Monday, February 21, 2011

the "good enough" culture

There have definitely been times in my life when I felt like a perfectionist; in some respects even now I care to an annoying extent how things are done.  My parents were adherents to the school of "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right", and they passed along that belief to me.  But, even as I was learning that lesson, there was an internal tension.  When given a chore, I would often spend 10 minutes or so prior to beginning trying to figure out the easiest way to get from A to B, or alternatively, how to get 90% of the desired effect while cutting out the 10% that represents the greatest cost (to labor, materials - whatever).  My parents (probably correctly) saw this as laziness, an obvious character flaw per their world view.
 I have found that the modern version of Me has carried this tension between wanting something "right" and something "good enough, and quick" forward in time, and that in a household with a new baby and a full time job, "good enough, and quick" may provide even more value than it did when I was a teenager.  The first picture is of a laundry room project, in medias res.  We are very fortunate to have a laundry room in our Tennessee home (our Chicago condo has a laundry closet; this was a minimum requirement for my pre-spouse when we were scouting living options there), but such good fortune is tempered by the size and layout of the clothes cleaning space.  My solution was to create a shelf that bridged the two machines, providing a clean and spacious expanse for folding, stacking, sorting, and treating our clothes pre- or post wash.
 I had recalled seeing some similar installations in Chicago open houses (have I mentioned that we were hardcore into house-porn before the pregnancy?  Whole Saturdays vanished into a chasm of House Hunters and House Hunters: International when were not out exploring the open houses of various Chi-Town neighborhoods).  One laundry room (or closet...I sincerely cannot remember) had a marble shelf spanning the laundry machines, and I thought "hmm...that's classy and handy!".

Well, back to my culture of good enough: after sketching out what I thought might work in our space, I spent 45 minutes in the Home Depot just standing there.  I'm sure other shoppers were concerned that I had suffered a DIY-induced stroke, but I was trying to reconcile the image I had in my head with the reality I faced in the store's supplies and the content of my bank account.

I ended up banging out the shelf as shown in a couple of hours, assembled from pine stock and some 1/2 inch plywood, and covered with some glossy contact paper.  The paper was actually the chief flaw (in my estimation) of the whole project; after applying the paper with care to the shelf itself, ensuring even alignment and no significant bubbling, I screwed the pooch on that "back splash*" piece, leaving some unsightly bubbling along both surfaces (couldn't flip the mistakes to the back).  An herein lies the "good enough" in my character: this dingus is in the laundry room.  Who cares if it doesn't look perfect**?  And yes, while marble would have been classier, pine wood, plywood, sheet rock screws, and contact paper are good enough.

Continuing the theme, this picture is the current incarnation of my work space.  I prefer a "standing desk" arrangement, driven both by considerable readings about the deleterious effects of a "sedentary" lifestyle and having found that incidental back pain disappears when I stand all day (barefoot, for sure!).  This set-up is similar to what I used in Chicago, but I had been trying to figure out a way to incorporate the (newly acquired) desk I inherited from my deceased grandfather.  His desk was of the classic design, and I had considered elevating it on platforms to get the working surface to standing height.  I also considered a number of other options, including a shelf system that wrapped around the antique desk, providing both an elevated platform for my monitors as well as a standing option for my keyboard, with the flexibility to flip that down to the desktop as necessary.

After contemplating on it for months, I finally decided on two separate work spaces: the antique desk is set in front of the room's windows, and I see myself using that space when I want to draw, or study (CFA, maybe...), or just take a break from standing all day.  And the ugly industrial wire shelves will serve as my primary work-a-day space.  Good enough.
The keyboard desk actually struck me in a eureka moment during a trip to the wine store; the same 1/2 plywood leftover from the laundry project. and some scraps left over from a kitchen shelf project were just too easy an option to ignore.  The Metro shelving girders provided regularly spaced slots for receiving the shelf supports; the real half-assed step here was using 1.75 inch self-tapping screws to attach the wood parts...I had those screws on hand, but the half inch pieces of wood would not take that size, so I added those additional two blanks of wood for depth.  One could argue that they provide torsional stability, but one would be an ass to do so.  And who cares if it doesn't look perfect**?

*credit to AdanA for explaining to me that this "vertical cross piece across the back intended to keep stuff from falling behind the machines" could be more succinctly described as a "back splash"

**who cares if it doesn't look perfect?  My mother, my wife, my engineering friend, my architect friend, my sister, my dog...


  1. I am sure that I have misread or misunderstood this -- you STAND at your desk all day?!?

  2. I do. I have found that standing vs sitting has many wonderful effects.

  3. Jessica: now we've found why he can sometimes be an impatient grumpipuss: he's tired from all the standing!

    ...and he's also convinced me to do the same. It's really been very good. Now I need to get my desk off of these concrete blocks and do something classy like he has.

    "DIY-induced stroke" made me laugh quite a bit. It's a real thing, though. Me, that's all day every day.