This column originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune November 28, 2017
As the last light of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began to fade, I found myself in my garage, contemplating a task I had been neglecting for years.
I’d completed the required checklist that accompanies my every Thanksgiving: Gorge self on turkey, shake head in wonder at Black Friday shoppers still insistent on prowling the malls at sunrise despite the allure of smart phones, haul up Christmas decorations from basement and scratch head in bewilderment at how holiday light strings meticulously packed away last January could have tangled themselves into Boy Scout-sanctioned knots over the summer.
For years, I’ve walked multiple times daily past the red, rolling tool chest in my garage, its shelves and compartments overflowing with a hodge-podge of materials I had either used, attempted to use or purchased and never used for various home improvement projects. Gazing at its contents now, I sighed and decided it was high time I tidy up this eyesore. I estimated the project would take an hour tops, a figure that steadily increased each time I opened a drawer and saw the contents that lay inside.
Truthfully, calling my home improvement storage area a tool chest insults all handy men and women who can expertly wield jigsaws, framing hammers, combination drills and other tools that I had to Google before writing this sentence. We all have that “fix anything” friend or relative, owners of meticulously organized chests containing handwritten labels on various drawers so the ring-threaded nails never end up alongside the lag screws. Again: Thanks, Google, for help with the terminology, as I have no idea what I just typed.
My tool chest contains the basics: hammer, screwdriver set, pliers, assorted wrenches and cordless drill. Together they are responsible for numerous disasters that inevitably led me to search online for a professional handyman or summon a compassionate neighbor to fix the havoc I had wreaked on my home. The tool chest clutter represents my fantasies of completing a project myself, and my propensity to vastly over purchase the materials needed.
I’ll tell the hardware store employee of my desire to hang a picture frame on drywall, listen intently as he says I’ll probably need two D-rings, one molly bolt and 18 inches of picture wire, and promptly purchase double or triple of each item. The excess, naturally, ends up tossed haphazardly in the tool chest; hence the cleaning project now staring me in the face.
My cardinal rule of cleaning anything is simple: If I haven’t touched it in a year and/or can’t identify it, toss it. My wife, conversely, replaces “toss” with “absolutely save” it. Every time I see an unrecognizable number on my cell, I’m convinced producers from the TV show “Hoarders,” have been tipped off and are wondering if they can stop by next week.
“Why do I have TWO unopened, seven-sixteenths hex extensions?” I asked, sitting among an array of plumber’s tape, wing nuts and mouse traps, the latter left over from an embarrassing rodent problem in the attic seven years ago.
“How can I need them if I don’t know what they are?”
The hex extensions were saved. Less fortunate were a patch kit for what I think was an inflatable water slide, a Ziploc bag of child-proof cabinet locks, some plastic brackets that may or may not be used in conjunction with a wall valance, two bottles of wood glue with 2009 expiration dates and a set of, according to the label, 4-inch spring clamps. The last one puzzled me, for in 25 years of home ownership I don’t remember clamping anything.
I designated one drawer for nails, another for screws. I placed my cordless drill and cordless screw driver on a single shelf. Plumbing accessories got their own shelf, as did parts for minor electrical projects (read: changing light bulbs).
Satisfied with my efforts, I pushed the tool chest against a wall, confident I would be able to quickly find everything I’d need the next time I wanted to make use of my meager repair skills. If the project calls for a drill bit I don’t own, I can easily run to the hardware store and purchase one.
Or, just to be safe, a few dozen.