DIY and the horrors of the best laid plans

History teaches us that some of the best-laid plans never go, well, as planned. Between unforeseen obstacles and over running costs, some of mankind’s best intentions do not always end well.

Humans are complicated creatures; we tend to over estimate our abilities and under estimating the consequences of our actions. Once we have our minds made up to do something, we tend to put blinders on and run right into disaster. Often after the deed is done and effect takes over, we scratch our heads in utter amazement while muttering, “Well who saw that coming?

It attracts better than it ever repelled
It attracts better than it ever repelled

Amazingly the crowd believed him, and as one of his first edicts in office, he commissioned a wall, one that he envisioned would stretch around China with gold H’s blazing on all four corners.

I am sure the Great Wall of China was one of several ideas Emperor Huang (259-210BC) had when he was running for office. He stood proudly in front of a large crowd and proclaimed, “I will build a huge wall and it will beautiful! I’ll make the barbarian nomads pay for it too!” Amazingly the crowd believed him, and as one of his first edicts in office, he commissioned a wall, one that he envisioned would stretch around China with  gold H’s blazing on all four corners. Sadly for him the wall was not finished before he died, and the nomads ignored his repeated demands for payment. The project, which was running way over cost was abandoned after Huang’s death and would not be “complete” (it never did run all the way around China) until the 14the century. Today, while still damn impressive, the wall is falling into disrepair and is now mainly a tourist attraction, as today’s China welcomes visitors, even the barbarian Americans. At its peak season the wall attracts 70,000 visitors a day, but even so, the cost of repair is double what visitors pay to see it. Now they have to ask themselves, “With 30% of it gone, does it make sense to maintain it to keep people coming in?”

One of the worst “good intention” ideas of recent history is the American led war on Iraq. The Bush administration thought it would be a good idea (and a cheap way to grab some oil fields) to go in and remove Saddam Hussein and push democracy onto a country that did not ask for it. “We’ll be greeted like liberators”. This would turn out to be one of the dumbest things ever said by someone in the Bush administration, and ironically, it didn’t even come from George W’s mouth.

14 plus years, trillions of dollars wasted and thousands of lives lost later, we’re still dealing with the aftermaths of this obviously, ill thought out plan. Oh but it seemed like such a good idea at the time.

On a less global and monumental scale, we home DIY fanatics will often fall into the same trap of self delusion; what seems like an easy home repair job turns out to cost almost as much as packing up and moving to a better house, one that automatically came with everything we could ever want. We too stare out into a crowd (usually our panicked family) and exclaim, “This will be easy and it won’t cost much. Trust me, it will be beautiful!”

As someone who studies and writes about history, you’d think I would be one of the least likely people to fall into a self made trap, but you would be wrong. What started out as a quick well intended 30-minute project has now cost me two days and well over $200. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So this is how one historian decided to ignore history and go once more into the breeches! Forethought and foresight be damned, how hard could it be to put up a bathroom shelf anyway?

I just needed to install the shelf and move the towel rack. What could go wrong?
I just needed to install the shelf and move the towel rack. What could go wrong?

This was supposed to be my vacation. I decided to take a week off and devote myself to my book project. But first, I had a few household upgrades that needed my attention. I wanted to get these things out of the way so that Shakespeare could have my undivided attention. I wanted no distractions, no wandering thoughts, of “I really should get to that” running through my head. I promised myself, I’d just get a few things done and out of the way. What was I thinking?!

My roommate had a simple request. There wasn’t enough shelving in her bathroom for all of her sundries, so I bought a nice modern looking (and easy to install) shelving unit for her use. But, in order to install it, I had to move her towel rack to another wall. How hard could this be?

It seemed simple enough, but knowing my mechanical limitations (I struggle with opening jars) I decided to experiment on one of my towel racks first. I had no clear idea how one goes about taking a towel rack down and what kind of mess it would create. This was Sunday night, too late to visit a hardware store, but not too late to figure out what would be involved in such a move.

Once I figured out that all that was holding my rack in place was one simple screw I was elated! I hated my old, brass-plated racks. They were dull and dingy. No amount of cleaning could make them shiny again, so off they all came! My toilet paper holder and towel racks were going to be upgraded; after all, the wall mounts looked like they could be reused, all I needed to do was to find racks with the same dimensions as the old ones. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Monday morning I headed to one of our big box hardware stores (Lowe’s) with a list. The night before I started to think of inexpensive ways to upgrade my bathroom. New racks and new outlet covers (these too being dull brass) would be just the thing to make the room look clean and fresh. Knowing I would be taking my roommate’s wall mounts down I went for wall putty too. No need for small screw holes in the wall right?

I found just what I was looking for along with a new bathroom rug (it was on sale) and within an hour I was home, ready to get going on my DYI project. Little did I know what should have taken about an hour turned into two days..

It hit me that I may have made a mistake when I opened the first towel rack package that though the dimension and size were the same as my old rack, the wall mounts were completely different. Okay, no problem I told myself, just take the old ones down, putty the small holes and install the new mounts. What could go wrong?

The first mount came down with little effort. I just unscrewed the two screws holding it in place and covered the tiny hole with putty. But the next mount proved to be one in a series of missteps that would take me from doing a quick upgrade, to a complete bathroom makeover. I did not see that coming.

I called my neighbor for advice and to borrow a drill, as the wall mount instructions called for a drill. Gary, always one to help me out (and avoid his own DIY projects) came over. I showed him what I wanted to do and why I needed to borrow his drill. He eyed the project with glee; he’s a retired carpenter and I could see he was salivating over the idea of using his skills again. “I’ll be right back”, he said after scoffing at the instruction sheet. He returned with an arsenal of tools and the swagger of man who was ready to rebuild an entire house.

“Let’s start with your roommate’s towel rack” he said. This won’t take long. He showed me how to get the wall mount screws out of the wall. First mount, no problem, I did it! But the second wouldn’t budge. I looked at Gary for guidance and he was looking at the mount as a personal challenge. “Pull a littler harder” he said. I grasped the pliers again and pulled on the screw with all my might. Out the screw came, along with a good chunk of the drywall. We both stared at the hole in the wall in amazement. I was starting to understand this project was more than I had bargained for.

After patching the hole (add hole patching to the home repair lessons) we decided to move onto my bathroom. Once again he made me remove the wall mounts, this time without doing extreme damage to my walls. But there were some small holes to putty. We attached the new racks and I was breathing a little easier, but still there was that hole in the wall to deal with…

“You’re going to want to paint that wall,” Gary warned me. The putty job was too large to let dry and ignore. He handed me a piece of the drywall and said it would be enough to have a painting department match. So off I went, back to Lowe’s.

I came home with a gallon of paint, a drop cloth, and a renewed sense of hope. This would be easy and quick. After all, it was one wall in my roommate’s bathroom and just a few patch pieces in mine. What could go wrong?

I painted my roommate’s wall in just minutes; the paint color matched so evenly that it was hard to see where I had painted. Once again elation took hold. Victory was mine for now all I had to do was paint the few small patches in my bathroom and the job would be complete!

Armed with confidence and a brush full of paint I went to work. Just a few brush strokes and…..what the hell?? The paint colors did not match! For the love of all that is holy, who paints matching bathrooms two different colors?? To my untrained eye the colors were the same, but once that new paint was one the wall, the truth was revealed. The adjoining bathrooms were painted in slightly different shades of eggshell white. I stood staring at the mess I had just made on my wall. Not only did the colors not blend, I had recklessly painted enough on to make the difference stand out to even a blind person. I did not see this coming.

Looking at the ceiling I noticed this bathroom was three different colors. WTF?
Looking at the ceiling I noticed this bathroom was three different colors. WTF?

Realizing my mistake I decided the only course of action was to paint the entire room in the new color. Two hours and one mess later, I had the room complete (if you paint the room, might as well do the door jams too). I somehow managed to get paint under the drop cloth and all over my hair and cloths. Good god, was this nightmare ever going to end? After cleaning up the painting equipment I went to work, cleaning paint from the floor, vanity, and mirror. I’m pretty sure I still have paint in my hair…

I spent all morning cleaning up the paint for the floor. There was so much on one floorboard I pulled the paint out and decided to finish the job.

I can only image the mess I would have made without the drop cloth
I can only image the mess I would have made without the drop cloth

Whose friggen idea was this anyway, and why did I start this project? Oh yeah, my roommate wanted more bathroom space. I should have suggested moving to a bigger house.

Works referenced:

Chinahighlights.com Great Wall

History.com. Great Wall of China Facts

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

Talk to me

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