I’m a big fan of IKEA. I think their products improve my life and are a good value to boot. As a parent, I often wonder how people furnished their kids’ rooms before IKEA, especially when I see the prices at stores like Serena & Lily. Half of my adult furniture is also IKEA, because my kids ruin my furniture, and I feel better about them destroying a $600 couch than a $4000 one.
All that aside, if I get divorced one day, I’m fairly certain IKEA will be a contributing factor in my marriage’s collapse. IKEA furniture generally requires that it be assembled at home, by you. And there is nothing more unhealthy to a relationship than the joint assembling of furniture. In my house, the experience of shopping at IKEA is a gloomy one, because Tom and I know that no matter how awesome we feel about our purchases in the store, something terrible is going to go down during the assembly process back home.
I’ve thought a lot about why the process of building IKEA furniture is so unpleasant for us. And I think it comes down to the combo of two factors: my micro-managing tendencies, paired with Tom’s apparent belief that the ability to assemble furniture is a part of his manly essence. It’s a perfect storm, where tempers collide and egos are left in shreds.
The assembly process begins with the frenzied opening of boxes, during which some integral piece will go flying across the floor and down our heating register. The haste is due to the fact we never return from IKEA before 4:00 PM. It doesn’t matter if we start out at 10:00 AM, or 3:30 PM–we will not get home before 4:00 PM. It’s one of the unsolved mysteries of shopping at IKEA, along with why the wheels on the shopping carts refuse to direct your cart in a straight line. But I digress–we’re ripping open the boxes because it’s 4:00 PM and we want to get the thing built before dinner, which adds another level of stress to a situation already fraught with tension.
After the initial splaying out of the box contents, we will inevitably come to the moment during the first 15 minutes of assembly where Tom will throw his IKEA wrench on the floor and state with utter conviction that the item we have purchased is defective and/or missing parts. Usually the part in question is either taped to the inside of one of the particle boards, or Tom is sitting on it. It’s best to ignore this initial tantrum, which is merely an amuse-bouche for what’s to come.
Assembly will continue apace for another half hour or so before we get to the point in the pictogram instructions where we can no longer figure out what IKEA is trying to tell us. IKEA’s pictograms were presumably designed to strip the instructions down to their barest elements and to make things as simple as possible for the builder, by removing all words from the process. But words are not a bad thing, especially when you are confronted with a pictogram like this:
I mean, what the hell is this telling me? For starters, you will note that in the first picture, there are slats on the bed. Then: no slats. What happened to the GD slats???? After struggling for an hour to get to this point, a pictogram like this can be rage-inducing in the extreme.
We will muddle through, until somehow, we make it to the last page of the instructions. And this is when it happens: the OMFG Moment (“OMFGM”). The point at which it becomes apparent that one of the pieces from early on in the sequence has been put on backwards or upside down, so that everything needs to be taken apart and put back together again. The beauty of the OMFGM is twofold. One, IKEA doesn’t play around with its screws–those suckers are meant to be screwed in exactly one time. Try re-screwing an IKEA screw after you’ve already screwed it in once. Fun! Due to those screws, during reassembly, you’ll have the demoralizing sensation that you are putting together a Frankenstein, something that will inevitably fall apart as soon as it is complete.
The second thing about the OMFGM is that, about an hour prior, I will usually already have hinted to Tom that the incorrectly assembled piece is on backwards, or upside down. We built the bed in the pictogram above for Finn last week, and about 30 minutes in, I suggested to Tom that the headboard was on backwards, and he informed me, with withering disdain, that the unpainted side of the headboard was meant to face out. Even though this made zero sense to me, I didn’t press him, because it has been my experience that it is kinder to tell a guy that he has a small penis than to suggest that he is improperly assembling something from IKEA.
Of course, an hour later, as we finished up the bed by trying to insert the mid-beam into holes that were MIA, we discovered that the headboard was, in fact, on backwards. I consider it a measure of my personal growth in recent years that I helped Tom take the entire bed apart and reassemble it without once saying “I told you so,” even though I had to bite my tongue so hard that it almost bled. And it’s a measure of Tom’s personal growth in recent years that once the bed was finished, he looked at me and said “I’m sorry, you were right.” If this incident had happened five years ago, one of us would have slept on the couch for three days.
This week, we bought and built a sofa and coffee table, sans drama. Never mind that the only assembly the sofa required was the insertion of the legs–it’s a thing of beauty when your IKEA assembly works as it should. The thing is built, it looks ok, and when I sit on it gingerly for the first time with my quads bearing my weight, it doesn’t collapse. Great success! When things end this way, I am so elated that I don’t even mind the four leftover screws laying on the floor and Tom’s scary assurance that “all the necessary parts are in.” In that way, building IKEA furniture is a little like giving birth. The end product is worth it, and you forget all the trauma you went through to get there.