t seemed a simple enough task. I needed to clean the area rugs in my apartment. I had bought the beige rugs over eight years ago, investing in good quality wool. Though I had been careful, the once plush carpets had been stained by coffee, water spots, and everyday foot traffic.
Taking a do-it-yourself approach, I drove to my nearest hardware store to rent a carpet-cleaning rotary. Though I meant to pick it up myself, the bulky box and and various hoses made it too heavy and cumbersome to transport home alone. I’d need help.
So I got in touch with my neighbor Paul.
“Sure I can help you,” he said agreeably. “How about next week after work?” I was grateful and put the date on my calendar.
But on that day, I got a text. “Sorry I can’t make it tonight. I have to work late.”
Delayed but undeterred, I asked him when we could reschedule. No date was set.
After a week, I again got in touch with him. “Paul, are you around Wednesday to help me with the carpets? I just need help picking up the machine.”
“I actually leave for Paris on Wednesday,” he replied. “I’m gone for 10 days. Let’s do it when I get back.”
I sighed and decided to ask someone else.
This time, I turned to my friend Jackson, who lived three blocks away. Self-employed, he was often free during the day.
“I’d be happy to help you,” he said. “I’m in the middle of resurfacing my wood floors, but when I’m finished I’ll let you know.”
Another small delay, I thought, but surely his floors would only take a few days. I could wait.
When I checked back in with him, he wasn’t home. He was London.
“What are you doing in London? I thought you were refinishing your floors.”
“Something came up and I had to leave right away. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but don’t worry. I’ll help you when I return.”
Why was getting relatively simple help from friends becoming so difficult? It wasn’t a moving project, after all. Was there really no one I could count on?
Finally, an obvious solution came to mind. Hire someone.
With a heavy heart, feeling that my friends had failed me, I called a local cleaner.
“We can be there tomorrow morning with an estimate, and if you agree to the price, we can do it on the spot. It will take about two hours.”
Really? After all this waiting I could have it done tomorrow morning?
It would cost lots more than renting a machine, but my relief at the idea of getting it done was immeasurable.
The next day at 9 a.m. I got the estimate and agreed to proceed. The workers carried in a large machine complete with hoses and vacuums. They moved around the furniture, and within a couple of hours the rugs were spotless. When I saw the result, I swelled with relief.
Why hadn’t I gone to them in the first place? Why had I waited so long? After countless weeks of waiting on friends, contracting outsiders was clearly the best solution.
If anything, the success of this home improvement project, because it didn’t go as planned, revised my notion of do-it-yourself.
Yes, friends can be helpful and useful, if they bother showing up.
And doing things yourself can be satisfying on any number of levels.
But when your friends disappear to Paris or London, or just fail to make good on their promises, it may be time to part with your hard-earned money and, all excuses aside, get the job done.