When to Pay for Services, and When to Do it Yourself

by Sydney Bufkin

The toilet in our second bathroom stopped working last winter. We’d installed a low-flow converter thingamajig, but it wasn’t flushing anymore, and now we needed to un-install the faulty flushing mechanism and put the basic flusher back in.

But we didn’t, because it just wasn’t a priority. We didn’t have any out-of-town guests coming through, and the toilet in the master bath worked fine. Every weekend brought other pressing things to be done, or things that were just more fun than fixing the toilet. Months rolled by. Most of the time, I successfully ignored the fact that we only had one functioning toilet, and that the only reason for the shortage was my own laziness and general distaste for basic plumbing work.

I spent July in Boston, and as the date for my return home came closer, I felt increasingly anxious about coming back to a malfunctioning bathroom. After months of turning a blind eye to this problem, I did something I should have done months before: I called the plumber. Forty-five minutes and $90 later, the toilet was fixed. I could have possibly done it myself for the cost of the flushing mechanism, but it would also have cost me at least half a day, significant anxiety, and possibly a visit from the plumber if I didn’t get it right.

There’s no shame in calling a plumber, even if you have the capacity to fix your own bathroom. There are times when you won’t have the mental or physical energy to do something, so you pay someone to do it for you. That’s one of the reasons why we keep money in the bank.

I may be a mediocre plumber, but I’m pretty handy with a sewing machine. Last spring, I sat down with a stack of clothes I’ve accumulated over the past few years. I have a habit of buying things on sale even if they don’t quite fit, always meaning to take them to be altered. Of course, I never do — I accumulated too-long blazers and too-big dresses, skirts that needed taking in and jeans I never wore because they were bootcut instead of skinny.

All told, I probably would have spent at least a hundred dollars at the tailor to make the clothes fit the way I wanted. Plus, I’d have to take the time to try everything on and explain what I needed to have done. Not to mention, I’d have to find time to look up local tailors and find one who seemed reputable. If it takes me four months to get the toilet fixed, you can imagine how long it takes to work up the energy to haul a bunch of clothes I never even wear to the tailor.

So instead of doing all of that, I just altered everything myself. I took the dress in a size or two so that it fits me perfectly. I brought the sleeves of my blazers up so I no longer look like I’ve borrowed my father’s suit jacket. I turned my bootcut jeans to skinny jeans. In just a couple of afternoons, I recovered at least half a dozen previously-unwearable articles of clothing.

All that cutting, measuring, and sewing also helped me hone and feel more confident in my alteration skills. I figured out how blazer sleeves are constructed, so now I don’t have to let the fact that the sleeves are too long keep me from buying a jacket. I perfected my technique for skinnify-ing jeans. And damn, does it feel liberating to be able to do my own alterations.

A large part of adulthood is learning to tell the difference between tasks you should pay someone else to do, and ones you should just do yourself. I don’t always make the right call, but I’m getting better.

Sydney Bufkin is a graduate student by day and an anxious person all the time. You can find her on Twitter, and her occasional musings about technology, the academy, and reception study here.