Deconstructing IKEA

screwdriver-iconOut of the blue, my wife suggested, “Let’s go to The Cities today.”

I am always leery when she proposes driving to the Twin Cities – because it usually involves shopping.

“Why?” I asked.

“No reason,” she said.

It is only then she added, “And let’s take the pickup.”

“If there is no reason,” I questioned, “why the truck?  The car gets better mileage?”

“We are taking the truck,” she said in her way that ends all discussion.

An hour and a half later, when the skyline of Minneapolis struggled out of the urban haze, the other shoe dropped.

“Let’s stop at IKEA!” she cried, “after all, we have the truck.”

So most of yesterday was devoted to assembling a pickup load of flat pack furniture.

The remainder of the day was spent swearing at the cats for batting odd bits of IKEA hardware down the heat registers.

The task proved what I have always suspected about myself. I can hose up even the simplest of things and IKEA instructions are about as simple as you can get. In fact, they are so simple, you might call them sketchy because that is what their instructions are: drawings.

I suppose when you sell furniture all over the world, the cost of writing instructions in thirty languages becomes excessive – and handing out twenty-nine sets of instructions to people who can only read one… Well, that seems ridiculous – so IKEA uses sketches to illustrate each step.

Which means you mutter to yourself while squinting at anemic scribbles.

“Is this the part they are referring too?”

“Do I have it oriented the same as they show?”

But IKEA products compensates for that.  They are all held together by an intricate thicket of steel pegs and half-moon clamps. This way at some point in the future, you can collapse your entire household into a single flat pack box and toss it into the trunk of a Volvo.

And therein lies the genius. What is easy to dis-assemble, is easy to re-assemble – in other words, you can constantly and effortlessly fix your repeated mistakes.

Which is what I did yesterday when I was not squinting at illustrations or shrieking at cats.

My wife wanted a hide-a-mess desk.  So we bought her a gleaming white one. The thing is, everything from IKEA is made from the same gleaming white press board panels. It is like putting together a two thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of the clear sky.

But I did it… most of it anyway.

I managed to assemble both the base and top but required assistance placing them together.  I knew I needed help because the illustration showed two people gently lifting one piece onto the other.

If you know anything about IKEA, you know they are a progressive and inclusive company – which is why the illustration depicted a woman lifting the armoire section and a man helping her.  Since I put it together, I recruited my wife as the helper.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: “Why don’t these &^%$# pegs line up?”

Her: “If you are going to swear I am not going to help you.”

Me: “If I can’t swear I am not going to put your desk together.”

Her:  Gazing at the instructions on the floor. “We are doing it wrong..”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Her: “The woman is doing most of the work and the guy is helping her.”

Me: “You’re kidding?”

Her: “Just try it…”


Her: “Admit it, it worked.”


Her: “You are too proud to admit it, aren’t you?”


Her…  leaving the room in triumph.

Me: Sigh…

Author: Almost Iowa

47 thoughts on “Deconstructing IKEA”

  1. I visited IKEA once. Saw a lot of happy shoppers and some polite sales people, but till I left, I couldn’t figure out why it has such a good reputation. But then, I don’t know much about buying things… and they didn’t have anything I wanted. I’ve been reading a few of your pieces now, and wanted you to know I appreciate your writing. Haven’t laughed out loud yet, but I’ve enjoyed myself, and that’s just fine.

  2. Just found your site, and I’m laughing empathetically. Will you follow up with something on those darn shopping carts they have there? Every time I have to navigate an arrow-induced turn, I lose a few children and knock over a bin of 99 cent hangers.

  3. DRAT those cats! All shrieking should be directed at them.

    Ohhh, the IKEA stories we have… what the heck is going on in that illustration? I feel like they skipped a picture somewhere. Did you first check to see if we had all the pieces? (My husband loves that question.) Hey, look, I did it! Something that seemed so ridiculously easy, was misleading!

    Around that time frame, we watched one of those silly, comedy teeny-bopper movies about the high school cheerleaders that were turned bank robbers and the “bad ass” one opens up their box of guns that are actually bits-n-pieces of guns and she yells out, “Oh, we’ve been IKEA’d.”

    We laughed so hard! It’s called Sugar and Spice


  4. My boyfriend wants to go to the nearest one, which is in Phoenix. I’m not feeling it. It’s hotter than here and I don’t see why we can’t just buy furniture here. I’ll go along for the ride.

    1. If you have not been to an IKEA, it’s a fun experience, especially the cleverly designed mini-apartments. That and the names of their products are a hoot.

  5. We put together three pieces of IKEA furniture in the past couple of days (and have a few boxes left), so I can relate. 🙂

    1. My sympathies! Still, I like what my wife picked out. She has a hide-a-mess for her little office and we have a set of cabinets and a dresser that we are using as a folding table in the laundry. Now she wants to do an IKEA kitchen. Hmmm….

  6. Greg, as you know, I’m mostly off the Internet revising/writing, but that doesn’t stop me from reading your wonderful articles when I need a break and a good guffaw sprinkled with chuckles. Your writing never disappoints. This was no exception. Thanks.

    1. Hey, thanks John, and thank you again for all the encouragement you have given me over the years. I don’t know if I would be writing today if it had not been for your example and support.

  7. I do not go with my Significant Other to Ikea for reasons I have stated in a previous post. On top of that, I will be in there for a week. You do know that there are people who have been lost in Ikea for years?

    1. Yes, many IKEA shoppers never return – but keep in mind that one can live on meatballs alone, and the ERKDORF beds are super comfy.

  8. I’ve never been to IKEA, but I know there’s one in Houston, so I went to their web page. That’s where I found this: “Shop curated looks and small space essentials with our crash course in self-expression.”

    I don’t think I fit their customer profile. But, I’m with you on more diagrams and fewer truly weird, wordy instructions. Thank goodness everything was color-coded when it came to putting my computer together.

    1. Like I told Audrey, It is worth going to IKEA just for the experience. They do have some clever things. We user their LED lights for reading at night. They are the best reading lights I have ever used. Very inexpensive, very practical.

  9. The thing with IKEA is once you build it and put it in place it can never be moved again, or it will return to the sawdust and glue that it is.

    1. I kind of got that impression as I was driving their little half-screw/half-clamp pegs into the press board… you don’t want to cross-thread any of them or you lose the whole piece of furniture.. crazy.

  10. When I helped oldest son move to his new home, I learned to love IKEA, sketches being singularly more valuable than a thousand badly mis-translated words. I must admit though , it took many non -IKEA flat packs to convince me.

    1. The sketches are a great idea.. but they are so sketchy that it was hard to tell if you had the right piece and if it was oriented correctly – which is a big deal. If you do it wrong, it can cost you hours.

      1. Indeed, but I suspect I gained all the hours back when I used what I’d learned to interpret other sets of instructions. The +×÷=% ? Oh, wasn’t there a picure of a _€£¥₩ being added to a whatsit when I built the whereisit?

  11. I cut my teeth on Sauder furniture (from whence most of my vocabulary developed), and I would wager that IKEA is where all those designers who washed out from Sauder-school have found a home. I only go now if I’m jonesing for tasteless “meat”balls drenched in mucous.

  12. Do you know the very mention of IKEA (obviously first noted within your title to this piece) causing stress and more than a little cold sweat. I went there once and my wife got told off for walking the wrong way round the place and thereafter, back home we nearly divorced as she attempted the assembly of the galaxy of items purchased – none of which we really needed in the first instance. You are clearly a braver man than I!

  13. My hubby (your twin 🙂 ) always tells people the best advice he got from a relative when we were engaged to be married (33 years ago). There are two very important words you must never forget if you want to have a happy marriage, “Yes” and “Dear” put together – “Yes Dear!” 🙂 Use them! LOL!

    1. My wife says, “Yes Dear!” is the smartest thing a man has ever said. Not sure I agree though… which explains why I always have something to write about.

    1. You should visit IKEA, if just for the experience. It’s a lot of fun, especially the 350 sq ft apartments. For an hour or so, you get to be a twenty something again.

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