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Mostly, I hate to shop. I cook well enough that buying ingredients is sometimes a pleasure, but retail therapy doesn’t work on me. There’s only one kind of store where I consistently leave calmer than when I arrived, and that’s a home-improvement warehouse.
Many household chores produce only ephemeral improvement. Doing laundry and dishes never ends. With toddlers underfoot, as soon as you finish vacuuming or mopping, you might as well start again. By contrast, even minor home-improvement projects can deliver lasting satisfaction. Like many women, I’m no expert in naming all the doodads which make up a proper, manly workshop, but I’m still mechanically inclined and pretty handy with tools. A trip to a home-improvement warehouse promises long-term solutions to household problems. The warehouses also smell good — the lumber especially, though even the weird chemical smells in the lawn care section smell comfortingly of problem-solving. The warehouses’ high ceilings mean the background music is actually in the background for a change, and plenty of products on offer are pleasantly unclad: you see the items themselves, rather than a jarring welter of flashy packaging. These stores are peaceful places.
At least for me. My husband finds them frustrating. They can be frustrating. It’s frustrating to discover that of the zillions of couplings in stock, the one you need isn’t. It’s frustrating when items you think would naturally go together aren’t (though less frustrating if you’re willing to ask for directions). It’s frustrating when you need customer service and it takes a mysteriously long time. I chalk all this up to shopping being frustrating. Still, the frustrations of shopping bug me less at a home-improvement warehouse. Heck, the frustrations of life bug me less there.
Yesterday, for example, was a maddening day. Our toddler defeated not only the magnetic locks on some crucial cabinets but also our toddler gate latches — all of them. Nothing of value was safe in our home anymore, including him. We have flip locks high up on the doors to our place, but flip locks can’t be set on your way out the door, and without working toddler gates, mere minutes’ delay in the at-home parent’s setting them is all our toddler needs to undo all the other locks and run outside, possibly naked, into the street. Defeated cabinet latches are just a nightmare. Defeated toddler gates are an emergency.
Fortunately, both problems were easy to solve. The magnetic locks just needed firmer shimming than the cardboard we had on hand when I first installed them, and our toddler gates needed combination locks and chains. How best to arrange lock and chain took some thought, but not much. I’d like to say these very simple, minor improvements went off without a hitch, but of course, they didn’t. I brought home dinner from our Home Depot’s hot dog stand as a treat, and it turned out to be not enough dinner. Plus, my husband found the numbers on the locks I bought infuriatingly hard to read. An evening of chaos ensued, where, between my cooking dinner number two and finishing the shimming, our toddler hid all our drill bits but three. My husband and I aren’t fighters, but we came close. Fortunately, exchanging the locks for more legible ones gave me an excuse to get out of the house one last time, and… Peace…
I drove to our Home Depot during a nighttime squall in a hot car, uncomfortably pregnant, waited in line entirely too long to return my items, and I still found the journey a peaceful one. Perhaps the peace came from knowing that, at the end of it, I’d have a small but urgent problem lastingly solved.
Since I put the combination locks on the far side of the gates, our toddler can’t get at the locks well enough to fiddle with them. If he could, he would, and all we’d be doing is teaching our kid to crack combinations before he’d even learned to talk. The combination can be reset, but my bet is he’ll figure out how to unscrew the screw keeping the chain from slipping before he gets to the lock. Unscrewing was how he defeated the gates before, when he was still too short to reach the latches: he just unscrewed whatever he could reach until the gates gave. The ergonomic extensions on the nuts the gates came with made it easy for him. Even plain old nuts only temporarily stymied him, but so far he hasn’t defeated nuts secured with glue. I figure if he does learn to unscrew the screw, I’m ready for him.
In life — or my life at least — most problems can’t be solved, only managed. Problem-solving is fun, management is not. Shopping for home improvement strikes me as the most problem-solving form of shopping, which might be why it brings me joy. @bryangstephens asked yesterday, “What if we all focused on giving and receiving Joy?” I couldn’t swear that home-improvement warehouses bring others here joy, but I suspect they do.
In general, I don’t recommend retail therapy. There’s ample reason to avoid taking joy in shopping. But even those of us who generally don’t like shopping have our little weaknesses. One of mine is the lumber aisles. I haven’t had occasion to buy much lumber myself, but pushing a cart down one of those aisles, whether I need anything there or not, wins my vote for most restful experience in the retail world.
What about you? Are you a home-improvement fan? Or is there something else that, when you have to buy it, brings you joy?