There are certain experiences in life that change us. This change can be temporary or permanent. Travelling the world alone at eighteen, for example, induces a permanent change, often for the better. There are, however, certain situations that we find ourselves, in which it is necessary to adapt our outlook on a more temporary basis in order to survive. Taking the bus home at rush hour in the rain, sitting in traffic jams with family, listening to political speeches: these all require an element of adaptation without which we would simply lose our minds.
If any of you have ever taken a trip to IKEA, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In fact, if IKEA had been around when Dante was writing Inferno, he would have renamed the Seventh Circle of Hell the Market Place. Everyone one of us needs to work ourselves up for a trip to IKEA. It takes training – mostly mental and emotional – and by god, does it take stamina.
As soon as a trip to IKEA is booked into your schedule, the necessary transformation begins immediately. Everybody knows the secret to success is preparation so you start The List. IKEA forces even the most chaotic amongst us to be organised and The List is often divided into separate rooms under which items such as ‘overhead light shade’, ‘small rug’ and ‘organisational unit for corner of bathroom’ (there’s no name for that, but you know IKEA will make one and call it something like MKALTOBOOBS) go. It goes without saying that you must have space at the side of every item to clearly list the aisle and location numbers as you want around the Swedish merry-go-round of masochism. You don’t want to get those locations mixed up otherwise, by the time you get to the self-help area and your sense of humour is half way home and your patience got up and left somewhere near the soft furnishings, you’re liable to cry publicly and loudly if you can’t find your new lifestyle accessories. So you construct The List. You might even copy it out neatly before you go.
Then there’s transport. You certainly can’t get the bus to IKEA, or the train, or any mode of public transport unless it comes with a boot the size of Luxemburg. I don’t care if you’re only going for a garlic crusher, you’ll need a boot the size of Luxemburg. No one, in the history of IKEA, has ever, I repeat ever left IKEA with the one thing that they went for. Nor has anyone left for less than £100. If you have, don’t bother writing about it at the bottom of this blog, unless you scan in your receipt to prove it because I simply won’t believe you.
Once you’ve figured out how to get there, you’ve got to decide when to go. Unless you’re into self-harm, you rule out Saturday and Sunday straight off, followed by any Bank Holiday if there’s one looming. Ideally, you want to be able to go early in the morning on a weekday but that may require taking a day off work. “That’s a bit over the top,” you might say. Well, it depends on whether you think wearing a seatbelt is over the top, or not leaving matches with your toddler; it’s basic health and safety. If, however, a day off from work is not feasible, then an evening will have to do. Usually 7pm onwards is the best option but it only leaves you three hours so you’ve got to be prepared to be focused, fast and unflappable. You’ve also got to book a babysitter, which may seem extravagant, but again, it’s the safest way to play it. Oh, and get a good night’s sleep, don’t go with your husband/partner/baby and, whatever you do, don’t go on an empty stomach.
So you’re there. You park (easier written than done). Your heartbeat is a little faster than usual, there may a sweaty palm or two on the horizon but the adrenaline is kicking in and as soon as you walk through those sliding doors you know what needs to be done. You’ve already been cut off by a family carrying thirteen boxes that are six feet long and you watched an old man moved unfeasibly quickly to get the last trolley which he technically snatched from your grasp. In fact, you realize that all your manners must go out of the Swedish-designed window.
Shopping at IKEA is a little like cage fighting: there are no rules and you do what you need to do to survive. No more Mr. Nice-Guy. You make no concessions for children; they are simply planted there by ambitious parents to slow you down and frankly, if they’re stupid enough to bring Small people then they deserve what’s coming. What’s a scratched knee or two in the search for minimalist joy? By the time you get to the market place, you’re elbowing people out of the way to get the last set of IKEA Maaaaaaasbrogen glasses. A couple is fighting in the corner and a sadistic smile spreads across your face. Who’d be stupid enough to go to IKEA with a partner? Ha! Rookie error.
Once you’ve established your territory, a trip around IKEA may start off well, until of course they run out of the one set of curtains that you want. They tell you they’ll have more in tomorrow. “But my IKEA trip is today! It’s impossible for me to come back tomorrow!” you wail. The thought of having to return is already bringing you out in a rash. You move on. The trolley starts filling up. It gets harder and harder to navigate. You scrawl your aisle and location numbers down. You start to sweat. You can’t keep track of what you’ve got and what you haven’t got. You add in an egg-slicer because who doesn’t need one of those? You try to focus but aren’t those fairy lights pretty? Oooh, and those candlesticks would look great on the mantelpiece. By this time, it doesn’t matter that those things are not on the list. You’re like a child in a sweetshop. You’re in a blue and yellow coloured frenzy. You’re overdosing on lifestyle choices that weird Swedish boffins have created for you in a warehouse somewhere in the land of meatballs.
You emerge into the somewhat ironically named self-help area totally spent. You take a few moments to regroup before you head off into the maze of fifty feet high shelves. You balance a number of heavy boxes precariously on top of two trolleys. You’re on the home straight. You can feel it. You’re stronger than you’ve ever been. You’re lifting boxes from location 71 as if they’re no heavier than a box of cornflakes. You’re lumping them on the trolley and speeding off to the next aisle. It’s 9.30pm. You’ve got time to spare. The queues aren’t too bad. You don’t even care about the astronomical bill; you’re just pleased to be out of there. All the stress and pain that you felt somewhere in the middle is obliterated now by the excitement of taking it all home and transforming your life into an oasis of style and harmony (that will look like everyone else’s oasis but you silence this thought). It doesn’t matter than it’ll be 11pm before you’re home and you’ve got work tomorrow. You’re going to go home and make it all nice. Sigh. Of. Relief.
Beware. I urge you to enjoy this moment while it lasts. This moment is very shortlived.
Seconds after the high, the downer sets in. You get the car but you can’t park it in the loading area. Bad. You can get everything in except the oversized mirror so you have to queue to get it delivered. Bad. You get home and remember that you’ve got to put all the bloody stuff together yourself. Bad. You realize you only got one box of two instead of two boxes of two and you without half of your chest of drawers. Bad. You only realize this when you’ve exploded all the screws, pieces and instructions all over the floor. Bad. You’ve got to go back to IKEA all over again to get the other box. Really bad.
Basically, this is not a nice experience. No one enjoys a trip to IKEA. You might think you do but, like deciding to have a second child, you only do it because you can’t remember the pain. It’s exhausting, stressful, and costs you a fortune, and potentially a relationship. So why do so many of us do it? Well, I’ll tell you why I do it…because the meatballs are so damn good.