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The IKEA Experience – Part I

On the morning of the IKEA sale that caught your attention, when the exact piece of furniture you need is on sale for less than you will ever be able to purchase it for again, and you only have from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. to take advantage of that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…you’re anxious from the moment you wake up (especially if you overslept) to the moment that furniture is securely claimed in your cart.

Last night pseudo-roomie told me two or three times she’d be leaving around 9 a.m. this morning, and each time I thought, “Perfect, I need to be up around then so I can make it to IKEA at a decent hour.” Then I put that information in the worst place I keep things: the back of my head. When reminders are stowed away here they only resurface the moment I wake up, just as the IKEA sale did around 11 this morning. I half-consciously sensed ongoing exhaustion and gave that half permission to go back to sleep when I remembered the bed frame I wanted was only $69 today. My first thought was that it could sell out. What if I went through showering, getting ready, and taking a subway and shuttle all in a panic just to get there and find out the bed frame was out of stock? My conscience, both halves now wide awake, could never live this down. I frantically dressed, spilt all of my mineral foundation on a rug, cleaned the rug, did my hair and makeup, and ran our the door with tea to-go. This process coincided with at least three phone calls home to discuss what I’d be purchasing, my time efficient strategy, and how to get makeup out of rugs.

On my brisk walk to the subway my paranoia increased and I began assuming every other hurried walker was racing me to IKEA. I tried to make educated guesses on IKEA traffic in January. Wouldn’t people have what they needed from Christmas? Would it be chaotic just because it’s the weekend? How many people could possibly need a full size bed frame? Wouldn’t all the people who signed on every apartment I wanted need this bed frame too? Has everyone stalked the website as fervently as I had? I wondered if IKEA induced this kind of stress on every prospective customer, and I concluded this anxiety was justifiable as this was my first time venturing into IKEA. Never once did I think, “You know what, I’m not very good with crowds. I don’t like being rushed at all, and I can’t focus in oversized, loud venues.” No, I let all the hype get to me. I was ready to embrace the IKEA experience, and get the satisfaction I had a right to out of it.

When I saw how many people were waiting for the shuttle, my nerves previously calmed by subway distractions resurfaced. I was on to this crowd. They wanted my full bed frame. Then I thought of my luck this week, and I fully expected to walk in and hear that the last full bed frame had been sold less than five minutes before. (Did I have to make tea!?) I also naively expected to find employees to be scattered around the showroom floor, calmly waiting to be of service and more than willing to help me shop. I think I know so many people who work at IKEA that I assumed they’re all overstaffed.

Why would I go alone? Who would ever go to IKEA alone? If there’s one thing I’m sure of today, it’s that I was the only person in that mega-store by myself. And to my dismay, that made me the least likely candidate to get any help whatsoever. When people commonly use the term “overwhelming” when they describe IKEA, take their word for it. Why would anyone say that if they didn’t mean it?

The entire experience made me nauseous. Yes, they have everything you could ever need in a home (or miniature studio) for less than you’ll ever find it anywhere else, but I am 100 pounds! Self-serve furniture? I don’t even like pumping my own gas. I would be totally fine with going back to full service stations and staying safely inside my car away from the smell and potential hazard of fumes. You want to see a potential hazard? Check out the top shelf in that warehouse. One inch either way and you’ve got boxes of sofa beds on your head. I don’t want that kind of ending. Speaking of endings, I left IKEA empty handed. A weak, defeated conclusion to a three-hour shopping (looking) trip. I’m convinced the shuttle ride was so much longer on the way back than it was on the way there because my shame weighed us down.

Okay, that may be a little dramatic, but that’s how you’d feel if you left a failure and watched dozens of couples climb on the bus with their blue, bulky IKEA bags and huge smiles of satisfaction. Those couples had that kind of day when your items ring up less at the register than what they were marked for. I had the kind of day when I found out not only were the full bed frames out of stock, the $69 sale was Saturday the 16th not Saturday the 9th. Followed by my strategy to get as many of the big items delivered at once being ruined because I looked lost, I guess. All four times the employee at the help desk radioed someone to lift my items off the “self serve” shelf, the helper (made obvious by his back brace) would be intercepted by a couple who also needed help lifting and wasn’t catching on to the radio procedure. The back braced employee would obviously assume this was who they were called to help and gladly give some huge man a hand. In all-out frustration I would return to the help desk line averaging ten couples to re-request assistance from the same employee who couldn’t have not recognized me: the little lone lady coincidentally needing help in the same aisle each time.

I abandoned my cart in that aisle it had become accustomed to and walked out disillusioned. The good news: I’ll return tomorrow with Lauren and her mom AND her mom’s car. I’ll bring the list I made up today saving time and energy, and I’ll know what to expect. I’ll also be returning on the 16th to get that full bed frame I’ve now built up in my mind as my ultimate IKEA find, and ex-boyfriend will be here to help me assemble it. The bad news: that sparse IKEA staff is probably still gathered around security footage of me trying to get a sofa bed box from the shelf to my cart in a little black dress. Maybe tomorrow they’ll realize I might need some assistance.

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