Of course the hardest part of IKEA is not selecting the exact Fullen or Malm that fits my particular design aesthetic. Nor is the hardest part hauling the box off the warehouse shelf onto the multi-directional wheeled cart of death. The hardest part comes later, at home, once the box is open and the innards are strewn across the floor of my abode like beech-hued flotsam. Upon the unfolding of the hieroglyph stick-man assembly instruction manual, I realize I took the wrong elective in school. I took fine art. I should have taken IKEA.
Although the instructional steps are clearly drawn and laid out numerically, it still becomes a Herculean labour to turn the Malm shrapnel into something resembling a functional chest of drawers. I must now fit all the parts into the whole in the correct order or I will die. Okay I won’t, but – spoiler – I will want to.
I am immediately confused, on the first page of instructions, by the diagram that appears to show the stick-man climbing the drawers like a ladder. This has an X through it so I assume it’s telling me not to climb my drawers. Which seems awfully hopeful for page one given I have to successfully assemble them before I can figure out ways to abuse them. Thus armed with the knowledge that I’m not making a ladder, I proceed to step one. I can’t find the allan key. I already don’t understand which end is up and which is down. I guess it doesn’t matter. I merrily pound dowels into round holes and locate a screwdriver and avoid beaning the cat on the head in the shuffling of parts. But something goes wrong shortly after standing the skeletal unit on what I assume is the bottom (?) because the top piece has an unsightly overhang. The diagram shows no overhang. Assuming I’m on the right page. I figure out I put the top piece on back-to-front. I have to pry it off and flip it. The next step, the backing, won’t fit with the unit upright. I have to lay it down again. The nail guide from the first cabinet I assembled is the wrong size for the chest of drawers and there’s no nail guide in this one. Thus I hammer my thumb. I also hammer nails clear through the bottom frame where they protrude like accusations. After multiple shifts I decide the bottom of the backing doesn’t actually need nails anyway. I throw more in the sides to compensate. I realize I haven’t seen the cat in a while. When I re-upright the unit I discover the cat underneath it. He’s giving me a look that clearly says “FAIL”. I shut him in the bottom of the already-made cabinet so I don’t have to see his judgement. I don’t understand the diagram telling me the sides of the drawers have round holes on them. My pieces don’t have round holes. What is this trickery? I puzzle over it, turning the piece over and over trying to will round holes to appear. Then I realize there’s a second set of similar pieces underneath the discarded box that do have round holes. Once I get the dowels in place I can’t figure out which way the sides go on, holes or not. The diagram makes me feel inadequate. Why can’t I read hieroglyphs? Better question: why are stores using hieroglyphs in instructional material? Is this manual printed on papyrus? I frown darkly at the half-assembled chest of drawers as the cat pushes out of the cabinet with a scornful yawn. The light outside is fading. I feel I’ve been assembling this chest of drawers for the better part of my life. I’m no closer to completion. The stick-men mock me, gesturing to parts I can’t identify and using tools I don’t own. I question my sanity. I question existence.
I lay on the floor with chest of drawers detritus littering every available corner of the condo. The cat picks his way through the chaos on disdainful paws. An allan key is poking into my spine. At least I know where it is now.
I doggedly continue. The rollers install upside down. The back becomes the front. I step on a dowel which means somewhere there is a round hole with no dowel to complete it. Much like my soul, now, without hope to complete it.
IKEA is not for the fainthearted. Every time I have to assemble a Hemnes or Expedit I die a little inside. I swore after the last Billy that I was through with IKEA. I’m an adult, dammit! I can buy already-assembled furniture and have it delivered in a whole piece, ready for use. But the memory of the assembly agony fades with time and I am swayed by the siren call of affordable furnishings in cheerfully functional form. I curse Sweden as a whole which is unfair because they’ve given us so much more than flat-packed couches and cabinets. Volvo. Chocolate. Blondes. One day IKEA will invent a robot that will assemble the furniture for their irritated-but-loyal customers. The irony will be that it will require assembly.
- Corinne Simpson