Divided Meal Tray

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Furniture assembly aid

I am not the handiest person: the skill level for IKEA furniture assembly, though, I can generally handle. Even so, I have a tendency to drop tiny pieces into unreachable recesses or into the great unknown (sometimes they get rediscovered by the washing machine), or to confuse similar looking screws or bolts.

For a long time, I’d dump all those screws and widgets into a little pile on the floor, where it seems they would walk away or burrow into the carpet. Then I dumped them on piece of cardboard (too easy to spill), then a shoebox (easy to reach into, but not enough organization), then a tacklebox insert meant to hold things like fishhooks and weights (good organization, but not finger-friendly).

The best antidote I’ve found for these headaches, though, is a divided enamel-on-metal tray of the kind used in some cafeterias for food service, and a mindset shift. (I have one blue tray that probably came from a yard sale, and another in orange.) Now, when I start a flat-pack furniture assembly job, I snip open the bag of fasteners, disposable wrenches, and doohickeys, and sort the contents into the sections of a tray, and count them. It’s oddly satisfying to see them all lined up, too — a tiny organizational sculpture. The rounded slides of each compartment make them easy to grab bits as needed. I like that the trays I have are in bright colors; I’d otherwise like a nice stainless steel, but the orange and blue finishes have better contrast when looking for a tiny washer or screw.

I consider this system to have two small debits. One: unlike some more specialized divider trays, this one isn’t magnetic, anti-scratch, or equipped with non-slip feet. If I was building flat-pack furniture or sorting beads for a living, I’d want an even more specialized system. Two: these trays aren’t made for securely covering or storage, in the way of a tackle box or a multi-day pill box. (Bonus points if you can tell what I’m about to assemble here.)

02/24/17 -- Timothy Lord