If You Build It…

My complicated relationship with Ikea

Image: fatinraihanna

I love Ikea. But I don’t even like to build my own breakfast. I figured if some higher power wanted me to build furniture, he/she would have made me a carpenter or allowed girls to take shop class in the Canon-McMillan School District in the ‘70s. As a child, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets were just confusing. And putting together furniture is neither time nor cost effective.

When I moved to West Sacramento last year, I discovered that my local bus route ended at Ikea. I hadn’t been to Ikea in years, but this new proximity made me curious to renew my acquaintance. I received the catalog, but I usually glanced through it and relegated it to bathroom browsing, adding it to that pile of unwanted magazines next to the toilet.

Before my first visit, I reviewed the latest catalog, and made a list of the exotic Swedish furnishings that I wanted to bring into my little apartment. Soon my list totaled over $300. Once there, after fortifying myself with some Swedish meatballs, I started looking for the things on my list. Did I really want a $40 mirror to hang over my bathroom or bedroom door? And how was I going to get 50 pounds of wood-like furniture-to-be slabs out of the Zipcar that I had rented for the occasion? No wooden Ikea furniture for me. If I couldn’t lift it onto a pallet, I wouldn’t be able to lift it out of the car. Even though I really craved the butcher block stand for my new microwave, and a $50 television stand, I had to leave them behind. I wasn’t about to pay a $59 delivery fee to have an unassembled stand transported three miles.

I narrowed my purchases to metal. Unlike my musical preference, this metal wasn’t heavy. I got a $30 aqua blue rolling cart to use as a nightstand. I got a metal valet to display my clothes for the next workday. I bought a pink metal desk lamp for my new nightstand. I bought three garbage cans — a pink wire one to put next to my $5 desk, a large plastic one for my kitchen and a black metal one with a foot pedal for my bathroom. But even putting together the cart and valet proved to be a challenge. I can’t follow directions, especially when they are drawings that make no sense. I reversed the rods on the valet and had to take it apart.

But I do have some Ikea furniture. A co-worker gave me a used chair that after a year is on its last curvy legs. I bought two Ikea dressers from a friend of mine. The front of the bottom drawer of one of them fell off after a few months. The rest of my furniture is a lot cheaper than a $40 Ikea mirror. I found a nice study wooden stand for my printer at Goodwill for $5 and another co-worker gave me a wooden bookcase that became the home for my microwave.

But I still love Ikea. My apartment is filled with Ikea minutiae that I never knew I needed. My new Ikea doormat greets me each day when I come home. Another Ikea lamp sits next to my computer. My television may still sit on a plastic tote, but my dirty laundry sits in a pink canvas Ikea bag. Who can resist a square clock that gives the time and temperature? Or a $2 throw and a $1 picture frame?

The only thing that resembles real furniture in my apartment is a folding bookcase from The Container Store (I used a $20 off coupon) and a kitchen table that I bought from a friend. Maybe when I move to my dream active senior community in a few years, I’ll commit to a La-Z-Boy, a real sofabed instead of a dusty futon, a comfortable queen-sized mattress with a bed frame and a television stand made of sturdy real wood.

Or maybe not. I think that it’s the impermanence of Ikea that lures me back. When I moved into my first apartment in 1984, I bought all new stuff from a fancy furniture store. But when I moved from Pennsylvania to California a few years later, I had to leave it all behind. And to be honest, home furnishings don’t really interest me. Even though I have about ten oversized interior design books, I don’t feel the need to emulate their pages. I don’t entertain at home, so it doesn’t bother me that there isn’t a place for guests to sit. I’m probably never going to own a house again or live in any residence for longer than five years, so it doesn’t make sense for me to spend thousands of dollars on furniture. So I will continue to go to Ikea, treating myself to dumb stuff I don’t really need and don’t have to put together. And meatballs, of course.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.