Friday, March 09, 2007

The IKEA Effect

Since there has been such a clamor for me to return to my regular scheduled blogging program (ok, just from Neetu, but still), I think it’s time for me to get back on track. The only excuse for my posting hiatus is that moving, decorating and starting a new job sucked up way more of my creative energy than I anticipated, besides leaving me Internetless, cableless and generally cut off from the world for the past three weeks.

The biggest problem with being a nomad for the first half of your twenties is that when you finally settle on a place where you plan to stay for a while you find that the only things you’ve managed to accumulate in the last four years are a bed and a toaster. And eight boxes of VHS movies your significant other has been collecting since he was ten and refuses to part with.

So most of my time has been occupied with how to fill an 800-square-foot apartment on a 400-square-foot budget. This project can be pretty much summed up in two words: Target and IKEA.

These twin titans of moderately priced home furnishings have become my second home over the past few weeks. And while Target remains my favorite one-stop shopping destination, I’ve recently discovered that IKEA might actually be the unhappiest place on earth. Some could probably make an argument for Iraq, Guantanamo Bay or the Department of Motor Vehicles. I say it’s a toss-up.

I grant you that IKEA is, in theory, an inspired idea. Those crafty Swedes sought to create a big box Xanadu of affordable faux-wood furniture that even the most boneheaded among us can assemble with relative ease. The reality is that IKEA is actually some kind of brain fever-inducing Hell mouth.

Think I’m exaggerating? Spend a Saturday afternoon wandering around their cavernous showroom and you’ll observe hundreds of hitherto completely sane people screaming at each other over items with elfish names like “Mumsig” and “Ektorp.” I witnessed no less than three couples descend into outright name-calling, and Matt and I barely avoided a brawl of our own when we realized we had left the room measurements back at the apartment. I wonder how many relationships have been destroyed over whether the extra-wide bookshelf will look unwieldy in the living room.

Fighting your way through the hordes of would-be bargain decorators and screaming children, you can actually feel your sense of decency and order disintegrate into a kind of primal survival instinct. Suddenly, your desire to pick out a damn coffee table already and get the F out of there overrides any other consideration. You find yourself grabbing at the first things you can get a hold of and wandering aimlessly through Media and Storage for the fifth time because Bedrooms seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

And finally--once you’ve made it through the unending labyrinth of furniture and home d├ęcor--you grab a cart and lumber through a giant warehouse stacking up large boxes of unassembled wood like a little worker ant. You wait in line to pay, and then push your laden-down cart to the loading area where one of you guards the haul while the other pulls the car around. The most horrifying moment of all comes when you realize that you’d gladly back your car over a family of four if it meant they’d get out of the loading zone faster.

Then you get back home, hoping to banish all thoughts of the previous four hours of your life, and realize that the birch veneer you thought would complement the couch perfectly is all wrong and that those fire engine-colored curtains that you grabbed in a frenzied haze not only don’t match your lovely dark red accent pillows, but they make the entire room look like a giant stop sign.

So, this weekend we're going back into the fray armed with receipts and a new mental toughness. Furnishing our apartment with the perfect combination of style and thrift has become my white whale, and I remain undeterred in my quest.

Call me Mumsig.