I love IKEA. To me, it really is the happiest place on Earth. A secret dream of mine is to be locked (by myself) in IKEA for a week and be able to buy anything I want during that time. IKEA feels like home to me - not so much the actual store - but the store experience is so very Swedish. And, being half Swedish and half Danish, I feel like a bird coming home to roost after a long trip. From the smell of Swedish Meatballs and Lingonberry Jam in the restaurant, to the practical, inventive, and funky designs, it says "home" to me.
But IKEA is not for the faint of heart or soul. IKEA isn't easy - it makes you work for the love. IKEA sets high expectations of its customers and, if you hate IKEA, you just haven't met these high expectations. So, I have compiled a list of 10 ways to survive and enjoy your IKEA shopping experience. How I am qualified to make such a list, you may ask? I have visited a total of five IKEA stores (Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and both in Chicago) and have consistently shopped at the stores for the last 10 years. So, heed my advice. Or suffer the consequences.
(1) Some assembly required. If these three words scare you, stay away from IKEA. Please. We don't want your kind. I personally think assembling my own furniture is a challenge and I feel a huge sense of accomplishment every time I build another bookcase or dresser or chair or table. I like that most of the furniture comes flat-packed. That means that those of us who choose not to own giant SUVs or pick-up trucks can still carry furniture in our cars. I have been known to fit quite a bit of stuff in my little four-door sedan, with plenty of room for more.
(2) Only attend during weekday hours. I cannot tell you how important this tip is. Never, ever, never, ever go to IKEA on the weekend or on a holiday. I almost always go on a Thursday. If you go on the weekend or on a holiday (even worse, a Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas), you are asking to be crushed in the mass of people entering the door. During one trip, my dad commented, "There are more goddamn people in this store than lived in my home town." (Of course, his hometown only had about 300 people, but still . . . that's a lot of people in one store.)
If you do choose to disobey this rule, you will suffer the consequences. For every hour you spend in IKEA on a weekend or holiday, it will take you two hours to decompress and become non-homicidal toward the GP (that's the General Public for those who have never worked retail.) I have a suspicion that most road rage incidents are directly linked to spending time in IKEA on the weekends.
And here's another tip - you can never just "pop in" to IKEA. No one pops into IKEA. The IKEA experience is one to be savored and enjoyed. It's not Target, for crying outside.
(3) Never go with a spouse. I don't care who you are . . . if you go to IKEA with your spouse, you will have a fight. I have never seen a couple in IKEA who weren't either actively fighting or stomping around glaring at each other. I personally like to shop alone or with one or two selected friends. And, before shopping with a friend, you should agree on your IKEA strategy and philosophy. If you don't agree, don't go to IKEA together.
Furthermore, even though IKEA is one of the most kid-friendly stores I have ever seen, do not bring your children. They won't enjoy it and you will hate them by the end of the day. IKEA has a children's play area called Smaland, allegedly where kids can play while their parents shop. I have my doubts. I think Smaland is actually the portion of the store that sells children in flat-pack boxes. I really believe that is what happens to children who enter the store with their parents. The parents can trade them in for a really nice end table, depending on how cute they are. Some kids may be worth an entire bedroom set.
(4) Enjoy the drive. No matter how far away you live from IKEA or how far you have to drive, you cannot get there from here without taking at least one wrong turn. Every IKEA I have ever been to is located in suburban hell. You can always see IKEA from the major highway, but you can never get there directly. One ill-fated trip to the IKEA in Los Angeles had my cousin and I yelling "Look kids, it's BIG BEN" for nearly 45 minutes because we kept circling in on the building, but never quite getting there.
The good news is that IKEA stores are bright blue and yellow and are impossible to miss, even from miles away. So, you can always see your destination . . . it's the getting there that is a bitch.
(5) Take the first spot. Don't bother driving around the parking lot looking for the "closest" parking spot. It doesn't exist. The cars that are in the first 12 spots are there permanently. They never move. They are display cars put there for marketing purposes only. You will never get a closer spot. Plus, you just wasted half an hour driving around the suburban perimeter of IKEA so take the first spot and get on with your life.
(6) Make a plan of attack but don't follow it. Have a general idea of the major item or items you are looking for and make sure you have measured carefully. However, do not fool yourself into thinking you will only get that one item. In fact, you may spend $200 and never even think of that item. For example, for the last 4 years I have wanted to get new curtains and shades for my bedroom. I have the measurements in my appointment book. In the last 4 years, I have probably been to IKEA 20 times. I still don't have new bedroom curtains. But I do have the rest of my house nearly completely decorated.
Once you enter the store, immediately pick up two catalogs, two measuring tapes, two pencils, and a cart. Believe me, you will need them. Why two catalogs? One to mail to a friend (I always mail one to my cousin in Denver who doesn't have an IKEA yet) and one to keep at home. And you will want to keep it at home. The IKEA catalog is like the bible, but better. I have every catalog from 1998 to 2009. I still look at them all. And no, you can't borrow them.
(7) Take a load off. I personally start every IKEA shopping trip with a meal, to get me in the Swedish mood. A sure thing is always the Swedish Meatballs, new potatoes, and lingonberry jam. Wash it down with a bottle of Kristian Regale and you are set for at least two hours of shopping. Plus, the restaurant is the only place in the store with windows, just in case you forget about the outside world.
(8) Follow directions. IKEA has the path of travel marked for you in every store. Don't try to circumvent their planning - you will get lost. And, when you take the escalator and you place your cart on the cart escalator . . . don't worry. You will get your cart back - no one else will take it. Seriously . . . you don't have to push people down the escalator stairs to get to the bottom before your cart does.
(9) Be prepared to wait. For a really long time in the checkout line. That's just the way IKEA is. Everything runs perfectly until the check out. So, bring a book or the latest New Yorker. Better yet, make friends with the other people in line.
Also - bring your debit card. If you use your debit card at IKEA, they will give you a coupon worth 3% of the total you spend that day. The coupon never expires and can be used at any time. Believe me, it adds up.
(10) You should take it with you. Be prepared to take all of your purchases with you that day. If they won't fit in your car, bring a bigger car. IKEA's shipping costs are extreme (part of the way they save you money is not to tie shipping costs into their furniture costs).
In the future, if you would like to bitch at me about how much you hate IKEA, you will be given the finger. No, not that finger . . . my index finger pointing to this blog post. If you haven't followed these directions and had a shitty time at IKEA, I don't want to hear it. You might have to face the fact that you are not IKEA material. Not everyone can be perfect.
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