Assembling an Ikea Dresser

In the last chapter of our nursery preparation adventures, we were shopping around for a dresser that could double as a changing table (more on that here.) We ended up settling on a white 8-drawer HEMNES dresser by Ikea — and being naive and inexperienced when it comes to Ikea furniture, actually assembling it was an ordeal that took us the better part of a week.

The unopened Ikea dresser boxes sitting in the nursery.

Look at how small and innocent the two boxes pictured above look, just sitting there, all compact and contained. But then we opened them, and unpacked everything, and just seeing the dozens upon dozens of components made us wonder if we’d gotten in over our heads in the furniture-assembly department:

I call this shot "an Ikea dresser exploded all over the nursery."

By comparison, assembling the crib was child’s play (pun intended) — it comprised of just five pre-assembled pieces, only a handful of bolts, and required just one tool (an Allen wrench) that came included in the box. All told, it took us about an hour from start to finish. (See here for my post on the crib assembly experience.) This Ikea dresser, on the other hand, required a slew of tools and fasteners, which we laid out in the crib for organizational purposes:

Various tools, nuts, and bolts laid out in the crib.

There are even more hiding under the instruction manual in the above photo. Speaking of the instruction manual, it was long, and it communicated its instructions using only pictures, never a single word of English (or any other language). Below is a closer shot of a random page:

A closeup of the assembly instruction manual.

For the most part the instructions were clear and understandable, although a few of the more poorly-drawn steps led to some childish joking around (I know, I know, the manual wasn’t actually telling us to do something naughty to the dresser while standing on a rug.) Anyway, we diligently set to work on the assembly process, and after the first night we ended up with something like this:

Is it a dresser yet?

From there, we continued working at it for maybe an hour per night, just trying to get in a few more steps whenever we could. Overall, the whole thing went pretty smoothly except for two small snags:

  • When we reached the step that involved fastening the dresser to the wall (recommended by Ikea for maximum stability) we thought we’d have to go shopping for some toggle bolts for our plaster walls. But it turned out there was solid wood behind the spot in question, so a normal screw worked just fine.
  • Once we had the dresser mostly-assembled and moved into place against the wall, we realized that it was wobbly, like one leg was shorter than the rest. At first we thought we’d made some horrible mistake in assembling it, but then we realized the problem didn’t happen if we moved the dresser elsewhere in the room — apparently the floor in this old house is just slightly uneven in the corner. So we stuffed a small piece of cardboard under one leg and all was well.

The final stretch involved assembling the drawers one by one — Joe and I each ended up tackling half of them.

An upside-down and partially-assembled dresser drawer.

And the end result was a nice functional dresser, fully assembled and securely fastened to the wall. Our brand-new gifted changing pad is sitting on top, waiting for the last few finishing touches to turn this ordinary dresser into a full-fledged changing table:

The finished dresser!

So now that we officially have the two biggest furniture items for the nursery out of the way, I thought it would be helpful to look at what still remains on the nursery to-do list:

  • A comfy chair — for what will no doubt be many hours of rocking and nursing. We’ve already ordered one, and if all goes well we should be picking it up on Sunday — more details on that coming soon.
  • A fan of some sort — to help with air circulation, which we’ve heard is correlated with a lower risk of SIDS. Maybe a nice ceiling fan if we can figure out how to install one.
  • A screen door — to keep unauthorized kitties out, as discussed in this post.
  • A soft, thick rug — for baby to crawl around on later, and to cushion her parents’ aching feet late in the night. This one is probably optional, but it would be a nice addition.
  • Decorations — the fun part! We’ve got the mural, but the nursery is still lacking various other cute, colorful things for the walls. I’ve also been aching to handcraft some sort of DIY mobile.

The list is a little longer than I would prefer now that there are only five weeks to go, but I feel like we’ve been making good progress so far. And it’s nice knowing that even if Baby Hart were to come home today, at least she would have a place to sleep and get her diaper changes.

Our 1st Wedding Anniversary

One year ago today, Joe and I got married at an outdoor ceremony in Florida, held in Joe’s Grandmama’s gorgeous waterfront backyard. In some ways it’s hard to believe that an entire year has gone by already, and yet so much has happened since the wedding that it seems like it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

Me and Joe at our wedding, September 25, 2010.

So I thought it would be fun to do a blog post with a few of the highlights from our first year of marriage, complete with exciting never-before-seen pictures.

First off, the time immediately after the wedding was pretty chaotic. October involved a health scare that landed my dad in the hospital — twice — and Joe and I spent many an evening visiting him there and trying to help out in any way we could. It was a stressful and worrying couple of weeks, but thankfully Dad’s fine now.

In November I started a new job, which was a pretty big step forward for my career and which I’m still working now. For the first time I had to ride the train to a highrise downtown every day — a huge difference from driving out to my previous small office in the suburbs — and since we were both taking the same train now, on many mornings Joe and I would ride to work together.

In December, we returned to Florida to spend Christmas with Joe’s family, which has become a bit of an annual tradition for us. It was wonderful seeing everyone again, and as an added bonus we got to go on a family outing to see the huge Christmas lights display at Bellingrath Gardens:

A few of the photos I took of the Christmas lights at Bellingrath Gardens.
Lots more in my Flickr photoset here.

At the beginning of February, nearly two feet of snow got dumped on Chicago in what was the third biggest blizzard in the city’s recorded history. Work was cancelled for both Joe and me, and we spent all day outside shoveling with our neighbors on the south side. (It’s interesting how snow days are a lot less fun when you’re an adult with responsibilities and a car to unbury and stuff.)

Left: Joe on the sidewalk, up to his knees in snow.
Right: me standing by our snowdrifted car and looking a little too happy about it.

Later that month, around Valentine’s day, we revisited the cafe where we had our first date, which we realized we hadn’t been back to since then. That same day we also went on an outing to the Field Museum, where we tried to recreate a cameraphone picture we’d taken of us with Sue the T-Rex back when we were dating:

Posing with Sue in February 2008 (left) and February 2011 (right).

Shortly after that came the news that we were going to be parents, and that inspired us to start looking for a place of our own — but I’ve already discussed both of those things plenty on this blog so far. (My post about the early stages of the pregnancy is here, and a summary of our house-hunting experience can be found here.)

Me and Joe after closing on our first home, June 23, 2011.

But even with all the chaos of impending parenthood and homeownership, we somehow had the opportunity to travel to California twice. The first time, in March, was by Prius — no doubt one of the longest, craziest, most enjoyable road trips I’ve ever been on. The second time was in August, by plane, which I’ve mentioned briefly in this blog post.

Me and Joe by the Golden Gate bridge, March 2011.

At this point, I’m noticing that it’s pretty difficult to condense an entire year into a single blog post, and there’s no doubt plenty that I’ve left out. But all in all it’s been an incredibly eventful first year of marriage.

Today, we celebrated our anniversary in a pretty low-key way: by getting noodles for lunch, going on a nice scenic drive, catching up on some grocery shopping, and coming home to fry up some yummy steaks. Before we left, we snapped this photo of us in the nursery:

Me and Joe in the nursery on our 1st wedding anniversary.

So that’s the first chapter of this crazy adventure that is marriage. And it’s almost hard to imagine what anniversary number two will look like: by then we’ll have a nearly one-year-old daughter, and who knows what else will have changed? But whatever lies ahead, I’m sure it’ll be an amazing journey.

Bathroom Upgrade #1: Adding Storage

Glancing at my archives, I realized it’s been a while since I blogged about anything house-related, other than our progress on the nursery. In fairness, the nursery is the only part of the house that’s been getting that much attention lately — but even so, there are a few little upgrades that have taken place since we moved in that haven’t made it to the blog, and I thought I’d take a look at one of those today.

I believe I’ve mentioned our old apartment on here before, but just to recap, it was a one-bedroom basement unit. It had its shortcomings, but one thing that was very hard to complain about was the bathroom, which was huge. It was seriously about the size of our current bedroom, and it had enough room for two sinks, a standalone shower stall, and a big luxurious jacuzzi tub.

Our new bathroom is tiny by comparison — a 5-foot by 7-foot box with just the minimum amount of space needed to accommodate a toilet, sink, and (standard-sized) bathtub. The following diagram illustrates the size difference — the exact dimensions of the old bathroom may not be exact, but it’s a pretty close approximation:

Floorplan of our old apartment's bathroom (left) compared to our current bathroom (right).

I didn’t realize until we moved just how much I’d taken all that space for granted. We ended up packing up an entire box of “bathroom stuff,” but we quickly found that in the new house, there was nowhere to put it. The medicine cabinet over our new sink was less than half the size of the one at the old apartment, and there was no linen closet or shelves to help make up for it. We had a cabinet under the sink to work with, and that was pretty much it.

One possible response to this dilemma would have been to find a way to reduce the amount of bathroom stuff we had. But instead, we opted to upgrade our bathroom’s storage capabilities, and began shopping around for some kind of shelving system that we could install over the toilet. We ended up picking up one from Target — the physical store, not the website — and unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the exact listing for it online. This one is pretty similar, though it has a different shelving configuration and is more expensive than what we paid for ours.

Anyway, here’s the bathroom as it looked when we moved in — the space above the toilet gets cut off on the left side of the picture, but you can kind of see that there’s nothing there except a towel rod:

The bathroom as seen when we moved in.

Unfortunately I don’t have any “before” pics from other angles. But here’s the bathroom as seen from the other direction, showing the new shelving unit installed over the toilet:

The shelves and cabinet installed over the toilet.

We picked the darker color because the only other choice was white, and it seemed like the bathroom might risk becoming too pale and bland if we kept adding white things. Unfortunately, it ended up looking darker in real life than it did in the picture on the box — the photo gave the impression that it was more of a rich wood color similar to the doors and trim we already had in the house.

But even if it isn’t the sort of classy, color-coordinated thing you’d see in the interior decorating magazines, it provided exactly the functionality we wanted: more storage! The shelves offer plenty of space for spare rolls of toilet paper and soaps and the like, and the big concealed cabinet added a welcome place for stashing stuff like shaving supplies and deodorant that we’d rather not have lying out all the time. Here’s a closer photo showing the setup of the shelves and cabinet:

Closer view of the storage shelves and cabinet.

So that’s the happy ending to what started out as an unfortunate bathroom downgrade, at least compared to our old place. But with that out of the way, the bathroom to-do list still has quite a few things on it, including:

  • Caulking around the bathtub — the need for which was glimpsed in this drain-related post. We actually went and got the supplies already, so it’s just a matter of getting to work on that.
  • Upgrading the plumbing fixtures — especially the showerhead, which is old and beige and generally kind of icky.
  • Ripping down the wallpaper — yeah, there’s wallpaper. Apparently the previous owners just painted over it at one point… which wouldn’t be a problem, except that it’s starting to peel up in places. Boo.

So there are plenty of bathroom projects left tackle. Although unless I get a mega-dose of pregnancy nesting energy soon, I have a feeling that most of these things are going to have to wait until after Baby Hart makes her debut!

Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

Now that Baby Hart’s due date is less than seven weeks away, the issue of diapering is something that we’ve started to seriously think about. There are two basic choices: cloth diapers and disposable diapers. (Well, technically there’s a third choice that involves just holding your baby over the toilet whenever they need to go — you can read more about that philosophy here — but we don’t really consider that a practical solution.)

Cloth diapering, on the other hand, is something we’ve been seriously considering. And not just because of how cute and puffy a colorful cloth diaper looks on baby:

Baby in a cloth diaper: Awwww. Image from here.

All cuteness factors aside, we’ve actually been doing some research on cloth diapering lately, and there seem to be some serious practical benefits that are making it look pretty attractive compared to using disposables.

First of all, until pretty recently, I’d assumed that cloth diapering involved complicated folding configurations, multiple layers, and the awkward use of safety pins. But it seems that cloth diapers have come a long way in modern times — some of today’s designs involve a single piece that look like they’d be as simple and hassle-free as putting on a disposable:

Diagram of an all-in-one cloth diaper by bumGenius. Image from here.

Of course there’s still the matter of actually washing them, which is no doubt much more work than just tossing out the diaper once you’re through with it. But when considering the costs of cloth diapering vs. disposable diapering, it looks like that added effort can translate into some pretty big savings.

The exact numbers vary from one article to another, but here are some estimates I’ve found while attempting to research how much money can be saved by re-washing cloth diapers instead of using disposables:

  • $199.62 according to this article, based on 4,065 diaper changes over the course of two years. They assume a cost of $705.53 for building up the cloth diaper stash and take the cost of doing laundry into account.
  • $1,117.40 according to this article, based on 6,840 diaper changes over the course of 30 months. This is assuming a cost of $610.20 to build up the cloth diaper stash, though it doesn’t factor in any costs of doing laundry.
  • $1,163.87 according to this article, based on some 6,700 diaper changes over 2.5 years. This assumes a whopping $1,413.48 (!!!) spent on cloth diapers and factors in the cost of doing laundry.
  • $2,293.00 according to this article, which assumes 9,000 diaper changes from birth to potty training. The savings figure is based on spending $750.00 on a cloth diaper stash and factors in the costs of doing laundry.

It’s a pretty wide range, and assumptions about the number of diaper changes, the amount initially spent on cloth diapers, the cost of your brand of disposables, and the costs of doing laundry all affect how much you can expect to save. But by all accounts the savings end up somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars — I’ve yet to see anything claiming that using disposables is cheaper — and that sum of money is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Then there are the environmental issues. According to this article, some 28 billion disposable diapers are dumped into U.S. landfills every year. In addition to the natural resources consumed in producing these, and the fact that it takes them centuries to decompose, disposable diapers also leak human waste directly into the environment, bypassing any kind of sewage treatment process.

A lovely shot of landfill garbage. Image from here.

While it isn’t as tangible a benefit as saving boatloads of money, it would feel good to avoid contributing to the world’s environmental problems as much as possible.

(Granted, I have seen a few articles and blog posts asserting that cloth diapering and disposable diapering are roughly equivalent from an environmental perspective due to the water and energy consumed in washing the cloth diapers, but frankly, I don’t buy it. It just isn’t plausible to me that manufacturing a diaper out of plastic and wood pulp, shipping it out to your local retailer, using it once, and then trucking it off to a landfill to fester for the next 500 years could somehow be offset by the water and electricity it takes to do a fraction of a load of laundry.)

There is one undeniable advantage to using disposable diapers, though: the convenience factor. And even though we’re mostly sold on cloth diapering for the financial and environmental reasons, we’re a little nervous to commit to it out of a concern that it’ll be just too overwhelming for a couple of first-time parents like us.

What do you think? Is it unrealistically ambitious to try to go with cloth diapers instead of disposables? If anyone reading has firsthand experience with cloth diapering, especially with a first baby, I’d definitely be interested to hear your thoughts or advice in the comments.

Shopping for a Changing Table

After we’d finally gotten and assembled the crib, the next big thing on the nursery agenda was to start tracking down the rest of the furnishings for the room. In addition to the crib and a comfy chair for rocking and nursing (more on that in a future blog post), we knew some sort of changing table would be essential. But we were a little hesitant to get one of those dedicated ones — it seemed wasteful to spend money on a piece of furniture that would be useful for only a short period of time.

Instead, it seemed like a better idea to get a normal dresser and attach a changing pad to the top for the duration of Baby Hart’s diapering phase. A simple setup like the following seemed like a good thing to aim for:

Example of a dresser-turned-changing table. Image from here.

And that’s how we came to start shopping around for a dresser, preferably white to match the crib, that would be a suitable height and length to double as a changing table. The search technically began with some half-hearted browsing on Craigslist, but when nothing really jumped out at us, we moved on up to that premium source of cheap, non-pre-owned furniture: Ikea.

I’ll confess that I’d never set foot in an Ikea store before we moved into this house, so I found it interesting just how huge the place was. There are two massive, maze-like floors of inexpensive Swedish furniture to waddle through, along with a third floor comprised mostly of a giant serve-yourself warehouse. The outside of the store alone makes big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target look puny by comparison:

The massive retail space that is Ikea.

And the parking lot is so huge and crowded that it almost makes you feel like you’re at Disneyland — although happily for hybrid-driving wanna-be-environmentalist jerks like us, they had a few of these lovely signs just past the handicapped parking section that we were able to take full advantage of:

"Hybrid Cars Parking Only" sign at Ikea.

Anyway, we made our way up to the “Bedroom Storage” section and started browsing. Ikea has a pretty good selection of dressers in different sizes and colors, and we were able to compare them side-by-side while considering things like drawer configuration and what would be a comfortable height for us to change a baby on. We ended up liking the HEMNES 8-drawer dresser in white:

HEMNES 8-drawer dresser by Ikea, listed here.

But instead of buying it right away, we mulled it over for about a week and considered other possibilities before going back and picking it up. Luckily, we were able to (just barely) load the two long boxes of unassembled dresser parts into the back of our Honda Insight and haul them home.

Having never actually assembled such a complicated piece of furniture, we were a little intimidated by the sheer number of pieces and the length of the instruction manual… But the details of assembling this monstrosity will have to wait for a future blog post. (Partially because we haven’t actually finished it yet.)