Lately, I’ve been doing most of my home furnishings shopping in the alley and thrift store. But last week, I wanted to price some small sofas for my mother-in-law’s apartment, so I made my semi-annual* trip to the nearest Chicagoland IKEA.
IKEA is a swirling vortex of my least favorite things: shopping, driving and being around indecisive people in strange suburbs. But over the years I’ve figured out how to make the IKEA experience a tolerable, even mildly pleasant one.
Any fool with an internet connection can advise you not to shop there on a Saturday, or to make a list, or to take measurements before you leave the house, because that’s true of any shopping trip.
But today you’re going to finally learn what you’ve been doing wrong all these years, with Projectophile’s handy list of IKEA DOs and DON’Ts.
BEFORE YOU GO →
DON’T shop with your spouse or significant other. I only go with my friend Bjorn (not his real name). Why? Bjorn is the perfect IKEAmate: a pleasant man who has known me for ten years, understands my lifestyle and taste, and cares about my well-being. But more importantly, he doesn’t have to live with the consequences of my decisions, so there’s no bickering. Plus, his hybrid car means we get to park ten feet closer to the door!
DO wear comfortable shoes at least one size too big to account for the inevitable foot swelling. The average IKEA shopper will walk at least 9 miles, mostly in circles, before she finds that perfect coat rack. At least three of those miles will be in search of a bathroom.
DON’T wear a yellow shirt. For the same reason you don’t wear red to Target or a black turtleneck to the Apple Store: desperate people will ask you questions. I begged an innocent young woman in a yellow shirt to show me how a sleeper sofa opened. Once I realized that she was a civilian, I was too embarrassed to end the tutorial (plus, she was good at her “job!”). Later, I spotted her in the check-out hiding beneath her husband’s green sweater.
DO block out the entire day for shopping. If possible, free up the early evening as well for recovery and reflection. Bjorn and I ended our IKEA day by sitting in a dark room, sipping a cleansing kale-banana-and-ginger smoothie.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE →
DO obey the cryptic signs posted at the door. If your hands emit radio signals, it is important to connect them with a child who also emits radio signals, before you enter the enormous revolving doors:
If you’ve lost your hands and feet, immediately run on your stumps to toward the giant hand on the door that is pointing up.
DO sit down and eat as soon as you arrive. Deep-sea divers know they’ll get the bends if they immediately plunge to the ocean floor. You, too, need to slowly acclimate to the pressure of the IKEA-nviornment.
Plus, the drive from Chicago to its Northwest Suburbs is traumatic; Bjorn and I always get tangled up in some tentacle of O’Hare International Airport (ORD). The lunch break is a good time to discuss why we didn’t just give in, hop on the next flight to South America, and — hey, meatballs!
DON’T take a shopping cart. Bjorn and I challenge ourselves to shop as long as we can without a cart. “If you can’t carry it, you don’t need it” is our motto. Though in reality, we don’t need any of this shit. Be warned: particleboard is heavy, and this is how you may feel the next morning:
DO assume code names while on IKEA property. You never know who’s listening. For example, I called Bjorn (not his real name) “Ekby Tony” in a faux Brooklyn-Italian accent.
WHILE YOU SHOP →
DON’T steal a bunch of these tiny pencils. You’re not actually Sticking it to The Man. These pencils are carefully engineered to only reach the second knuckle of an adult finger, rendering them useless beyond their purpose of scribbling bin and aisle numbers.
DO BUY →
- Anything made primarily of solid wood, metal or glass. We got this little HELMER steel drawer unit about a decade ago and it’s held up beautifully. And yes, we do have a drawer just for steel wool
- Fabric: By the yard, it’s cheaper than your big-box craft store. Choose from dozens of consciousness-expanding (occasionally disturbing) European designs.
- Curtains: Both window treatments and shower curtains are cheap, lovely and durable. We liked our IKEA “cattail” shower curtain so much, we decided to take our Adult Prom** photos in the bathroom:
- POANG: Generally, I don’t recommend buying IKEA furniture, but this classic chair — made from solid bent wood — is sturdy, comfortable and cheap; my favorite chair for nursing. But save a trip to the ‘burbs: on any given day, you can find a dozen for sale on Craigslist.
Sadly, though, this hypnotic chair-punching machine is not for sale:
- Baby & Kid Stuff: There’s a reason that 37% of IKEA customers are pregnant women. All our kids sleep in solid-wood IKEA beds: one in a GULLIVER crib, the other two in a MYDAL bunk bed. And for less than the price of a pack of birth control pills, you can walk away with this modern, easy-to-hose-down highchair: Don’t forget to buy your favorite kid some strangely adorable IKEA stuffed toys — Estelle has a rat and a strawberry. However, if your kids don’t know where bacon comes from, you might want to avoid this morbid stuffed toy display in the kitchenwares department:
- Suitcases! I didn’t know IKEA sold suitcases either, until I found a used one at my local thrift store for a dollar.They’re more than just giant orange LEGOs you can take on an airplane — these cases feature ultra-smooth rubber wheels that allow you to sneak off silently in the night without waking, say, an unsuspecting husband.
DO NOT BUY →
- Particleboard anything. Yes, yes, we have a giant EXPEDIT in our living room, just like everybody else. But we bought it used on Craigslist and only out of desperation. Remember that particleboard = twice as heavy, and impossible to repair. Beware of anything labeled “foil finish.”
- Knives. Regular silverware is fine, you can get that stuff anywhere. But for serious cooking, just spend the money on a set of Wusthof or Henckels.
- Non-stick pans. These pans are so crummy that one on display actually fell off its handle, and it was STILL ON DISPLAY! Also, Teflon = Death. Just get a cast-iron skillet at a yard sale and learn how to use it.
- Couches: So low to the ground it hurts my knees just to look at them. Don’t let the catalog fool you! Bring a shopping partner who is at least 6′ 4″ and make him sit on the couches to give them a sense of scale.
- Polypropylene rugs. Chemically identical to Velveeta. I don’t know how IKEA gets them to look so good in the catalog, but if it’s a sunny day, these rugs will start to melt in the back of your car on the way home.
* Semi-annual = twice a year. Biannual = every two years.
** Adult Prom is a real thing we just invented because none of our friends are getting married anymore, and it’s fun to dress up and drink punch.