The Ikea catalog came in the mail today and there’s not another catalog which elicits such a thrill. (Perhaps children feel this way about the Toys R Us holiday catalog.) I sit on the couch, my legs folded underneath me, with a stack of post-its and my coveted furniture catalog. I flip slowly and deliberately, giving each page elevator eyes, and studying the meticulously designed rooms. I notice it all: the storage bins they chose for the bookshelves, the variety of lighting solutions, how many textures and patterns they use in throw pillows, curtains, blankets, and rugs. I am their prime consumer; ripe to buy what they’re selling. I want to jump into the catalog and virtually insert myself as a character in each one of the bedrooms, living room, or kitchen layouts.
I have a long standing history with Ikea as its followed me through nine different grown-up apartments over the last 20 years. My most notorious Ikea furniture assembly incident was immediately after I broke my knee. I put together an eight-foot tall Pax closet at my boyfriend’s apartment as I hobbled across the cardboard boxes laid out under the wood to protect the new wood floors. I hadn’t realized the knee was actually fractured. I came to my boyfriend’s apartment immediately after work, but en route, an older, heavier woman tripped and my knee softened her fall. She ended up on the concrete, surrounded by do-good bystanders eager to escort her to her feet. I remained upright, unwavering from the location where the X that marked her spot coincided with my knee. I instantly suspected the impact of her weight would have consequences because I had never experienced a twinge of pain like that.
I managed to walk two blocks and climb four steps into a city bus and somehow made it up a flight of stairs at my boyfriend’s walk up. “Why are you limping?” he asked and I told him the story.
It reminded me of the Yiddish aphorism, “A shlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup; a shlimazl is the person the soup lands on.” It pissed me off to be put into the victim role and I wasn’t accepting it. Instead, I spent six hours assembling closets and the next six weeks with crutches.
One of my boyfriend and my unofficial first dates was to Ikea. I had moved out of the apartment I shared with my husband, in the midst of divorce proceedings, and repopulating my new apartment with familiar Ikea finds. I was comforted by the Swedish names and the wordless instruction manuals I was able to decipher easier than a marriage manual.
We wandered through the make-believe rooms, holding hands, making out on the beds (gross, right), and eating vanilla ice cream cones. We came under the guise of “having a few things to pick up.” Little things like a dresser, a bookshelf, a coffee table, some votive candles. We agreed (four years before it actually happened) our furniture should be coordinated so if (WHEN) we move in together, it would all match.
Ikea sells more than furniture and they do it so successfully. They sell a lifestyle – a neat, organized, usually contained within the confines of a box, lifestyle. A way of life where everything is organized; family members not only help clean off the kitchen table, they load the dishwasher and put the silverware back into its proper slots within the organized drawers. A lifestyle where your socks are folded in little perfect circles within a clear grid within a drawer in your closet.
Ikea sells possibilities, potential, and inspiration (with a side of meatballs and cinnamon buns) and I, for one, am an eager consumer.