Lesson #61: On Tools

by Rachel on January 4, 2011

A. Because after a three-hour discussion in which your boyfriend tells you that you “need to make some friends” and “can’t rely on him for everything,” you’re going to want a hammer.

Not to get violent, of course — simply as a reminder that you took damn good care of yourself for the first 24 years of your life and just because you have a boyfriend doesn’t mean you can’t anymore.

If you have tools, you will not doubt your own independence.

If you have tools, you can buy items that require assembly or installation, carry them up two flights of stairs by yourself, and put them together all by yourself!

And when you are done, you can clean up the sawdust, admire your handiwork, and be glad that even though you grew up without a dad, you had an amazing mother who not only had a hammer — she had a buzz saw and a power drill. And even though she took care of you, she also reminded you that she wouldn’t always be able to do that, and told you better start learning to do certain things for yourself.

And you can be grateful that you lived alone in both Chicago and New York, far from family and friends, long before you were part of a couple. And then, like now, you could never afford to have someone help you. So you could walk fifteen blocks home from Home Depot, lugging a can of paint and a bunch of supplies — a cab would be too expensive — and then you could paint your apartment from top to bottom without assistance.

Experiences like those are the reason you know that no, you don’t need more friends. You just need the opportunity to take care of yourself.

Then you can call a tow truck, have your dead car towed to the mechanic, and have your alternator and battery replaced all by yourself — even though most women refuse to have their oil changed without a man present.

And you can do all this while disregarding the fact that the guy calling your self-reliance into question cannot fry bacon, sew on a button, or set up anything with an “on/off” button without your assistance.

You do not need more friends or a boyfriend or even your family. You simply need to use your tools more often.

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paige January 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Very awesome reminder.


2 Elisabeth January 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Ouch…kind of harsh words from the boy! Geez…

I am the keeper of the tools in our house. The husband is no use when it comes to tools, assembly and renovation, but he is good at the heavy lifting. He does handle all of the car maintenance though–it’s kind of a trade-off.

I’m very proud that my mom also was not ashamed to use her tools. My parents both insisted that I know how to do basic things for myself. I can sew and screw. Perfect woman, right?


3 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Haha “sew and screw” — I love that.


4 Kat January 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I got a power drill and an electric screwdriver for Christmas and couldn’t be more excited.

Reminds me of a time we needed to get into some cheaply gross vodka to make jello shots and someone at Meijer had forgotten to remove the security top…a power drill was a life (read: party) saver!


5 Robyn January 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Completely, wholeheartedly agree. I just picked up some auto care/maintenance books from the library — I’m going to learn some basic auto repair! Woohoo! A few weeks ago, I had a burned out headlight. Panicking, thinking I would have to take it into the shop because I sure as heck don’t know anything about cars, I was having a hard time sleeping as I couldn’t stop wondering what it was going to cost my already-strapped bank account. I whipped out my laptop and started googling and what did I behold? Forums of people saying that it was an easy repair, costs very little and can be done in under 20 minutes. So I went to Kragen the next night, bought a bulb and in the brightly lit parking area of a Chevron, I changed my own headlight bulb. It was . . . empowering. Something so simple, but it made me feel worlds better about being on my own and how to take care of myself in the months ahead. (Also picked up many personal finance books from the library the next day as I realized that not all auto repairs are that simple and inexpensive and that at almost-24-years-old, I should have a contingency fund set aside for the “Oh, shit!” factors.)

Long story short — thanks for posting this. Women everywhere should know that we are more capable than we realize.


6 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Ohh I LOVE this! I am so with you on how doing something so mall is a HUGE boost of confidence and taking care of yourself. And after you do those smaller things, it becomes so much easier to take on bigger things, and the world just becomes less intimidating of a place.


7 Robyn January 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Correction: ‘years ahead’ — I’ll give up taking care of myself when I’m no longer able to perform basic human functions.


8 Paige January 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Wow, next time this happens to me I’m going to try to fix it myself like you did. I recently had one headlight and two turns signals go out within days of each other (awesome luck!) and when I took it to the shop it cost over $50…$20 for supplies and $30 for labor. To change lightbulbs. Because it was “more challenging than expected” (it took 15 minutes). Never again!


9 Dori January 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Love your bookshelf and love this post! I can’t do enough things myself and get very frustrated with instructions for things to put together. My roommate is the handywoman of our home.


10 erin m. {{well in l.a.}} January 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Love your Anthropologie mug! It seems he’s lucky the hammer wasn’t used on him ;)!


11 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

You Speak the TRUTH Rachel! My mother taught me the same. Even though I grew up with my father in the house, My mom is a firm believer that a woman must be self reliant and thus own her own tools and tool box. Guess what I received as a gift from her at my Bridal Shower….A bright red tool box filled to the brim with every tool I might ever need!


12 Kaytee January 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sort of feels like “tool” has a double meaning in this post.

Also, my boyfriend just started two months of Army Ranger training (no contact but letters for over two months), so I’m trying to remind myself how independent I was before I met him. And I feel like this totally requires a road trip to Houston for girls weekend? I’m pretty much free every weekend til March, so…


13 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Pleeeeease come to Houston to visit me!


14 kate January 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm

You go girl! You know you can rock it.


15 Kaley January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm

This is where I fail in being a strong, independent woman. Doesn’t help that I don’t know where to buy things like this. Plus, I’m kind of on a hiatus from buying home decorations, as my living here (i.e., Spain) is very temporary.


16 Jasmine @ Eat Move Write January 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm

STING! That boy better watch out when Rachel Wilkerson is wielding a hammer or a computer, whichever can do the most damage. While he may not have said it as nicely as he could, sometimes you need to hear stuff like that? Dare I say it?!? (Don’t hit me with that hammer!)

It’s very easy to rely on your other half. When I left my first husband, I moved into an apartment with my best friend. I had no idea where to put our garbage (where’s the dumpster?!?), I changed my first light bulb, took my car to get oil changes. I became a person all on my own. You are right that we all need to know how to do those things. I’m a much better wife the second time around because of it. <3


17 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Well, I think what bothered me more than anything was the implication that I want to spend time with him because I need friends. No…I want to spend time with him because I love him. I’m used to being alone and I really don’t mind it. So the idea that I’m reliant on him (because, he implied, I have no one else to rely on) is what made me want the hammer — that sense of, “Oh, you think I need you to do everything for me?”


18 Laura January 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’ve had my independence challenged by my lovely “tool” as well… and they sometimes forget that we very willingly participate in these relationships with them; not some “one way street” type business exchange. The fact that we’re around is, as you said, we enjoy their company and love them, not that we are Damsels-in-Distress and hopeless without them. You’d think they’d be happy about that!

I completely understand why you’d be upset over his reaction, and I think they believe that we very easily fall into the steadiness of it all and begin to become complacent (which could very well be true for some women). But what they might not realize is that those fearless, truly independent women, are usually the “Lone Ranger” type. We don’t NEED a partner to save us, and we don’t NEED other people to define us either. It takes a strong character to be comfortable going places, like catching a movie, alone, being able to enjoy one’s own company. And when a woman like that WANTS to spend time with another person (a significant other), they should feel honored and not concerned.

You go, you “one woman wolfpack”. ;-)


19 Michelle @ Give Me the Almond Butter January 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I think I need to learn this. I have always gotten lucky with guy friends always ready for my neediness of them. My roommate last year works in construction over the breaks so he would always put up my stuff for me. I always tried to do it, but it always turned out crooked!


20 Alison January 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Ironic that I read this…and then, this: http://www.dailygarnish.com/2011/01/setbacks.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DailyGarnish+%28Daily+Garnish%29 “there is nothing better in this world than a handy husband” ?!! …please. I could make a list.

I like yours better. AND loved it because this week, my roommate and I did not ask men to help us while we hung some darn straight photos and bought our very first hammer.


21 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Wow. I got a little depressed reading that.

And HELL YEAH for your new hammer!!


22 Emily Malone January 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm

That was actually a joke, and I’m sorry you took it so literally. I actually totally agree with Rachel (not about me being depressing) but about that it’s both important and empowering to be able to take care of yourself. I’m quite handy with a tool set myself.

That said, I realized this morning that it is nice to have a husband that knew how to take apart the inside of our car, and replace the battery himself, rather than (as suggested above) having the car towed, battery replaced, and paying $$$ for parts and labor.


23 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Well THIS is awkward.

(Seriously, though, this was my first time to your blog and clearly didn’t understand your sense of humor.)


24 Emily Malone January 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

No worries Rachel! I was more replying to Alison, just because I thought her comment was totally unnecessary. I’m a big fan of your blog, and your Hollaback work. I also whole heartedly agree that a lot of girls need to be a bit more empowered and do things for themselves. I love my power drill!


25 Stephanie @ LoveLaughterLight January 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Awesome post!!! I’ve had my own tools for years and use them frequently. Often, when you rely on a guy to fix things for you, it either doesn’t get done or is done half-assed. I say, “F*** that!” It’s very empowering to know that you can do these projects on your own, much to the surprise of most men. Hell…when I volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity build, I ran the saw all day and I did it with pride!


26 Tenecia January 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm




27 Nicci January 4, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I love my Pink tool set, my Mom bought me for Christmas!!


28 MoneyMaus January 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

My Mom gave me a small pink hammer when I started college. The bottom unscrews to reveal some mini screwdrivers! When I graduated she added a powerdrill to my collection. Ikea furniture is so easy to put together with my tools…no man required! Did I mention I’m 4’10” and weigh less than 100lbs? Never underestimate a girl with tools! ;) (Though I hope my future BF/husband will want to help me with the fix-it stuff. Because it’s definitely not my favorite.)


29 Sarah Crowder, formerly Syrup & Honey January 4, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Thank you so much for this. I didn’t realize the importance of knowing how to use tools – or, more generally, of knowing how things work – until after undergrad. Now working on a farm, I feel so behind. I work with all males and they think it’s funny when I get excited about my first time driving a tractor or using wire cutters…but I think to a couple years from now when I will be comfortable with all of these things and smile.


30 Emily Malone January 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I worked on a farm this summer, and learned as much about myself as I did about farming. :)


31 Nicole January 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Amen to that sister!


32 Talitha January 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I had this conversation but almost when it was too late! At least he is communicating, setting some boundaries and asking you for what he needs. I had to figure all of it out by myself, after 3 days of crying, packing my suitcase to go home, not eating and playing scary emo music.
I am glad I forgot that I had a hammer ;)


33 Tulip January 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Good reminder. I am about to move out and won’t have my Dad on calling for killing cockroaches. I love your R mug as well :)


34 Jess-The SemiAbnormal Gal January 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I have two tool sets….one for the house and one that rides in the trunk of my car, because I can actually do basic maintenance(like changing the oil, filters, some belts, etc) myself and my old car used to break down all the time, so having tools on hand was essential.

Why is it that guys want to fault us for not having enough friends, then bitch when we have a girl’s night out? I had a bf in college that did that one too many times. He became an ex-bf. Eric be warned! :D


35 G January 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Love this. Wonderful wonderful post.


36 Mary @ stylefyles January 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm

But this post should come with a warning (to the new grown-up class of boys and gals alike):

– If you go to Home Depot to buy your hammer, and need to ask a salesman for help, and he selects a twenty dollar hammer and hands it to you, and you buy it blindly because a hammer is a hammer and they can’t all be that differently priced……..

you have probably just been scammed.

Take it from someone who has been there and knows.

The bright side?

I now own a hammer with built in shocks or some other insane feature.

But it’s really easy to use.


37 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Shocks?! See, if I had a hammer with shocks, no one would doubt that I can take care of myself. (Even if it was acquired through scamming.)


38 Mary @ stylefyles January 4, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Oh, and when I first saw this post, all I meant to comment was that I also have that glass from Anthropologie (and love it). but mine has an “m”.

That is all.


39 Stephanie January 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm

After reading this today, I got seriously inspired to take on a man job. Our internet service at home has been going crazy haywire lately and we had someone come and look at it while we were at work. Their solution was to drop a whole new modem kit on our front step. Normally I would wait for Ryan to get home and fiddle with that crap, but instead I took on the project myself and now it works! Woohoo! (Do I get credit for this? A modem is sort of like a *tool*, right?) lol


40 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm

That totally counts! And also, that is awesome. Tech stuff is really intimidating — it makes me SO happy that you did this!!


41 Manon January 4, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Ok, A) I realized that I had one bitch of a day when I hadn’t made time to read your post yet.
and B) Having chronic “Miss Independent” syndrome, I can just IMAGINE the “oh no you didn’t” look on your face when Eric said you needed more friends. Playa puh-leeeease. This is probably one of my favorite posts of yours….EVER.


42 Kristen January 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm

I would undoubtedly be Ms. I-can-do-it-all-by-myself, if I didn’t have an inordinate fear of killing myself in the process. The only reason you won’t find me filling my tires with air is because I am convinced that I am going to over-fill them and die in some tragic explosion. And then people would just make fun me and be like, “Did you hear about that silly girl who didn’t know how to fill her tires and blew herself up in the process?” And that would just be sad. In other news, it sounds like I could use a tire pressure gauge, eh?


43 Katie January 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I stumbled along your blog after deleting mine … and I LOVE THIS POST soo much! I have been feeling down and discouraged moving back home and not feeling good about having “my own place” but I do have my own room to fix up again. I just have not been motivated to revamp my old bedroom but I should, it would feel good, be productive and I would be proud. I just get so overwhelmed at the thought for some reason! But you gooo girl, thanks for the emotional lift! xoxoxo


44 Rachel January 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Awww…love this comment. And also — DO IT. Not only did I build the bookshelf yesterday, tonight I hung three pictures. My room is looking good, but more important, it just feels good to build, decorate, and create your nest!!


45 Dallas January 5, 2011 at 8:26 am

Do it, Katie! When I had to move home for a few months after college graduation, I could not BEAR to move into my high school bedroom with the band posters and horse show ribbons and high school memorabelia everywhere. I pulled it all down, repainted the jankity walls in a fresh, pale purple, got a new bedspread, and hung some cheap framed art. Insta-grown-up!


46 Tracy January 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm

I have a hot pink tool kit that I got as a graduation gift from HS. I have moved it with me to every house and apartment in college and plan to continue to lug it around. I love it! Men be damned I’ll hang my own TV on the wall thank you very much! LOVE THIS POST!


47 Caitlin January 4, 2011 at 11:34 pm

If there is one thing I cannot STAND, it’s when a girlfriend of mine plays the whole whiny, “I can’t do this card.” I wish it were just tools I am talking about but would you believe I have them ask me to do things like book appointments for them??! It’s like, Hi, we are past our MID TWENTIES NOW can you please stop embarrassing yourself (and me)?

I actually used to love tinkering around with a hammer and some nails when I was little. I love that you took control and did the dang thang – not that I would ever expect less.


48 Angela January 4, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I get what Eric is saying, but you’re right, you want to spend time with him because you love him. I HATE that we get forced into playing games, but if you’re too available to spend time with him, then he starts to think there is something wrong with you.

I did something very similar to what you did. I moved (though just 150 miles) to a new city, no friends, no job. My worst mistake was moving right in with him. He had a job. I was in the apartment all day long by myself and when he came home, I wanted to be entertained, of course. Add to the mix that he was bipolar and a chronic liar…yeah.

Anyway, in the end, I did prove to myself that I could make a big move and all that.

But I pretty much took care of everyone else in my life for the first 36 years. Bob now takes care of me, my car, everything and I’m really enjoying it. Sometimes I think that I’m going to lose all of my ability to rely on myself if I don’t step it up, but I know I could do it again if I needed to.

It’s late and this is really disjointed. :D


49 Ashley January 5, 2011 at 6:19 am

nice. this may be your most empowering post to date.


50 Katie @ peacebeme January 5, 2011 at 10:49 am

My dad would be very happy that you wrote this post. ;) He owns a hardware store and this has been his mantra my whole life…he has three daughters and we all got a toolbox as our high school graduation present. Haha!


51 Emily @ aladyinlove January 5, 2011 at 10:53 am

I think that one of the hardest things to deal with in a relationship is finding balance between independence and interdependence. Additionally one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had was having a SO question my motivation for wanting to spend time with them. All i wanted to say was:

“UMMM I’m AWESOME. Of course i have other friends! I have all the friends i need thankyouverymuch. Now watch me give your computer a virus that you won’t be smart enough to remove.”

As a result of that experience and having a male-dominated culture continually question my abilities to take care of and provide for myself i’ve become borderline obsessed with being self-reliant.

I have been pilfering tools out of my dad’s tool chest for years and now have a whole set of my own that sit squarely next to my blow dryers, curling irons and extensions. I’ve changed a tire, jumped a car (or like 3), checked my own oil & tire pressure, I have a work bench in my bedroom, i can run circles around the geek squad, i can wire a light switch, have painted my room 3 times since i was 14, I’ve hung mirrors and built bookshelves–but honestly the hardest thing to do was find a significant other who appreciated my ability to do all these things and who didn’t feel emasculated when i volunteered to check his oil for him.

I think most of us have been in a situation similar to you & i really admire your willingness to share your experience and determination with us. I think you handled yourself with grace and composure—good job finding balance in your relationship with yourself and eric.


52 sbg January 5, 2011 at 11:34 am



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