I Have Failed to Defeat IKEA
so say we all
My wife gave birth to a new child at the end of May, days after we made an offer on a townhome in Colorado. The offer was accepted and we took possession on the last day of June. So here we are packing and unpacking and creating chaos with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn.
I don’t have a checklist so much as I embody a checklist. I am the next thing I am doing. I am heaving, hitching, corralling a fleet of small hands, cleaning, burping the baby, storytime-ing, singing sea chanties while brushing toddler-teeth. I am sleeping on the floor of whatever room my older kids are sleeping in tonight. I am belly-laughing with my daughter and son. I am once again explaining the inefficacy, to say nothing of the immorality, of violence to my toddler. Does he not understand the great unity of pacific action with Christianity? Why is he running away “bored to death” and screaming, “Daddy talk talk talk! Boo!”1 I am lifting boxes that comprise nothing but other boxes. I am re-adjusting, re-envisioning, and asking my wife, “Is that okay there? Or should I just self-immolate?” I am asking too much of my brother (who wishes I would let him do more), and too much of my in-laws, and certainly too much of my wife.
We take a break on the afternoon of July 4th. After a beer, some BBQ, and the chorus of our children’s joy-filled screams, it is time to return to reality, to being what I am doing. And mostly what I am doing is building a twelve-drawer IKEA dresser.
Many of my friends actually enjoy IKEA. “Adult Legos,” they say. And I’ve often agreed. But I forget to open any windows on our second floor, where all the bedrooms huddle together in the heat. We are a family of five moving into about 1,200 square feet, so storage is vital. The dresser, I’m trying to say, was my idea. Consider me the “vertical density” fanatic of living rooms and bedrooms. What’s good for the city, it turns out, is often good for the hearth. This even though my (short, beautiful) wife has already asked to use the bottom six drawers since, “I literally can’t see into the top ones without getting a chair, Joel.”
I bob my head to the speakers as I progress. I enjoy working to the sound of whatever music has accumulated on my iTunes since high school. The Fray give way to Waylon Jennings who makes room for Lucy Dacus. The Bach Cello Suites are pervasive. “Brandon Flowers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Louis Armstrong, Doc Robinson, Sturgill Simpson, Adele” is an actual half-hour stretch. There’s no real design, is what I mean. And I feel the same about our IKEA dresser.
The Nordli dresser is “mod furniture.” It can be put together in various ways and purchased in various forms. The instructions IKEA gives me collects all these possibilities except the one I’m trying to build. I’m not good with paperwork that uses words in my own language. Directions from a cartoon figure that looks like Moomintroll hit the hominid stage of evolution? Just my speed. But only if the instructions exist.
The cost of not following IKEA directions, in general, is that your furniture will come to life and abuse you for your lack of craftsmanship, and when you try to fall asleep it will moan in pain and break. It betrays you. So when the instructions do not include how to build two six-drawer stacks of the mod possibilities—when the instructions, in short, expect you to wing it—you are left sputtering in a room that is mostly yawning, rebellious cabinetry. One of the drawer bottoms breaks, but subtly. I have told my wife this has happened, but not specifically. She doesn’t know what was damaged, and if IKEA is kind to me, she never will.
What I feel during the longest stretch of my IKEA sentence—my hours gently twisting a screw-driver, carefully hooking in drawer inserts, fiendishly tap-tapping plastic fasteners—is that someone, somewhere, and most likely in Sweden, believes I am an infant. Every smiling IKEA cartoon is a pat on the head. Every failure on my part to understand which disembodied hand is pointing to which part of the diagram is like missing the tee-ball. The build went fine, to be clear. By the end, I was absolutely sailing along. I am, let the record show, a very capable toddler.
But even competent dissatisfaction with IKEA is a world in which IKEA wins. There’s no finding a twelve-drawer dresser for anything like what we gave the Kingdom of Sweden. I didn’t even want to hand over that much. I don’t have the skills to build such a dresser, and I certainly don’t have the time right now, and if I resolved both of these issues, the price of lumber would probably exceed the cost of sacrificing to Nordli.
My great Theory of IKEA is that you have some parts in your house right now—in your couch, beneath a rug, in the pouch of skin you didn’t know you’d grown behind your left kidney—and if not, you soon will. Time is a flat crescent wrench.
I love moving.
“But I, Too, Want to be a Poet,” by Fanny Howe
But I, too, want to be a poet
to erase from my days
confusion & poverty
fiction & a sharp tongue
To sing again
with the tones of adolescence
against my enemies, with words
clear & austere
To end this tumultuous quest
for reasonable solutions
to situations mysterious & sore
To have the height to view
myself as I view others
with lenience & love
To be free of the need
to make a waste of money
when my passion,
first and last,
is for the ecstatic lash of the poetic line
and no visible recompense
I love you all.
All my stories are true, even when they’re invented.