On being under the influence at Ikea

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Last month my city became a real city. After a two-year gestation period, a field on the outskirts of Winnipeg gave birth to an Ikea.

Those who already live in Ikea cities may not comprehend the significance of this event, but to my people it is a very big deal. I had not been into an Ikea since I was a child being dragged into one, but since reaching the age where one begins to value furniture (26?) it has taken on an enigmatic quality for me, and I know I’m not alone. At 32 I’m finally living in a home that feels like one, and I’ve been experiencing a powerful domestic urge to assemble a coherent decorative scheme around me. How our values change.

During the summer months I monitored the store’s construction whenever I drove by. At first it was hard to tell anything was being built at all. The site was just concrete piles and trailers. In the Fall, climbing over the tops of the small city of construction site offices, a gleaming blue rectangle emerged, unfolding panel by panel at an alarming rate.

I imagined crane operators working from concise sets instructions that diagram the entire facility’s construction with foolproof arrows — wall “B” into slot “EE” — and every joint tightened with a great Allen key.

Two weeks ago it was done, and seven hundred thousand thrift-minded (but aesthetically sensitive) Winnipeggers descended on it.

I avoided the insanity of the first weekend, thinking I might even wait until after Christmas to outfit my home, aware that until I was ready it was best not to know what I was missing.

With winter here and a friend coming for the weekend from Calgary — a city to which Ikea is old hat — I find myself in immediate need of a presentable doormat (I’ve been using a corrugated plastic board that has my fantasy football league’s draft results on it.) So I get in the car and head to the box store hell that lies west of Linden Woods.

On the way there I decide to make it a quick operation and grab a passable mat at one of the now-empty homeware stores across the highway, saving my Ikea adventure for another time. But as I begin my drive home I notice that the deadening quiet inside Home Outfitters has left me with the feeling you get when you know everyone else is at a party. I find myself changing lanes and I know I am on my way to Ikea.

***

The vast parking lot is nearly full, and so I park at the very back, beside the base of a sign so enormous I would have guessed it was a neighboring microwave tower. It’s visible for (without exaggeration) miles, and it would not surprise me if it were now Manitoba’s highest building. On top of a white tubular steel tower sits a three-faced logo, the whole of which gives the impression, perhaps only accidentally, of a giant middle finger that simultaneously faces Wal-Mart, Jysk, and HomeSense.

The great rectangle of the store itself is so uniformly blue and featureless that it’s difficult to gauge its size from a distance. From my car, the yellow letters on its broad side could be eight feet tall or forty feet tall. My walk takes far longer than I thought it would. It is perhaps the largest parking lot I have ever crossed and the blue wall looms larger with each step.

The entrance is a great revolving door, maybe thirty feet across. It moves the people, not the other way around, swallowing about a dozen people per third of a revolution. I am swallowed along with a large Chinese family, and the door turns so slowly that for almost ten full seconds we are completely sealed in plexiglass. Some of the children begin to cry. 

I let myself float with the current of bodies, and soon I’m at the entrance to the showroom, which the map recommends navigating in a sweeping, meandering fashion, along a pathway marked by bold arrows. The crowd appears to be taking this advice. A bewildered river of winter-clothed shoppers winds into the distance, between vast tracts of minimalist furniture. A few people are trying to wade upriver, and faces in the main stream visibly disapprove.

Unaware I was even moving, I have drifted up to a bank of attractive reading chairs, and I find myself ashore among them. I’m beginning to feel high, like the first alarming hints of a psychedelic come-up. Colors become brighter and more fascinating. I feel childlike — abundant in possibility, un-driven, free-bonding, easily captivated.

I sit. The chair has a wonderful give to it and something inside me slackens. Padded upholstery slung between two flexible wooden S’s. My body belongs in it, I realize immediately. Without even trying to, I begin to bob slightly in the chair, as if to music. It feels glorious.

My mind is flooded with visions of my new life after buying this chair. I will read books at five times my normal rate. I will make all my decisions in this chair. This chair will dissolve all of my grudges and tensions at the end of every day. When I am an old man I will look out the window from this chair, bobbing, with no envy for the younger generations, pleased with how my decades have gone.

The river flows past my luxurious camp, the crowd now nearly silent in my mind. The passage of time becomes difficult to perceive. I become aware of the meaning of certain Dali paintings. When I get up to rejoin the stream, it is not out of my own volition, but a higher one. I do not protest. Everything makes sense.

***

Wardrobes. Bunk beds. Drapes. Rugs. I mentioned that my apartment is missing certain crucial pieces of furniture, so I had imagined that my first trip to Ikea would have these items as clear objectives, and I entered the building with the feeling that it did. Within a minute or two of entering I could not remember what I actually need. I’m certain my list was too simple to forget, but I was lost stroking upholstery and surfaces the minute I arrived, and it does not materialize in my mind.

I let it go. I know I’m too high to hold clear intentions. Joyful and aimless. I wander in a daze, sitting in each meticulously crafted fake living room as though it were mine. Each one, for a wonderful, hallucinatory moment, is.

My consciousness is uninterested in what I need and I can only be aware of what I want, right now –what I could have. I begin to inventory the prices of my wants: 79, 195, 245, 49, 99, 335… adding them roughly in my head and subtracting that from my annual income, to get a sense of what kind of dent it would make. For the first time in my life, a vision of a coherent, stylish home appears in my mind’s eye as an attainable reality, and I can almost physically feel dopamine or some other gratifying chemical release into my blood. The world burns brighter again and I must sit down.

More time passes, presumably, and my bliss is eventually interrupted by strangers wandering into my living room. They barely acknowledge me, poking at my entertainment unit and light fixtures, taking books off my shelves and laughing when they find they are all in Swedish. I clear my throat but it seems I am invisible to them.

The final section of the upper level is for children. Ceiling lamps shaped like clovers and suns and hearts. Tiny wooden chairs that make grown men swoon. Clever night lights. As a childless single professional, this is the area where my critical mind begins to return. I’m not so high any more, which comes as a slight relief because I was unsure whether I’d be able to drive home.

I feel a sudden, conspicuous absence of desires, and I fight a short-lived but intense urge to climb headfirst into a giant bin of soft, stuffed rats. Rationally, I know I could be in there for at least ten or fifteen glorious minutes before I felt someone pulling me out by the feet, a concerned parent having called security. All they could do is set me outside and ask me not to do it again.

I move away from the bin before I can think too much about it.

Beyond the bins of rats, the river runs into the lake that is the cafeteria. Peacoated, scarved couples sit on high stools, picking at meatballs and crepes. I presume they are discussing motifs.

***

I go downstairs. Cookware. Paper lamps. Art. Towels.

I’m feeling less bewildered now that I’m in the subdued lower-level section, and instead more journalistic. On my phone I review the notes I’ve been taking on my experience. They’re rife with typos and inane stream-of-consciousness gushing, like alcoholic writers probably find all over their studios every morning. One note says, “I want this chair this chair this chair, this is the chair for me,” and this triggers a mild flashback of my wonderful time upriver, which now feels like days ago.

I move through this section quickly, beginning to feel hungover, realizing I have no idea how long I have been here. The sun may be rising. I can’t remember if I work tomorrow.

Finally I emerge into the cavernous warehouse section, a spectacle immediately reminiscent of the final shot in the first Indiana Jones movie, when the Ark of the Covenant is wheeled into storage forever. Dads heave slender boxes onto wobbly carts. Everyone looks tiny beside the towers of boxes.

The warehouse eventually funnels into countless cash registers, and there does not appear to be an exit for the odd person who is not buying anything. Briefly, I consider buying something just so I won’t have to explain myself to the yellow-shirted authorities in my still-intoxicated state, if it were to come down to that. There is a stack of plain, nine-dollar end tables right at the mouth of the funnel, presumably for this purpose.

The thought makes me feel manipulated, and instead I walk boldly past one of the lines, trying to look as if the man at the front is my dad, and then I keep walking, half-expecting to be grabbed by large Swedish men.

But nothing happens, and instead of feeling clever I feel envious of the people who are going home to assemble their Kluuntzes and Gibalts with Allen keys, and so I find myself needlessly food shopping in the small section following the main checkouts.

I decide on a jar of jam, which does not feel like enough to justify waiting in the enormous line. So I also select a frozen vegetarian pizza. It is rectangular, about the proportions of the miniature ironing board I saw in the children’s department, or at least imagine I saw.

I am not hungry at all, but I decide I will eat the pizza when I get home regardless. The line is so long that I may be hungry by then anyway. I’m self-conscious about my bizarre impending purchases — nobody would believe I am buying these items for any reason other than to indulge in the novelty of going to Ikea for the first time.

Everyone around me is the same, I discover happily. Nobody buys staples here, only curiosities: pumpernickel dough mix in a carton, jellies made from berries that a well-traveled thirtysomething would not have heard of, bread loaves the size and weight of bricks. When I see another man with a jar of jam and an ironing-board-sized pizza, my anxieties evaporate.

Up ahead the cashier processes the needless items one by one without judgment, and each customer pretends as if his items are sensible grocery purchases that were on his list when he arrived. I’m in line so long that I almost grab a bottle of non-alcoholic lingonberry wine, with the idea of drinking it flamboyantly while driving home, just to provoke worried stares but cause no real harm.

When I finally get outside, the cold sobers me and the details of my present-day reality slowly return. It is winter. It is about nine pm, not sunrise as I had guessed. I do work tomorrow.

As I pull out of my spot and drive toward the exit, my mind exhibits all of the hallmarks of a post-psychedelic comedown. The mundane appears profound. Possibility seems to be everywhere, but my body is too tired to explore that right now. Everything is hyper-normal but clearly something significant has shifted. I know it will come to me in time and I know better than to rake my mind for answers.

I coast around the turning lane at the parking lot’s exit and accelerate onto the Parkway, relaxed and reflective, as my right hand teases the foil from a bottle of non-alcoholic lingonberry wine.

***

Photo by Håkan Dahlström

***

{ 51 Comments }

The Brisbane Accountant December 17, 2012 at 12:44 am

Whenever I leave Ikea, donut and tea lights holders in hand, I am always worried that I’ll step outside and find that 20 years have past, my babies are all grown and my husband is an old man.

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Mark Steele December 17, 2012 at 10:43 am

Triple-like.

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm

There are donut holders? I’ve never owned a donut long enough to want to set it somewhere.

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Poppy December 17, 2012 at 4:36 am

The closest one to me (in Australia) is an hour away and so I have to plan to go there. I really only like to go on my own, trying to fill 2 peoples lists is too hard. I generally start with a list, look online and plan what I need, and very rarely stick to what is on the list. Once I get there it is so overwhelming, I’m in a trance and the possibilities seem endless, I either walk out with 10 things I didn’t need or nothing at all. It is a strange experience and one I limit myself to about once a year. Oh and the ground coffee is well priced and actually pretty good – that’s always my go to purchase in the food section.

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Embrace the trance!

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DiscoveredJoys December 17, 2012 at 4:50 am

If you have, or can borrow, one of those dinky cameras with a ‘selective colour’ option try taking photos of Main Street this time of year. Select ‘red’ and everything else will be rendered in shades of grey. You’ll find an awful lot of red competing for your attention.

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Vilx- December 17, 2012 at 4:53 am

Ehh, I wish my country had an IKEA!

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Julie Zipper December 17, 2012 at 7:18 am

This is hilarious! And terrifically accurate :) Although, I can’t get out of there for under $400. How could you not buy any furniture!!!???? You must return. You must return. You must return.

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Lisa December 17, 2012 at 7:41 am

Gigglelicious | You nailed it!

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SusieR December 17, 2012 at 7:46 am

Love! I can soooo relate… Ikea is like cocaine to me. Only been there once, but I sometimes dream euphorically of returning.

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Jill December 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

Oh so you’ve been sat in my chair then!

Absolutely brilliant – I won’t be able to go into Ikea again (probably next week) without thinking of this & giggling

I enjoy Ikea it but thankfully not too bothered about buying unless I actually need something – I suspect it was from being a youngster with no money wandering in the seaside amusement arcades that has helped toughen me up :)

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm

My chair!

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John Vriezen December 17, 2012 at 8:21 am

As you will learn when you assemble your first piece of IKEA furniture, the instructions don’t come in 10 languages, they come in zero languages– its usually all done with pictures and universal symbols

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David December 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Of course. I should edit that.

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Katie December 17, 2012 at 9:09 am

…and you still don’t have a rug, huh? :) Love this post. Very vivid. I felt high with you as we traveled along that river of doomed souls. And I can’t tell you how much I wanted to crawl into the rats for a fuzzy nap!

{ Reply }

David December 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I do have a rug. But I saw a better one there. $899 :(

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David December 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm
Katie December 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

Very nice. My nearest IKEA is about 3 hrs south in Dallas. And with this season, I really want to go solely so I can do THIS: http://pinterest.com/pin/257268197433251387/ !!! Too bad they won’t do online shopping/shipping for all their products. Swede fail.

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LunaJune December 17, 2012 at 9:16 am

great tale… I am one of those who purposefully walk against the crowds.. the second I saw the footprints telling me how I should proceed I went against it LOL I soo understand the high.. I laughed out loud when you got to the bin of rats… one time I was there.. I must have been in need of a hug.. found this big bear that had fallen out.. picked him up and hugged him hard… tried to put him back and as I wandered away I could him his little cries… I had to buy him… what did a 40 year old need with a teddy… especially one that had nothing to do with her childhood ? didn’t matter because I couldn’t leave him
thanks for my morning smile

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Enjoyed that mental image, thank you :)

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nrhatch December 17, 2012 at 9:37 am

Hahaha . . . hilarious take on the dopamine high some get from shopping. Fortunately, I’m missing the shopping gene. :D

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Lois December 17, 2012 at 10:24 am

I love going to Ikea. I don’t buy much, but it’s a great place to get ideas for the tiny apartment I call home. The closest one is 100 miles from me, but only 15 from my son and his family. My daughter-in-law and I go together and can spend an entire day there comparing furniture and the comfort of the mattresses. When I do go, I take a list and only enough money with me for what I need, then I can’t over spend.

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Mark Steele December 17, 2012 at 10:40 am

Did you ever see the 30 Rock episode where Liz uses a visit to Ikea to test her relationship with Chris? Here’s a sample, but seriously, see if you can dig up the whole episode.

http://curbed.com/archives/2012/02/10/watch-tina-fey-and-james-marsden-shop-at-ikea-on-30-rock.php

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm

That was perfect, thanks Mark.

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Tim December 17, 2012 at 11:41 am

I think if my wife had read this post, we’d be packing up the baby and heading to Ikea right now.

For me, furniture is something you buy when what you have is beyond repair. It’s not terribly high on my priority list.

In past visits to Ikea, I’ve felt like I’m in a scene from “Indiana Jones and the Impending Purchase of Regret”, being chased through the aisles of Ikea by a massive boulder of marketing.

{ Reply }

Karen J December 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm

“Pack up the baby and grab the ol’ lady and everyone come!
It’s Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show!”
~ Neil Diamond

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Pebbles December 17, 2012 at 11:57 am

I never get out of there without a ton of scented candles, throws & something twee for the kitchen………

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Amelia December 17, 2012 at 11:59 am

I am terrified of Ikea, and I’m thankful that there is not one anywhere near where I live. I have seen Fight Club. I spent a year purposefully getting rid of tons of possessions–emptying the vessel, if you will. Now, I am in a house that I want to feel like home and I NEED some physical things to make that happen. Things like bookshelves and a reading chair and a floor lamp and…. I’m putting off making purchases because I feel the burden of responsibility that comes with ownership. I appreciate the fact that everything around me is something that has been purposefully selected and I believe if I ever walk into an Ikea, I’ll be like a fiend getting a fix. Most likely, I will spend every dollar I have to my name and come out with so incredible much that I not only do not need but actually have no real use for. That place is evil. I’m glad it’s too far away to be tempting.

{ Reply }

Amelia December 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

That said, I’m currently perusing the website for bookshelves. I really do need those….

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm

lol

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Karen J December 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Resale shops ~
:)

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Amelia December 27, 2012 at 10:22 am

I actually did spend a couple days looking for bookshelves online and couldn’t find anything at all that particularly suited me. So I decided to go to Home Depot, get garden stones/blocks/milk crates and boards, stain the boards to match my floors, and make my own shelves. That way, they will be absolutely exactly what I want them to be, and there will be plenty of option for change as needs change. I’m very pleased with this decision :)

Nitya December 17, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Your post demonstrates an upside of globalisation. We can share the ikea experience across the planet!

We recently had an ikea megastore open in Sydney Australia. The car park itself is daunting and would satisfy my exercise regime for at least a few days. When it opened, the crowds were beyond belief! I still haven’t been motivated to visit as our house is well stocked but I’ll probably venture there soon as we’re expecting our first grandchild early next year. I just know that I’ll relate to your experience while I’m there.

I wish that you’d compile some of your best stuff into a book. It would make a handy Xmas gift and save on my printing. Thanks for your efforts over the year. I really look forward to your latest take on modern life.

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NZ December 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Thank you for a laugh out loud post. We don’t have IKEA in this country, but I visited a store when in UK, and felt that giddy feeling of wanting to purchase things – lots of things! Fortunately I remembered I wouldn’t get ‘my’ living room in a suitcase. Phew!!

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Joy December 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm

That sounds delightful! (In an unsettling, consumer-nightmare kind of way…) Luckily, despite the efforts of the dedicated people at http://www.facebook.com/IkeaNZ, we still don’t have an Ikea in NZ so I am safe for now!

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I bet it’s coming. Auckland is plenty big enough to support an ikea. Winnipeg has about half the population.

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Ted December 27, 2012 at 12:18 am

There is an ikea in Newmarket Auckland, sorry to break it to you.

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Kate December 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm

At this age (32) where I’ve begun to appreciate furniture, I now notice the piles of Ikea items sitting curbside during the ‘Council Clean-up’s’ – busted up and falling apart.
I still shop at Ikea about once a year to pick up interesting dishes or baskets (and definitely hit the AS-IS section for a treasure search!), but now I buy most of my furniture at second hand shops (sturdy vintage stuff).

I loved your description though. I can definitely relate to your experience. Actually it makes me want to get my lingonberry on…

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David December 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm

I’m almost out of Jam! Getting a case next time.

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Martin December 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm

I am so glad to read about someone experiencing what feels like a psychedelic episode for what seems like no reason. Though if Ikea caused that, I’d like to visit one.

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David December 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Nobody has commented on it, but this post is loaded with drug references, and it’s not for no reason. Our minds are altered in a very real way by certain commercial influences. They want to make us high in ways that make us buy.

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jah December 17, 2012 at 11:43 pm

IKEA is birth control. Watching the faces of men with babies in tow and women barking out orders serves as enough evidence for not only birth control but parental licensing. That place is my nightmare. And the product quality leaves much to be desired in my experience. Two visits and I’m out for life.

{ Reply }

Esther December 18, 2012 at 8:12 am

I’ve never been to IKEA but I can imagine how you felt. Unfortunately, they are building a huge IKEA in an area where many furniture factories have been working and supporting the local economy for ages. With the current crisis, these factories are already going downhill. It’s really sad that these factories that make good quality furniture will have to close , because they can’t compete in prices with huge multinationals.

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Brent December 19, 2012 at 12:34 am

Sounds like one of those dreams where you wake up and you’re like “How the hell did I believe I was actually there?”

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Ryan December 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Are you going to take a little hit home and buy a furniture set from Ikea? I’ve been to that intoxicating place and woke up with a bad feeling the next day of mass consumption for the masses.

I don’t know man why can’t we re-use all that is already out there. Am I naive for thinking this as a non-home owner transient post-grad?
If it is like a drug it only satisfies for a short period and then you end up needing more?
Great imagery nonetheless, and always impressed your social environment writings

{ Reply }

Nev December 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

They have embraced the power of forgiveness; gawd bless em! And bless their little spanners that we hold onto; long after the furniture is assembled and split somewhere along an inner lay line, coughing out little pieces of chipboard onto the rug.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/nov/16/ikea-regrets-forced-labour-germany

I love your writing David!

Regards
Nev

{ Reply }

claudia December 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm

When they opened an IKEA nearby about 12 years ago, i waited for two years to enter – before that i feared the crowd-overload was too much to handle.
Far too big, too loud, too bright-lighted … and on exiting i feel i need a detox of some kind or a week on some alpine meadow with just bird song to hear and cow bells perhaps to be restored to my ‘regular’ self.
Ghastly place.
Two years ago i moved, and i retired an older shelf – needed a more sturdy one. Well, Ikea still loomed on the horizon, and off i went, and here is how:
a) previewing desired item/s online, choose, note name
b) visit mid-week, be at closed door 9:55a ready to
c) zoom in and through the maze (i CAN be done, though a military style “search & rescue mission training” could come in very handy)
d) find items, note bin/aisle number
e) find those short-cuts again (they do exist)
f) to warehouse, get items,
g) head towards check-out (some lines are even self-check-out)
i’ve accomplished that in 20-30 min – depending the queue size.
and still experience grave sensory-overload.

btw … now i am learning how to build my own furniture -
and am asking kind friends for the gooseberry jam and graved lachs items when they brave Ikea (most don’t seem to mind, to my great amazement)

david, your expression of
“…my mind exhibits all of the hallmarks of a post-psychedelic comedown….”
is spot on !

brilliant.
thanks !

C

{ Reply }

pepa December 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

Do you close the comments section in some of your posts?? I wasnt able to comment on one of them.

{ Reply }

David December 25, 2012 at 9:09 am

A few. Not many though. If it’s closed it will say so.

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Mia December 31, 2012 at 8:21 am

I love your take on life, that was hilarious, I was giggling through the entire read… or rather laughing out loud all alone in front of my computer…

Btw. you should really get that chair, it is awesome ;-)

{ Reply }

Bianca April 8, 2013 at 9:56 am

Hi David,
Thank you for sharing your articles, I find them very refreshing and instigating.
I lived in London for 7 years and the countless trips to Ikea used to have the same effect on me…Now back in Brazil (a place with no Ikea stores as of yet) sometimes I find myself having psychedelic dreams about the Swedish blue box. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one :)

{ Reply }

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