I had to go to IKEA today. I didn’t want to. Every time I’ve ever been to IKEA, I go away swearing up and down that I’ll never go there again. But every five-six months, I find myself right back there in furniture shopping hell. This time it was because of my wife. She found a bookcase online and she insisted – IN-SIS-TED – that we get it from IKEA. So off I went. She didn’t come with me – she only slows me down. And for God’s sake I don’t ever let her go to IKEA by herself. God bless her, I love her to pieces, but she has, shall we say, a very low tolerance for impulse purchases. That’s all IKEA really is, anyway: there’s one rack that has the thing you want, and the rest of it is a mile and a half of impulse purchases. So I said “Sure thing, honey, I’ll go get it.” And off I went to the ex-urban consumer purgatory to get this bookcase.
Over the years, I’ve developed a strategy for shopping at IKEA. First, I have to accept that it’s gonna be a total time-suck. However long I think it’s going to take to get what I need at IKEA, I have to multiply it by three for proper time management.
It wasn’t so bad before. It used to be that you could hire a little native boy to guide you through the retail jungle. You’d roll up and there would be a little group of blond-haired Swedish boys clustered in front of the entrance, and you could give one a Hershey bar and an American dollar bill and they would guide you through the maze to where you wanted to go. “Oh, ya, ya, kommen sie mit, kommen sie mit…”
They got rid of those kids a couple of years ago, so now I’m on my own. So I approach it like a commando raid. I’ve got a store map from one of my previous expeditions, and I plan it all out and figure out where I need to go, and where the shortcuts are and how to get in and out as quickly as possible. You’ve got to plan ahead, you can’t just “browse” there, or you’ll never come out. There are still people there who went into “browse” IKEA on the opening weekend five years ago – they haven’t even made it past the bedroom section.
The key strategic point is to minimize the amount of time you spend on the “Street.” For those of you who are fortunate enough not to have been inside an IKEA the Street is the long, convoluted aisle that leads through every part of the store. It’s scientifically designed to maximize the amount of time and money spent there. And it’s exhausting. Of course, they’ve got a cafeteria strategically placed so that when your body is on the verge of collapse and in desperate need of protein, you can buy some meatballs made of gourmet Scandinavian horsemeat. And the Street is one-way – they’ve even got little arrows on the floor. God help you if you have to backtrack while you’re at IKEA. Salmon swimming upstream to spawn ain’t got nothing on the poor schmuck who has to go against the flow in an IKEA showroom.
Hell, it’s not that much better if you’re moving in the right direction. Most of the people at IKEA are just in total slow-shuffling, glazed-eye, mall-zombie mode – total sensory overload: “Look at all the shiny things!” And I think it’s even worse at IKEA, because they have all of these little “scenarios” – bedrooms and living rooms and offices showing how wonderful your place can be if you just spent all of you money at IKEA. The shopping zombies slow down even more, thinking “Wow, maybe someday my place can look like that!”
NO! Your place is NEVER going to look like that. Unless you move into the damn store, your place is never gonna look anything like that. The best you can hope for is having all of your shitty stuff, and one piece of slightly less-shitty IKEA stuff – provided you can put it together.
Good luck with that. Look, I’ve got a master’s degree in engineering, and I can’t put IKEA furniture together properly. It’s the damn instructions. Hell, they’re not really instructions, anyway – they’re cartoons, and not even good cartoons. It’s like they hired some loser from Hanna-Barberra who got fired because he was too drunk to draw Snagglepuss.
But you’ve got to get your crap out of the store and home first. And finding the specific item you’re looking for is just the first step. Once you’ve located it, you have to write down where it is, and then get to the warehouse to actually pick it up. Before you can get there, though, you have to through the “Marketplace.” This is where the real impulse items are laid out, and there the herd goes into grazing mode. By the time I get to the Marketplace, I’m getting anxious, because I’ve already walked three-quarters of a mile and know that I’m only halfway through the store.
This is where the commando tactics really come into play, and I’m constantly seeking ways to take a shortcut and get the hell out of there: “Okay, I can duck around the back of the teakettle display so I can bypass the enormously fat woman with three screaming kids, then buttonhook around that pile of paisley throw pillows to avoid the three stoners shopping for wall hangings for their dorm room, and finally cut behind the picture frame display to get past the airhead who’s stopped her cart in the middle of the main aisle so she can Tweet about the cutesy ice cube trays she’s about to buy.”
Finally, I get out to the warehouse, where the stuff I really want is, and find the row and bin where the bookcase is. This is where it was good to have the little native boy with you, because those boxes are HEAVY. Even a tiny little endtable comes in three boxes that weigh about a hundred and fifty pounds each. Christ, I might as go ahead and make an appointment with the chiropractor before I even leave the house: “Hello, I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Khalsa for tomorrow at 11. Yes, I’m going to IKEA.”
So finally, I’ve covered more distance than an NCAA track meet, loaded the heavy boxes onto the cart that somehow has five wobbly wheels, and that brings me to the final indignity: the check-out line. God bless IKEA, for they are doing some good by hiring mentally disadvantaged teens and twenty-somethings to run the registers. I think that’s what happens to the gold-medalists at the Special Olympics – they get to have a job running a register at IKEA. Okay, I’m being a little tough on the clerks. They really do a good job, considering that all they do all day is deal with people that have just been run through a giant consumer rat-maze.
I know I’m in a foul mood by the time i get to the checkout. I’m tired, my back hurts, and I can see daylight, freedom is just twenty yards away, but I’ve got to wait for the woman in front of me who has a shopping cart piled sky-high with random knick-knacks because her husband wasn’t smart enough to keep her from going to IKEA unattended. To make matters worse, they’ve got yet another cafe just past the checkout that’s wafting artificial cinnamon-bun smell right towards you. Have you noticed that the cinnamon buns you buy never smell that good? I think there’s a company in New Jersey that all they make are big tanks of artificial cinnamon bun smell, and ship them to IKEAs and airports all over the country.
Actually, if IKEA was smart, they’d do away with the cafe at the exit and put in a bar, so you can try and take the edge off of the stressful shopping experience you’ve just undergone. A shot or two of aquavit would go down well after dealing with that showroom.
For me, it doesn’t matter anyway, because once I’m clear of the register I am not stopping for anything, so you’d better get out of the way. I’ve got three hundred pounds of flatpack boxes, a shitload of momentum and a burning desire to get the hell out of IKEA. I don’t care if it’s a bunch of crippled nuns chaperoning orphaned burn victims, if they’re between me and the door, they’d better move it or they’re going down like tenpins.
Finally, I get back outside, and I just gotta hump my purchases across an acre or two of parking lot, and then somehow figure out how to load all of it into a ’95 Firebird. I’m tired, sore, and pissed off, so I’m sorry if I seem a little bit on edge.
Now you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got to go try to put a bookcase together.