My IKEA-Related Identity Crisis

When I was in my mid 20s, IKEA opened its first store in the southeast US in Atlanta, just a few miles from where I lived. Even at that age, I viewed IKEA as kind of cheap. Not rock-bottom cheap, but a still a pretty inexpensive option. I was fine with shopping there for small things, like cute side table lamps and decorative bits, but I had no desire to buy more important items, like a couch or a bed.

I remember moving into a new apartment less than a year after that store opened, and it had a bar-style counter separating the kitchen from the dining/living room area. Thinking it might be nice to have a couple of bar stools there, I picked out a few at IKEA, brought them home and put them together. But no, they were too short, despite being the tallest ones on offer. And they felt rickety, whether because of poor design by them or poor assembly by me, I have no idea. I returned them and never found other bar stools.

So when I got married and moved to Germany almost 8 years ago (yes, it’s really been that long), and Andy and I started looking for a bed for the master bedroom and a couch to replace his futon, I insisted that I did not want to furnish my new home from IKEA.

We found a nice wooden bed frame from a wood furniture store, and it was delivered to us on a bicycle. It was in boxes and we still had to put it together ourselves, but in my mind (and I think in reality?) this was high quality stuff.

IKEA identity crisis
Seriously, this is how our bed was delivered

But we did not have such luck when searching for a couch at a “good” furniture store. Every single couch we sat on was super firm. Nothing was cushy and soft. None of them said to me, “relax, sink in, cuddle up with a blanket and watch Friends DVDs for the 547th time.” Instead it was more like, “fine, sit down, but only for a few minutes.”

After an hour of sitting on literally every couch in the store, I sighed and grumbled to Andy that maybe we should walk next door to IKEA, just to see.

And of course, the first couch we sat on was comfortable. We tried several others, but that first one was the one we bought.

IKEA identity crisis hook board
Hook board for sweatshirts, made by Andy with flea market hooks…no IKEA here

Now, all these years later, I still resist IKEA, but I often find that there’s no good alternative.

There’s a discount store near us that sells furniture and other household items, but the one time we walked through it, everything was so cheap it was depressing. Like OMG I need a stiff drink after being in there kind of depressing.

We’ve looked at a few other places that appear to be better quality than IKEA, but they usually turn out to be soooo incredibly expensive. Or so tiny and specialty that there are only a couple of choices. Like the place we went to recently to look for sheets, but they only had three different colors, one of which was white. The other two were cream and eggshell.

And so, over the years, we have acquired quite a lot of IKEA furniture.

IKEA identity crisis TV stand
At least we bought funky knobs for the doors on our cube-shelf TV stand, and that makes it different, right? RIGHT?!

We have the exact same IKEA cube-style shelves in several different parts of our apartment. Storage in the hallway. Shelving in the office. One that’s laid down horizontally to be our TV stand plus more storage. And we have smaller ones for things like Andy’s board games, glass and paper recycling, and even a spot for our Crockpot.

When we decided to get rid of our guest bed and fully convert the office/guest room into just an office, we thought it would be good to have a pullout couch. Our research started with furniture stores that looked to be much better than IKEA, but somehow all of their pullout couches were those awful kind with the bar in the middle that pretty much injures you while sleeping on it. Once again, IKEA won out by having a convertible couch with more normal style bed to it.

IKEA identity crisis
Our IKEA fold-out couch in the office, complete with IKEA throw pillows, IKEA lamp, and giant IKEA photo of Berlin

I don’t even think I bothered looking anywhere else when I needed to buy a desk and office chair. I just assumed it wasn’t worth my time, and off to IKEA I went.

Recently, we bought new mattresses from one of these companies that ships you the mattress, and you have 100 days to test it out. If you don’t like it, you can send it back and get a refund. I thought, this will be great, we’ll get GOOD mattresses that’ll last awhile. Andy liked it, but I did not. Luckily it’s pretty standard to buy two twin mattresses to fit into a king size bed frame, so he kept his and we returned mine. I even tried another one from a competing company, but I was still waking up with back pain.

So after trying two fancy mattresses, I ended up back at – you guessed it – IKEA. I got a mattress and a memory foam topper for less than the price of the fancy mattress. And my back doesn’t hurt anymore.

We even ended up buying a 10 euro IKEA hand truck from them last time we were there because it was cheaper to buy that and haul my new mattress home ourselves than to pay them for delivery. I mean, we’re all in now, right? There’s no turning back once we have the branded hand truck.

I’d really love to have furniture that’s better quality than IKEA. And even the store itself is rather annoying to go to. But that middle ground kind of store doesn’t seem to exist here. In the US, I feel like I could find a handful of furniture stores with stuff that’s better than IKEA but also reasonably priced and not two months rent for a couch. Somehow here, there are flea markets and discount stores at the cheap end of things, and then expensive boutiques that are way more than I’d want to spend, but only IKEA in the middle.

And so, despite my best efforts, I find myself with a home furnished almost entirely from IKEA.

IKEA identity crisis tub seat
Tub seat Andy made for me and a canvas print of my Panama photo – see, it’s not all IKEA

You could dump all the furniture from all the apartments in our building in one giant pile, and I bet more than half of us wouldn’t be able to pick out our own furniture because so many of us have an apartment full of IKEA.

Stores and restaurants even use IKEA furniture for their shelves and tables and chairs and glasses. I can think of multiple stores that use those cube-style shelves to display their products.

Almost every single Airbnb bedroom photo features one of three different IKEA duvets. And I’m starting to prefer those because the ones that don’t have generic IKEA furniture seem to all look like a grandma’s apartment that hasn’t been updated in 50 years.

I don’t want to be like everyone else. But am I ending up there anyway? Is my home becoming a replica of everyone else’s, despite my best efforts?

You might also enjoy: