Recently, I moved apartments and decided to take an unfurnished place and buy my own furniture.
First observation: I could have bought furniture at physical stores and tested them out, see how they feel and imagine what they would look like in my room. But this digitized first-world country makes it too easy to buy furniture for way cheaper on Amazon.
But buying all the stuff is a big deal for me for a lot of reasons:
- I have never before bought furniture by myself.
- I’m old enough to buy a bed and a mattress and a chest of drawers and other furnishings around the house.
- This means I’m responsible for choosing what’s right for me and while I have chosen schools, jobs, cities and countries countries for myself, choosing the right bed and mattress has been the most nerve racking thing. Mostly, because every ad and editorial I saw told me that I spend one-third of my life on it, so I better make the right decision. Talk about pressure.
- This also means that I’ve finally found my step and place in life (kinda) and I can stop living out of suitcases, always ready to leave at moment’s notice. Buying furniture is like making a commitment that I can afford to keep my life together and it’s not limited to regularly feeding myself.
Now, if this isn’t grand enough to you, I hope this next rude shock I received will drill it in for you.
When you buy a bed in America, you have to build it too. What you receive is a seemingly innocuous but heavy package, and when you open it, there’s boards and legs and screws and tools. On top of it lies an instructions manual. Good luck.
Actually, I’ve known this for a while so I knew I was getting into, but going through the process was still a shock.
My first question was why?! I couldn’t wrap my head around why a first world, developed country would offer you parts and send you on a not-fun, very complicated and very overwhelming DIY adventure. Then my American friend said something with a snark, which made some sense. “Capitalism: Make money with whatever skill set you can offer that other people don’t have or can’t be bothered with.”
While it makes sense, it just bothered me because one it makes me think hard about the labour exploitation and underpaid people in my own country. But also because things are supposed to be easier and more convenient here. Life is a breeze in America, or so they say. “They” being the immigrants who go back to the motherland and paint a beautiful picture of green meadows and happy faces in America.
There are a lot of things convenient about America. Especially as a woman, the ease with which I can choose to go out at night, meet strangers and take public transport without second guessing myself is amazing.
But for all the first world that this country is… oh god, is life as a person hard here.
You can get it assembled by someone but then you pay more for it. Doesn’t seem too bad for just a bed. But you’re also paying for delivery. And add to that a dresser or any other furniture you could think of. It’s not a job that can be finished in an hour. It all adds up.
So, for a week, I went home from work and built furniture, piece by piece. It was too much. I hated the process. Last night, my hands were so sore with cuts and tightening the screws that I almost gave up and thought I’d take it up the next day. But I was starting to get so pissed off that I wasn’t sure if I’d take it up the next day. So I finished it somehow. At 1 am. I slept with sore and red hands that would hurt even when I put some cream on them. But I knew I won’t have to spend another day on this shit.
And this has been a revelation and awareness experience for me in more than one ways.
I’ve always been very proud of having helped my grandfather and father around the house for fixing or building things, lifting heavy stuff around with them, helping them out and generally, just knowing a spanner from a hammer. But this experience took that pride to a whole new level.
It also gave me some perspective. This was new and overwhelming for me and a completely different experience from what my parents went through when they were setting up their lives as people out of college, with a first job and little money. Maybe buying furniture was easy for them. But it makes me think of all the ways they must have gone through uncomfortable experiences, perhaps even after I was born, and I was completely unaware of it. Maybe I still am.
I guess in some way or the other we all go through big experiences that are a part of being an adult out of college and setting up life, whether or not you’re in America. This seems crazy to me but probably totally normal to those who grew up here and ever saw furniture being bought as a kid. They might have other experiences.
I’m probably rambling but case in point: Americans make their own bed and it’s turned my world upside down. But the thing I’ve said since I finished this project was that I came to America to study at Columbia to do something I would have never done in India. After building all this furniture, I can say that it finally happened. The degree has been put to good use.