I started running errands before I had dry cleaning or a bank account or even a firm grasp of fine motor skills. Errands were the magical stuff of which weekends were made. Every weekend, until I was old enough to stay home alone, my parents would toss me in the car and away we’d go—to the grocery store, the bank, to do a return. On an errand, anything could happen. Checkout-line candy bars were acquired. Teachers were encountered outside of their natural habitats (always weird). Standing rides on the back of a shopping cart left me winded and thrilled.

My favorite place to run errands was a place called Hechinger, down the street from my first childhood home. On semi-monthly jaunts to this big-box hardware store, I’d sit in the cart while Dad loaded bags of mulch and cans of paint into the shelf underneath. My dad has never been handy in the let’s-just-unscrew-the-pipe-and-take-a-look kind of way, but he’s always been excited about projects. Through the plastic lattice of the cart, I learned to share his excitement, and to recognize the hardware store as a place of infinite possibility.

A hardware store is a craft store plugged into a generator, propped up on stilts, and illuminated with a set of halogen spotlights. While A.C. Moore pushes preboxed mosaic kits, Ace hustles 10-pound bags of concrete and tiles by the case. When I started making things, I fawned over yarn and glitter and jars of glass beads—craft store stuff. Though I still lust over the Michaels circular in the Sunday paper, I’m just as likely to peruse the Home Depot flier. In warehouse-sized aisles of the hardware store, project possibilities feel infinite. Bins of metal doodads, tiny potted plants, and stacks of wood are constant reminders that anything—really, anything!—can be fixed, repurposed, or made from scratch.

Since I’ve learned the ways of the hardware store, I’ve furnished two bedrooms for under $20, learned to clean my own hair out of the drain, and turned out a bunch of semi-wearable necklaces. It’s freeing to know that it is within my grasp to fix or make anything, or at the very least find two studs and hang a shelf.

The hardware store will also supply you with everything you need to hang heavy stuff, like this map, on a wall.

At the hardware store, everything has the potential to be something better. If you’re the kind of person who likes to build, tinker, make, or destroy, odds are you’ll find SOMETHING in this project-topia that gets you going. Here are just a few products, departments, and ideas to get you started:

  1. Chains and ropes. You can buy all kinds by the yard for mere cents. Right next to them, you’ll find all kinds of crap for putting them to use. Fasteners. Pulleys. Swively-things. Necklace-making/beaded-curtain/hanging-stuff potential is endless.
  2. Lights! For a non-Christian like me, Christmastime at the hardware store means January sales on twinkle lights and multicolored light bulbs.
  3. Plants and seeds. Make terrariums or plant a garden or make seed paper.
  4. Wire. Wrap stuff in it. It comes in colors, and, like chains and ropes, it comes by the yard for next-to-free.
  5. GLUE AND TAPE. This is my favorite section. Take two things. Hold them together—for eternity, or for just five minutes. Once you expand your worldview beyond the classic Elmer’s you’ll realize how much you never before knew you had to, um, adhere? For big stuff I like Gorilla Glue. For small things like jewelry, E-6000 in the big metal tube.
  6. Tension rods. These spring-loaded bars let you put a curtain anywhere without drilling holes in the wall. Great for dorms, rented apartments, and bedrooms that your mom won’t let you redecorate. For larger spaces, try expandable shower curtain rods, in the bathroom section.

    Curtain on a tension rod.

  7. Paint, especially spray paint. You might need someone to buy it for you if you’re under 18, but it’s worth it, because Krylon Premium Metallics are one of my top five favorite products on earth. Like, I’m 30-cans-in-the-garage obsessed. This miracle paint dries shiny, like metal, so anything can look Cash4Gold ready. As of now, I’ve got a 24-karat bike and dresser.

  8. Tools. You can never have enough X-ACTO knives, screw drivers, hammers, and tape measures.

Lots of things that are freeing or thrilling come from being somewhere that you feel like you really aren’t supposed to go. When I first started thinking about my love for the hardware store, I thought for a second that maybe I loved it because I was a girl in a place that was made for supposedly greasy-handed, dirty-finger-nailed MEN. As it turns out, I really don’t give a shit about who’s standing next to me as I deliberate over two different kinds of glue. Like with my dad, it all comes down to my project, and making it happen.

Before & after.