customers didn’t mind a little work and earning the right to say “I put it together myself!” Even with that bit of extra work, the directions were usually pretty good and gave even a novice a half way fighting chance of getting it done right! Of course they always left out the part about having a couple of screws left over!

Alas, time has moved on and the “Assembly Required” seems to be about the only way to buy any furniture these days. About 13 years ago, I bought a bookcase headboard that took two of us 5 hours to put together.

About 9 years ago, I bought a TV stand that took me about 5 hours to put together by myself! Okay, it took me longer because I am legally blind. Maybe the “average” person could have done it faster, but I did it and I was proud of it!

So a few weeks ago, I went shopping for a small mobile cabinet that I could use for storage and to set a lamp on beside my chair. I found one on sale for 25% off at a local Office Depot. Including taxes it would be just under $110.00. Sounded great – until I asked about assembly. Well, they could arrange for someone to come to my home and assemble it for me but it would cost $60.00!! WHAT? Seriously? I don’t think so!

I figured that I had done enough assembly before – I could do it again! Granted, I didn’t have quite as much sight or the same finger dexterity that I had even 7 or 8 years ago but how hard could it be? Well, sadly, it could be very hard. The actual pieces of the cabinet were well defined, but the hardware was packaged into a few small bags and not even labelled. There were 91 screws in five different sizes. The parts list didn’t show life size pics of the screws so you either guessed or measured to make sure you had the right ones. Not only has the complexity of DIY construction increased tenfold, the instructions have also changed. To assemble anything these days, you either need an engineering degree or at least have a sense of how to read a blue print!

The instructions were basically a series of sketches with lots of numbers and letters on them. I assume that the lack of writing was also to save paper that would be needed to print out more details in several languages. That didn’t bother me though, as I assumed that I could get more details at the web address provided. No such luck. I couldn’t even find the model number or even the cabinet on their website. Their so called “help” videos were flash animation of how to install parts that I already knew how to do. After finally sorting out all the parts and getting the pieces organized, I started on step 1. Part of that required 9 of the tiny 16mm screws.

It did not go well. Granted I had injured my shoulder the week before, but my fingers could not hold those little screws to get them started properly. It took me a long time to get six of them in. Then I realized that the last three for that step would have to be inserted in a recessed area. I tried a few times, but quickly realized that this was beyond my abilities. I wasn’t impressed nor did I want to have to ask for help. I’m stubborn that way. But I knew I was in over my head with this project. I certainly wasn’t about to call Office Depot and arrange to pay $60 for some guy to do it for me!

No way! I called one of my friends who came over a few days later. I sorted the parts and got them ready for each step while she did the assembly!! I held pieces in place as needed. We chatted as we got it done. Not including stopping for a lunch of my fresh homemade buns with a topping of salmon, it took us about two hours or so to put it together. The cabinet looks great! Besides lunch, I paid her in some more buns to take home, a bag of homemade Black Forest Cookies and a few hugs! She was glad to help – even if her arm was a bit sore from all that screwing!


1 comment:

goozer said...

Looking good, Hen. Looking good.