IKEA 1, James 0

22:44, Apr 23 2013

I've written about IKEA before. In sum, I think it's a power of good, if a homogenising force upon the world's collective home décor.    

Because we had just moved, LP and I were naturally in IKEA for two hours on Sunday.

I have noticed that with each trip back the actual experience of being inside IKEA for long stretches of time is like a crushing anaesthetic for the soul. It is physical purgatory.  

IKEAs are never located centrally, because you need a piece of land the size of your average metropolitan airport to find this much space for car parking and such a mega-mega-store. The Emeryville outlet (wedged between Oakland and Berkeley) stands in a concrete wasteland that borders freeways.

The stores themselves are painted a friendly blue and yellow (just like the Swedish flag!). They're massive, in the sort of way where you never really engage with the store as a whole place, just the small part of it that is in front of you at any given moment.

I'm an adult person, so I try to take a modicum of responsibility toward the fixtures that adorn my home. I don't like to desert LP to make these decisions completely on her own. I entered IKEA on Sunday high on having moved into a new apartment I was already fond of. I tried very much for the first part of our trip to engage sincerely in conversations like "which coloured bookshelf should we get?" 


I broadly (and maybe slightly judgmentally) place the people I see in IKEA into a few categories. There're the groups of friends who've just moved in together and bubble through the store enthusiastically, flush with the first bloom of adulthood and self-determination. There are the new-looking couples, intertwined, looking upon their partner with moony, swooning eyes, picking out furniture for the first home they may share with each other. Then, there are the people who've trudged through IKEA many-a-time before to decorate many-a-home and have a steely determination on their faces. I feel I'm getting to know this third group a bit more.

The first part of our IKEA visit,as always, was a little bit fun and goofy. There are all these fake living rooms inside IKEA, bathrooms and kitchens set up all over the place and endless rows of modern, bright-coloured furniture in between. I bounced about, played house in different corners and hilariously turned a paper IKEA tape measure into a Rambo-esque headband.

But I can never keep this up on any IKEA visit. The store is too big. There's too much stuff. There are too many rooms. The outside may be bubbling and inviting but inside there are too many contrasting shades of off-white and beige. I have what I like to call a shopping "window"; when the window wants to shut and I in turn have to fight against my attention span to keep it open, the fabric of my sanity starts to tear.

This is where I mentally, but not physically, abscond. I don't engage with home decorating like LP does. I can give an honest appraisal on how something looks to me at that second, but she's in turn comparing how that colour looks up against the curtains she had picked out and a couple of other things she has in mind to get yet. I'm just not on that level.

By the halfway point on Sunday I was following a basketball game on my phone half-heartedly and doing a lot of daydreaming, serving more as a freelance consultant when LP wanted a second take on things than a meaningful participant. 

When I stop shopping and start staring vacantly into space, I find something a bit awkward about assessing the male contingent inside IKEA at any point. There are too many bored-looking men traipsing along a step and a half behind their partner. I don't recognise myself in them, but then I worry that I'm kidding myself.

At some stage, we get through the upstairs part of IKEA, the furniture section, and move downstairs into the knick-knacks. Downstairs is where I inevitably lose it. As always, we went through about four rooms of inane trinkets and household guff before I was again convinced that there's no possible way another room of things could be on the other side of the coming door. But I'm wrong, as always. There's another huge room filled with plants and candles. This must be the end. No! Coat hangers and pillows! Is it over now? No! Picture frames and cups! 

This is where I get inpatient and start acting-out. I may be 28 but I'm not too unlike a child.

Part of the IKEA experience is that once you're through all of this, you're spat out into a self-service area where you have to find all of the boxes that you've marked out and head to a giant checkout. The scale of this final room is epic. Stepping into it, I was overcome with both an extreme gratitude to be out of the store and a childlike appreciation of it on the grounds of its sheer size alone.

I did the Carlton dance in celebration.

I guess the moral here, as usual, is that sometimes America offers up commerce on such a scale that when I come up against it, it just wins, you know?

I was pretty exhausted when we left, but I survived. Which makes this a true David and Goliath story, really.  

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