Rarely do three syllables evoke so many starkly different reactions as “IKEA.” For some, it’s a bastion of Swedish simplicity. For others, it’s an endless maze of would-be DIY failures. As a spatially challenged, unhandy person who is generally too impatient to follow directions, you can guess on which end of the IKEA spectrum I fall. But IKEA is a cruel mistress, and every so often, its siren song calls me toward it once again with promises of good-quality dressers and picture frames at cheap prices.
After a few more trips with my three children (ages 1, 3 and 5) than I care to admit, I have made close to every mistake in the book. Below are some hard-earned lessons. May you learn from my mistakes.
1. There is a time for bribery.
IKEA is one of those times. I go into any IKEA shopping trip with the attitude of “whatever it takes.” In this case, “whatever it takes” means “cinnamon buns for everybody!” And for those worried about excessive calorie consumption — see number 3.
2. Use the play area.
IKEA has a play area for children 37-54 inches tall. I hear they have videos, crafts, books, a ball pit, and a play structure. If your kids will go for it, go for it! Unfortunately, my children prefer to see me walk in ever widening circles trying to find my way to the checkout station. I think they get a kick out of my maniacal musings — especially when I get to the hallucination stage. But I can see in theory how the play area would be a really awesome thing.
3. Dress as if you’re going for a day hike.
Because you basically are. Are you wearing comfortable shoes? Did you bring a canteen of water? A walking stick? An emergency flare? A whistle? By hour two of finding yourself back in Kitchens for the umpteenth time, you are going to want all of these supplies. Yes, they have maps. Yes, they even have arrows superimposed on the floor directing you to the exit. But I believe there is a Swedish conspiracy that makes those arrows switch directions when you aren’t looking. There is no other explanation for how long it takes for me to find my way out of that place.
4. Take a photo of the aisle and bin number for the product you are planning to purchase.
There is only one thing worse than trying to find your way to the self-serve pick-up area: finding your way to the checkout twice.
5. Keep an eye on the number of boxes your item comes in.
Remember that the number of boxes in which your furniture is contained directly correlates to the number of hours you will spend trying to decipher the hieroglyphics that are the IKEA instruction manuals. When shopping at IKEA, I like to follow this simple rule: If there’s one box per furniture item, it’s good as done; if there are two, get the heck out of there.
This is not a spaceship I am attempting to build, friends. It is a dresser. The only time I should be putting this many small things into their intended space is when I am shoveling M&Ms into my mouth in an attempt to erase the memory of the past three hours of IKEA assembly.
6. Gently dissuade your children from assisting you.
When children will not be gently dissuaded, give them small jobs to help. My 3- and 5-year olds sorted out all the different screws into piles. My 1-year-old then carefully messed up all the piles. It’s all about teamwork!
7. Secretly throw out all those extra screws and mystery objects.
If, after furniture is fully assembled, you still have two screws, a washer, and some other small thing remaining, just pretend they’re extra. (Please, please let them be extra.)
8. Admire how the finished product looks just like what you chose!
Um. I will let the photo speak for itself here. (Notice a difference from the earlier photo at the store?) By the way, did you know that the box the furniture comes in has a picture of the furniture on it as it should appear in its finished state? There is really no excuse for my dresser failure, other than sheer exhaustion after walking 14 miles to try to buy it. I suppose I should add “make sure that you not only take a picture of the correct aisle and bin number, but that you actually consult the photo before taking your furniture.”
9. Decide it’s close enough.
Because I am never, ever going back to that place again. Ever. Or at least not until my baby outgrows his crib in a few months. Whichever comes first.
May this list help you on your IKEA journey — and please be sure to leave an emergency contact before heading in!