IKEA-phobia

IKEACartoon

I have not stepped foot in a Home Depot store in years. The last time I did, it took me forever to find the aisle I was looking for, after which I still couldn’t locate the items I needed, and the store workers seemed as clueless as I was. (It doesn’t help that I am the most inept home repair person you could ask for.) I went home that day and told my wife, “Don’t ever send me to Home Depot again. If you do, look for me on the news, because I will be taking hostages.”

There is only one chain store on Earth that has instilled more fear and hostility in me than Home Depot did. And I visited that store for the first time yesterday.

IKEA opened a branch store in Jacksonville last month, just before Christmas. My wife and kids went there one day while I was at work. When I met them for dinner that night, they all rhapsodized about the never-ending space in the place and how you could find nearly anything there that you wanted for your home.

Yesterday, my wife took me to the store for the first time. I have no problem summing up the experience in one word: Intimidating.

In more than one word? IKEA is like a combination of a museum, a warehouse, Walt Disney World, and some international store where you don’t recognize half the words on the labels.

The first thing we took care of was a minor return. Then we decided to get some lunch. I reiterate, my wife had already been to the store once before. Yet she had to ask for directions to the cafeteria. When we finally got there, we had to wait in a long, wrap-around line before we could even pick up a tray. (As I said, Disney World.)

Then…trying to find a specific item or area? Good luck. There are “You Are Here” maps hanging from every corner of the building, but we were watching people who tried to follow the maps and were still having trouble. I’ve been driving a car for nearly 40 years in the Jacksonville area, and I always lament that, if you take one wrong turn in Jacksonville, it takes you 15 minutes to get back to where you need to be. Negotiating IKEA is the same kind of experience.

The most impressive part of the store is the completed rooms on display. For only $800, folks, we can do up your living room like this! When I was a kid, I was fascinated by E.L. Konigsburg’s novelĀ From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, wherein two runaway siblings hide out in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Those two kids would have been right at home in an IKEA store.

But the sheer size and audacity of the place overwhelmed me. At one point, my wife told me to go sit down while she looked around for a few minutes. I was grateful to sit down, because I felt as though I was having an anxiety attack. I had to tell myself, “Deep breaths, deep breaths…”

My wife, on the other hand, had no such qualms. She was the kind of shopper that IKEA dreams of. She spent ages poring over every item in the store. At one point, she pointed out a particular couch to me. “It’s perfect,” she said. “It looks great, it’s comfortable, and it’s also at a nice level.”

I replied, “It’s also $549.”

She huffily said, “I’m not planning to buy it! I’m just getting ideas.”

That’s what IKEA is all about — giving people ideas about spending money they don’t have on items they don’t need. My wife bought a small ceramic pitcher “to use for cream for my coffee.” My wife has not fixed her own cup of coffee in years — she always has me do it. And never have I expressed any interest in creaming her coffee from a pitcher instead of the carton.

At her December IKEA visit, she bought a three-shelf rolling cart, which she keeps by her living room chair and which holds all of her prescriptions and books. That’s fine. But she keeps trying to buy me the same kind of cart for my books. When at home, I spend most of my time in my man-cave. The shelf unit I have in there works just fine. Again, I never expressed a desire for a more superior shelf unit. Nobody comes to visit my man-cave — my own family doesn’t want to be near it. What do I care about a shelving unit? Who am I going to show it off to?

Yesterday, my wife again tried to buy me this shelf unit I never asked for, until I finally said that I had never asked for it and we shouldn’t spend the money. Only then did she express the real reason behind her insistence. “Well,” she said, “if you don’t want it, maybe I could put it on the other side of my living room chair.”

My wife and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary in March. When we first got married, we were extremely acquisitive, having both grown up in semi-poor households. As we got older, we started getting rid of our useless trinkets and began to shed our acquisitive attitudes. For years, we had been patting each other on the back for avoiding the hoarder syndrome and for not continuing to buy stuff we didn’t need.

And then my wife visited IKEA last month.

I think the word IKEA is Swedish for “extraneous bulls**t.”