Our marriage survived IKEA.
I say that half-jokingly, because … well. It’s is basically my version of a nightmare. Huge store, hordes of people, tons of decisions to make in a chaotic environment, maze-like twists with no clear exits … claustrophobia, thy name is IKEA.
I’m not at my best in those situations. The anxiety spikes until I’m snappy, hyper, eager to just … escape. Thankfully, my husband knows all about my quirks and has a high degree of tolerance for them.
Still, by the time we reached the check-out (for the second time … long story), I was definitely ready to eat my feelings. Magical IKEA ice cream, here I come!
I didn’t always feel this way. I, too, was young once. In my early twenties, I had a boyfriend with an apartment dangerously close to an IKEA. Many dates were spent admiring inexpensive art and furniture while wandering the cavernous store. Though we rarely purchased anything but dessert, it was fun to debate different pillows and wicker baskets (he was, I remember, quite anti-wicker).
I lived at home until I later married, so these trips were a glimpse into another world: one of furnishings and color, style and modernity. An adult world.
My boyfriend at the time lived in an inauspicious rental, just passing through; I was still in my childhood bedroom. We debated tables we’d never dine on, cups we’d never drink from, beds in which we’d never sleep. We were in transition, as we all seem to be at 20 or 22. Our relationship was always one of “someday,” though it took years for me to see it that way.
Almost decade later, I’m married to Spencer, handiest and kindest of souls, and we purchased our first home in 2014. I shook uncontrollably when we learned our house offer had been accepted, wondering if we’d made a huge mistake. Not because I didn’t love the place — I still do! — but … well, let’s just say adulthood caught up to me quickly. That level of commitment was terrifying.
I made a single trip to IKEA with friends after we closed on the house, suddenly feeling like I needed to Buy All the Things to prepare for this new phase of life. In the span of six months, I moved out of my childhood home, got married, and schlepped my earthly belongings to my husband’s condo. Then we bought a house and, after not moving at all for 25-plus years, I moved again.
I don’t remember buying much on that post-settlement IKEA run. I was then, as I am now, totally overwhelmed in that store. I’m a woman who buys mattresses on Amazon and has “PAW Patrol” mac and cheese shipped in bulk to her front door. Walking around an honest-to-goodness business is … exhausting.
But we needed to go. The cabinets my husband was after were available in-store — or very expensively online, or elsewhere. Like so little now thanks to our digital world, this required an in-person trip. Spence and I seized the opportunity to make it a “date,” and the kids hung back with my parents. We set off.
Walking the showrooms, I was transported through time — back imagining my life in this tidy world with its splashes of color. I could prepare tea in my black-and-white kitchen, then read comfortably in a velvet armchair. I could create an urban oasis with a bistro table and faux greenery wall. I could relax.
There were no tiny LEGO pieces scattered like confetti. No half-eaten yogurt pouches jammed in a couch cushion. No dirty socks balled up in every room of the house.
On the rare moments my husband and I are shopping alone, we inevitably play a game: “What chaos would the kids be creating right now?” In the lighting area, for example, Ollie would be unboxing all the lightbulbs. Up in kitchens, Hadley would be scaling barstools and announcing herself as “the winner” from her sky-high perch. They would be obsessed with the giant staircase leading down to the marketplace. And I would be in a dead sweat, fretting.
Instead, Spence and I were sweaty just walking around. We came with a shopping list. Doing his research, Spence had a detailed plan for the cabinets he’s going to install in our basement. We’re creating a “project area” for the family — an eventual homework/craft spot for everyone to use without fear of getting paint on the carpet. (There is, in fact, no more carpet.)
The basement has basically been a dumping ground since we moved in almost six years ago. Spence has been really motivated to clean lately, and I ain’t stopping him. While I admire his energy, I … haven’t contributed much beyond picking paint colors.
I brought any strength I had to IKEA, though, and gave it my all. While Spence worked with an overwhelmed but eager young associate to track down everything needed for these cabinets, I wandered. And daydreamed. I snapped iPhone photos of armchairs and stools, rugs and planters, artwork and bowls. Tons of things we could then go find in the massive warehouse — practically a whole new house.
Thankfully, Spence caught me before I could do anything impulsive. After purchasing most everything online for years, taking me out to a physical store is dangerous. I have a mom van, after all — I know how to fill it.
But I behaved … or, more accurately, couldn’t get my thoughts together enough to commit to something even as benign as a new end table. The beautiful armchair, geometric rug and gorgeous valet stand will all have to wait. We did walk out with a trio of fake succulents and colorful snack bowls for the kids. (The bowls — and other kids’ tableware — are pretty great, actually.)
And, you know, we got the cabinets! Our trip was not in vain. Spence has been painting the basement and crafting a countertop to prepare for installation. I’m hoping to be able to write down there, too, when we get everything polished up. There are so few places to experience any semblance of quiet in our house … I’ll try anything.
So our IKEA run was successful. I enjoyed just walking around with my guy, though we were often inadvertently separated. And we did get home and realize yes, we had remembered to purchase handles for the cabinets … but accidentally grabbed two different finishes.
Guess we’ll be going online after all.