Buying, building, and something in between

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In our neighborhood, homes built in the 70s had 2-car garages in the strictest sense only. They could fit 2 cars as long as you like crawling out your windows Dukes of Hazzard style. Trying to fit in a riding mower, small trailer, snowblower, bikes, lawn tools, ladders, etc, on top of that may be a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast's dream, but I've hit the limit of my creativity.

And so I've been toying, for about a year or so, with the idea of building my own shed. I'm in a better position than others might be, having amassed a decent set of tools and experience trying my hand at a variety of projects over the last few years, but sometimes I think experience can lead to an inflated estimation of what you or I can achieve - at least, within a reasonable timeframe.

There's a narrow line to walk. On the one hand, it's good to push yourself to learn more, to be courageous in trying something new even knowing you might fail. It's built into us from the time we take our first tentative step (or jump a hurdle, ice skate, or change a set of brakes), fall flat on our faces, then get up and try again. We reinvent the same old wheel because it's how we learn.

On the other hand, there's a certain wisdom (if it is wisdom, and not simply fear) in accepting that someone else already honed the skills we're after, and take advantage of that. In realizing they've done it every day for several decades.. or even their whole lives, passed down between generations. In acknowledging that we can't match their skills and techniques without putting in serious overtime.

Photo by Randy Fath

Once upon a time, Picasso supposedly drew someone's portrait and charged a ton of money for it. A woman balks at the money Picasso charges for a lovely portrait that only "took you a second to draw", to which he responds with, "Madame, it took me my entire life." As a consumer, if you feel that what you're getting isn't worth the sum of the immediate and tangible parts, try thinking about the less tangible.

You're buying materials, and maybe the time to assemble them. But you're also buying years of skills, tools, mistakes made and lessons learned. You're buying someone's singular dedication to something at the expense of other pursuits, and learning to see the world from a different angle than the rest of us.

Photo by Thierry Milherou

There's a third way to look at a situation - not strictly buying, not strictly building, but something in between. Look at it as getting a boost or head start from someone else's skills and tools and experience. Buying a product - a shed or anything else - doesn't mean you can't learn from it - extend it, modify it, change it.

Even if it's used instead of brand new, you have a unique chance to see how something is done, in its finished and working state, and maybe add something to it. And down the road, when you've built up your own skills and dedicated more of your own time to a craft, who knows - you may create something even better.


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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