Man vs Ikea

The weekend before last, I had an important writing project to accomplish. Well, more accurately, I had three important writing projects to accomplish. Deadlines loomed. If I owned any boots, I would have been quaking in them. It was clear that I needed to spend practically all of my weekend sitting at my desk, responsibly tapping away at my computer. But on Saturday morning, as I sat down at my desk and began limbering up my typing fingers, I realised that something was amiss. The room was untidy. And by “untidy”, I mean that not only were there boxes everywhere from when I’d moved in a few months ago, but several of them were half-unpacked all over the floor.
My mother might have described my room as “looking like a bomb had hit it”, a phrase which I have now seen more than enough action movies to discredit – if anything, bombs remove objects littered around a room. A more accurate description might have been that it looked as though a toddler had run rampant, although in this case the only occupant of the room was 35.

I’d been promising myself all year that I would do something about it. And I remembered a quote by Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and disorderly in your work”. That’s what I needed, I told myself. I needed to reorganise my room.

I imagined myself sitting in a beautifully neat room. How happy I would be, and how productive! My jokes might even be funny, or at least, funnier. There was only one thing for it. I must set forth on a quest. A quest to a better place, a land of order and heavily discounted hot dogs. The de facto Swedish Embassy. Ikea.

I used to think that the Ikea at Homebush Bay was absurdly massive. In Homebush, Ikea is part of a huge shopping centre I like to call The Colossus Of Rhodes because of how I’m hilarious. But Tempe dwarfs it. The café area is bigger than most food courts. It’s on the scale of an airport, except that you are journeying instead to a better version of your own home. Well, perhaps not ‘better’ so much as full of plasticky furniture that I always manage to break when moving house. But still, it’s a pretty impressive place. Apparently lots of families visit their Beijing branch for a fun day out at a furniture theme park – and don’t buy anything. I thought this was ridiculous before they built the Tempe store.

It never seems clear whether Ikea never is a supplier of cheap furniture or a religious cult. When you walk in, there are a heap of posters suggesting you sign up for the “Ikea Family”. Like religion, their Family costs nothing and offers free cups of coffee. What’s more, they promise – well, not quite eternal life, but a much longer returns period, at least. And then before long you’re tithing them 10% of your income.

Nevertheless, I signed up for the Family the first time I visited, because I’m both a sucker for freebies and genuinely starved of affection. But I never remember my membership card, which means I print one every single time I come, which I think rather nicely offsets the patronising posters they have everywhere about helping the environment.

I have two major issues with trips to Ikea, both of which I only ever remember at the point of sale. The first is that they’re always out of stock of at least one essential item. Sure, okay, you can check stock levels online, which is progress, but if you go there without any specific goal beyond “organisation”, then you can pretty much guarantee that by the time you get to the vast warehousey bit at the end and wander down to the very end of the long aisle that always makes me envisage the racks toppling like massive scary dominoes in the event of an earthquake or maybe it’s just that I’m morbid, you’ll see an empty shelf and a cheerful little card telling you to try another day.

Instead, your trolley will somehow be full of a massive quantity of items that you didn’t think you needed. I simply cannot go to the place without buying napkins and light globes, even though I have a vast stockpile of both at home. Nor can I get home without buying some sort of cheap lamp. On returning home I discovered that I’d bought exactly the same model of cheap LED desk light that I already owned and had rejected because it hardly produced any light.

This time, I really outdid myself, buying a strip of flashing coloured LED lights that gave my apartment the exact ambience of a convenience store. And three packets of smoked salmon, because it was on special.

Fortunately, I avoided the most common mistake – buying frozen Swedish meatballs that I never eat, and don’t even like when I eat them at Ikea. However, I did succumb to the second most common mistake, buying a $1 hotdog, and some kind of lingonberry drink, which I managed to regret all the way home. I’ve never heard of lingonberries anywhere outside of Ikea, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to learn that, like nearly everything else at Ikea, they’re mass-produced in Cambodian factories.

The genius of Ikea, which they boast about in massive signs outside their bathrooms, is that by selling flat-packed, self-assembly furniture, they keep costs down. And the frustrating thing about Ikea, which I should put a sign warning me of outside my bathroom so that I remember it, is that I’m rubbish at assembling furniture.

In my defence, the booklets don’t help. The lack of language and colour makes it harder to interpret the instructions than it might be.

In their defence, I’m hopeless.

But for whatever reason, the first time I assemble any Ikea furniture item, I will inevitably make a major mistake by ignoring something that should have been obvious. This time, I managed to assemble a rack to hold my fancy new sliding drawers with the rails on the outside. Still, I didn’t destroy the item while trying to assemble it, which by my standards is progress. If there’s a way of assembling a Billy bookshelf without fatally chipping or warping the particleboard back, I certainly haven’t discovered it. Which is why my bookshelves have innovative see-through backs.

By the time I’d driven to Tempe and back, and assembled the new storage system that I’d bought, it was 7pm. The next step was to fill the drawers with the contents of my boxes, and make it all tidy and nice. But I was tired, so I went and had dinner. And then I invited friends over to play Singstar. Which meant that I awoke on Sunday morning to a room that was even more cluttered than it had been on the Saturday morning, because it now contained not only the original mess, but the storage system.

I sighed, resigned myself to deferring the tidying project to the following weekend, and sat down to finally get to work. By which I mean that I went out for coffee.