Deconstructing IKEA

screwdriver-iconIt all started when my wife said, “Let’s go to the Twin Cities.” 

“Why?” I asked.

I am always a bit leery when she suggests going to The Cities because usually it involves shopping.

“No reason,” she said.

So I agreed to go.

Then she had to add, “Let’s take the pickup.”

“If there is no reason,” I asked, a bit suspiciously, “why drive the truck?  The car gets better mileage?”

“We are taking the truck,” she said, “end of discussion.”

An hour and a half later, as the skyline of downtown Minneapolis struggled to peer out of the urban haze, the other shoe dropped, “Let’s stop at IKEA!” she cried, “after all, we have the truck.”

So I spent half of yesterday assembling a pickup load of flat pack furniture.  The other half of the day I spent screaming at the cats for batting odd bits of IKEA hardware down the heat registers.

It 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 (the customer) spend half your day squinting at anemic scribbles while muttering to yourself, “Is this the part they are referring too?” and “do I have it oriented the same as they show?”

But the genius of IKEA products compensates for that.  It’s in the way the furniture is held together by an intricate thicket of steel pegs and half-moon clamps. The idea is that 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 is the genius. What is easy to assemble and dis-assemble is also 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 and shrieking at cats.

What my wife wanted was a hide-a-mess; an armoire desk.  So we bought her a gleaming white one. The thing is, everything from IKEA is made from the same gleaming white pressboard panels. Trying to identify what is what is like putting together a two thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of the prairie sky.

But I did it… most of it anyway.

I managed to assemble both the base and the armoire section of the hide-a-mess and then required assistance when the illustration showed two people gently lifting one piece onto the other.  

If you know anything about IKEA, you know they are a modern, 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 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 not doing it like it shows..”

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?”


After she leaves the room.

Me: Sigh…

Author: Almost Iowa

43 thoughts on “Deconstructing IKEA”

  1. 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


  2. 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.

  3. 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….

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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. 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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