Self-reliance is for dummies.
America is in thrall to the cult of do-it-yourself. E-Trade tells us we can be our own financial advisors. HGTV says we can be our own contractors. Sandra Lee encourages us to create our own tablescapes, whatever those are. We have ATMs and self-checkout lines and instant Kindle downloads, so we can get our mommy porn without enduring the withering scorn of the Barnes & Noble cashier.
Well, I have this crazy new idea: talking to actual human beings and then paying them to help me. It’s called DIY: Don’t Irritate Yourself.
I established my new policy halfway through the assembly of an Ikea Hemnes cabinet. By the time I had the first two drawers assembled, I’d lost an hour of my life and handled 80 separate pieces. My living room looked like a disaster reconstruction scene, where investigators try to figure out how that plane full of allen bolts crashed into the mountainside. “If only there were a better way!” I thought, as I stared at the 10-pound assembly handbook, which requires that you own your own power tools and can read hieroglyphics. Well, there is a better way: Go to a furniture store and buy something that looks like furniture in the first place. Ikea is fine for simple stuff like a little Lack table or Schnognündelfessenbjorj shelf, but any item that comes in two flat-pack boxes should be avoided like the evil elves of the Sundsvall Fjord.
Perhaps building your own furniture is impractical, but scanning your own groceries should be easy enough, right? I counsel that before you step into the self-checkout line, take a look in your basket. If everything has a barcode, you’re probably fine. But if you have so much as a solitary apple in there, then prepare to feel like a 19th-century frontier settler who time-traveled to the final exams of an MIT computer science class. To pay for that fruit, you’ll need to know the complete taxonomy of apples, the biography of Johnny Appleseed and how to hedge futures for apple-juice concentrate on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. If you have a more eclectic piece of produce, like scallions, you’ll be in the self-checkout line for so long that you’ll eventually trade those scallions for your life when the barbarian hordes overrun Stop & Shop in the Great Apocalypse of 2047.
Groceries are a double-DIY trap because after you buy them you still have to assemble them into some kind of edible concoction. I know that many people enjoy cooking, but to me, the Epicurious recipe roster reads like a delivery menu requiring labor instead of sitting on my couch for 30 minutes. Nevertheless, the other night I decided to prove that I can cook, so I picked a recipe for cod with asparagus and prosciutto. Somewhere around the time I was grating lemon rind to make the sauce that would go beneath the asparagus spears (boiled for three minutes and then chilled in a bath of ice water), I started thinking about how it would’ve been easier and probably less expensive to just order takeout. And takeout certainly wouldn’t have set off every smoke alarm in the house because parchment paper doesn’t like to be baked at 500 degrees, Epicurious.
Those times I’ve dipped a toe in the DIY waters, I’ve typically been motivated by cheapness more than pride. But I’ve come to realize that you’re often better off having a little less money in your pocket and a few more fingers on your hands. For instance, I recently parted with $200 to have professionals get rid of a tree that was leaning precariously over my house, even though I could’ve taken it down myself. In the best-case scenario, I would’ve saved $200. Worst-case, I’d be on my way to the ER with chainsaw wounds while squirrels ransacked my kitchen via the new tree-shaped hole in the roof. Money well spent, I say.
There are three other categories where I recommend delegating the job, if at all possible. Call it the Triple-M Theory: movers, mechanics and mowing (lawns). All of these services are well worth the indulgence. I’ve never actually hired a mover, but I imagine it’s worth it just to avoid U-Haul, one of the few companies where a visit makes you wonder whether you feel worse for the employees or yourself.
If you’re in prison, and you need to make some toilet wine, then by all means embrace the DIY aesthetic. For everyone else, I invite you to join my new DIY movement, aka PSETDI (Pay Someone Else to Do It). You’ll help the economy, and ultimately you’ll help yourself. Now let’s get cooking. By which I mean ordering sushi.