I will readily admit to being inordinately excited by modern furniture. My wife Michelle and I were influenced to buy our house by the sellers’ decision to include in the price several wonderful pieces, some of which I had been coveting for years. And I have always had fond memories of some simple but well-built, cube-shaped wooden boxes from my childhood home.

Fortunately—at least it seemed fortunate at the time—when our son was born my parents still had the boxes lying around in their basement, and they eagerly donated them to their only grandchild’s room. After two six-hour round-trips to my parents’ house, I got all six of the cubes home. The only problem was that they were unfinished, which wasn’t the look we were going for. “It should take about an hour to paint these white,” said Michelle one summer morning. We made a trip to Home Depot to get spray paint, arranged the cubes on newspaper in the driveway, and went at it. But something wasn’t working. The spray paint was mostly blowing away in the breeze, and there wasn’t enough to coat all the surfaces.

After lunch we went back to Home Depot for a can of paint, paintbrushes (large and small), paint trays, rollers, and a dropcloth. Now the paint actually got onto the cubes and stayed there, but pouring out the paint, getting it coated on the rollers, painting each side, turning the cubes, using the brushes to paint all the inside corner areas, making sure all the edges were coated, and so on wound up taking the rest of the afternoon. The cubes also had to be brought inside to finish drying and the leftover supplies had to be cleaned or discarded. What started out as a “one hour” project took the two of us most of a day, not to mention over $100 in supplies, plus the gasoline needed for two Home Depot runs. (To be fair, we won’t count the time and fuel used to pick up the cubes in the first place, since I was already visiting his parents for other reasons.)

The cubes that it took me and my wife pretty much an entire day to paint

The cubes that it took me and my wife pretty much an entire day to paint

Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the environmental correctness of reusing perfectly good wood furniture instead of throwing it out, the result of this project was that, counting the value of our time, two highly-educated professionals spent at least three times more on this simple do-it-yourself exercise then it would have cost to buy a brand-new set of pre-painted white storage cubes. More important, for our purposes, is the fact that we didn’t realize in advance what we were getting into. Even though Dan and I were already working on The Invisible Gorilla at the time, I mistakenly believed that I understood the task that lay ahead much better than I actually did. If I had only been able to read, and take to heart, the message of Chapter 4—that we consistently mis-estimate what we know about how things work, how much projects will cost, and how long they will take—I might not have spent a day in DIY hell.

Postscript: The cubes turned out well in the end. And they did give us a blog post.

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