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.