How I learned about life from IKEA

Santa brought me a chair for Christmas, where I am sitting right now as I type (though possibly not as you read). It’s my favourite chair, an exact replica of the chair I had back in LA. It is a PoƤng chair from IKEA, my favourite chair from my favourite home furnishings supplier.

Despite its many shortcomings, IKEA holds a special place in my heart. It may be like one’s first girlfriend or first car, simply that it was first furniture store in my way when I needed to furnish a space. It could be because it was the cheapest place in town to get breakfast while I was a destitute postgrad. But I think it was because I really enjoy putting things together, making IKEA the drug pusher to my inner crack whore. After putting together my own stuff during postgrad, I pounced on any opportunity to put my friends’ stuff together whenever they furnished a new space. With each bookshelf, bed, chair, or stereo cabinet I pieced together, I noticed a pattern emerging.

It wasn’t that the directions were unclear, or all that difficult to follow. One doesn’t even need to be literate to make it through a set of IKEA directions. But with every piece save the three-piece wonders that one doesn’t need directions for, I noticed there was a point in every assembly process where I got stuck. It’s when I’m more than halfway but less than two-thirds done. It’s where the wheels come off. (Sometimes literally, in the case of a particularly sticky chest of drawers.) It’s the point when I look at the sad little man in the front of the directions and think that I, like the little man, might be able to solve all my problems by ringing IKEA and confessing that I have no idea how to proceed.

I call this the IKEA Point. I have gotten past it every time without having to ring IKEA, though it has sometimes required that I leave the room and have a cup of tea. Oddly enough, I have reached the IKEA Point in other sections of my life, and thanks to IKEA I have some confidence that I can get past it. I had a series of scares while working on my thesis and research proposals, for example, where I was convinced I would have to give up on LaTeX and retype everything in Microsoft Word. I got past it.

Lots of stuff in life doesn’t come with instructions, but some stuff does. Often those instructions are confusing, but it’s possible to get past it. Not a bad thing to remember, when facing down a room full of pine and you’re armed with only an allen wrench.

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When I don’t like Christmas

Three times I have been prodded, and so it shall be. I am bound to blog, unlucky are ye.

I usually like Christmas. A lot. This year a series of mildly irritating circumstances in the immediate runup to the holiday reminded me of all the stuff I really despise about Christmas.

I’m lucky that although I am technically a part of the retail phenomenon that is the problem, neither I nor anyone else in the shop feel the need to force Christmas down anyone’s throat. In general? I blame retailers for everything I hate about Christmas. Starting as soon as they possibly can, sometimes before Halloween, we are whipped into a frenzy of spending and preparing and stressing to create the perfect day, which nearly always falls flat because we are all of us human. After months of preparation, Christmas leaves people exhausted. This is perfectly timed, as people are thrust into contact with their extended families with whom they may not get along even on the best of days.

We are told to shop for everyone, regardless of whether they want anything or can use the token you’ve procured for them. We either abstain from shopping for ourselves, or we buy stuff anyway and feel guilty. And then we still binge shop the day after Christmas. There are even sales for facilitating this.

Meanwhile, as Dublin is hit with weather we’re not equipped to handle, some people are left stranded and unable to travel wherever they’d planned on spending their Christmas. It throws things into sharp perspective, when you’re out shopping at the last minute for someone you may not get to see after all. You remember that what you (and they) really want is just to be home for Christmas.

I am lucky in that I usually get what I want for Christmas, which is to be home. After the frenzy dies down and everyone is enjoying the results of their frantic shopping, I can enjoy being home. It’s a lot easier these days than it used to be, but I don’t appreciate it any less.

I hope you’re enjoying your Christmas, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and whatever you’re doing.