The IKEA Test

I was warned as a teenager that in addition to all of the testing that is required in school, life will continuously test you…as long as you live. From grocery shopping in Finland, to figuring out how to use a squatty-potty in India, this has proven to be true. However, the most reoccurring test in our lives is the IKEA Test. There are several levels to this test, and each one is significantly more difficult than the last.
Level One: The Showroom
For those of you who have never been in an IKEA (what are you waiting for?!) let me briefly explain. Upon entering any IKEA you are directed up to the second level of the mega-sized shopping center, where you then follow a set of arrows painted on the floor. These arrows wind and weave you through living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, offices etc., all entirely furnished with IKEA products. At this stage in the game it’s your job to figure out what style you like, and what items you want, then marking them down for level two. This is easier said than done. With dozens of each mock-living space, and the arrows leading you deeper into the belly of this Swedish monster, it can become incredibly overwhelming/frustrating. More often than not, you’ll see couples who walked into the store hand-in-hand, now arguing to the death about what Ektorp to put in their living room. Did I mention that all of the item names are Swedish, making no sense at all to the American shopper? Children can be heard screaming from three fake kitchens away. Husbands are passed out on couches, grandparents snooze in the bedrooms, and all the while you have people who have wandered off of the arrowhed-path and can’t find their way out. If you can manage to make it through the maze of The Showroom, marking down your Ektorps, Fjellses and Godmorgons without storming out (that is if you can find the door) or whipping a Stuva at your shopping buddy’s head, then it’s on to round two!
Level Two: The Warehouse
Now that you’re out of the living spaces, it’s time to fill your cart (or a Marry Poppins style yellow IKEA shopping bag). Instead of walking through rooms that have already been created, the lower level of the store is divided into individual items. First you walk through all of the kitchen ware, then textiles, candles, picture frames etc. etc. IKEA has created itself so that (with the exception of electronics) you can furnish your entire home from within it’s elephantine walls. The problem with this level is that if you didn’t write down exactly what it was you liked from the “living room with the white couch” or the “kitchen with the dark counters” then good luck piecing it all together on this level. If you brought your child with (why would you not leave them in Smaland – IKEA’s free childcare – when you first arrived? Why?!) then by this time, after being drug through bedroom after bedroom on the upper level, they are tired and more likely than not, hungry. And we all know how pleasant children are when they are tired and hungry!
Once all of your smaller items are picked out and in your cart, then you head to the warehouse (it’s quite literally a warehouse) and begin the scavenger hunt for your bigger items. All of the furniture is flat-packed in cardboard boxes that make up about 30 isles and go from floor to ceiling. At this point everything is coded by number, so if you didn’t write down which bed or chair or couch you wanted, then you’re in a pickle.
Following the warehouse, is checkout, then the Swedish Market where you can get some lovely meatballs or frozen yogurt. Full meals are also served, and the food is rather good.
Now, if you made it through the entire IKEA store, and successfully fit your purchases into your car without having to bury your child or grandma underneath the Hensvik, then congratulations! You did it!
Whenever Britt and I arrive in a new apartment, our first stop is to IKEA, where we sail through The Showroom (taking shortcuts that Britt has learned over the years) bypassing the confused and angry. We then coast through the lower level. Having been in 4 apartments in the last 2 years, shopping at IKEA is like doing a rehearsed dance that we’ve been doing over and over again. This past move was no different. Because we both like the same style, picking out items is a piece of cake. With Britt’s vast knowledge of IKEA products, as well as the store layout, we can get in and out in no time. The real IKEA Test for us this past week, was not in the store itself, but back at our apartment.
Level Three: Building
We chose a relatively small place to live, because it was available for move-in right away and it is in a great location. We didn’t think anything of it, but when our storage unit from Chicago arrived, followed by our delivery of new items from IKEA, the apartment began to shrink. All of the deliveries came on Thursday, and we had to be completely unpacked and settled by Sunday for a home visit (we adopted a dog and a home visit was required before we could take her out of boarding). So began the unpacking, and building of furniture.

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Unpacking went smoothly, but the what we weren’t prepared for was the IKEA Test. Between our own stuff, and helping friends, we have built more furniture from IKEA than I can remember, and we are darn good at it. Because there are IKEA’s all over the world, the instructions that come with each item are not in writing (each instruction packet would be the size of War and Peace if they had it translated in all the languages for each country) but in pictures. Over the years, Britt and I have become fluent in the language of IKEA Picures.

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Perhaps it was because we were on a time schedule, but this time we ran into problem after problem when it came to building our furniture. Not only that, but with the apartment being so small we had to open a box in one room and carry the couch or bed piece by piece into it’s destination. The hours flew by, the mess got bigger and our tempers got shorter! Just as we were reaching the point defeat and taking apart the day-bed for the second time because we kept installing something wrong, someone knocks at the door. Although the distance from the back room to the door is only about 23 feet, with boxes piled high and random pieces of furniture waiting to be put into place, it seemed like a mountain had to be climbed to reach the door. I was trapped in a corner holding up the bed, so it was up to Britt to climb over Mt. IKEA. To our surprise, it was the mailman with a package for us. We tore it open, and there inside was a batch of my grandma’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. Having dove right into building, and skipping over breakfast and lunch, we each devoured cookie after cookie.
A new energy filled us, and we went back to packing, but with a much better outlook. This isn’t to say that we finished everything while whistling and with smiles on our faces. Quite the contrary. We had to take apart that damn day-bed yet again, and we argued back and forth about this and that. In the end, we finished with 30 minutes to spare. When the woman doing the home visit walked in, she commented that we looked more settled in our apartment than she does in her house of 6 years!

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Once again, we passed the IKEA Test. Not with flying colors, but that’s besides the point. “Why do we keep putting ourselves through this mayhem?”, you ask. It’s simple. Despite the previously mentioned, we love IKEA. They provide good quality products, at unbeatable prices. You really can buy everything you need for your house/apartment from pots and pans to desks and living rooms sets at the store. Not only do they care about their customers and employees, but they are deeply invested in their communities across the globe. This year, the Houston IKEA is sponsoring (and by sponsoring I mean funding and volunteering at) a huge holiday party for abused children in the area. Not only do they partner with local organizations, but they do it on a global level as well. According to IKEA, “children are the most important people in the world.” Their suppliers follow IKEA guidelines, so you can rest easy knowing that the people who made your rug were of age and paid fair wages, and it was done in an environmentally sustainable way. “Low prices, but not any price.”
We believe in IKEA, and feel that they are just as invested in us as we are in them. So, if you’re up for the challenge, grab a buddy and go take the IKEA Test. I dare you!

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