As we settle back in to another year at NYU, many students find themselves unwillingly bound by a common struggle that has become a rite of passage: constructing IKEA furniture. At some point, we will all be seduced by the seeming simplicity of the manicured bedrooms in IKEA’s Brooklyn showroom, and we will want that refreshing look for our new dorm or apartment. Unfortunately, there is nothing simple about the 30-step process of constructing a “Malm” dresser or the mysterious missing screw from the “Hemnes” desk.
I recently had my first experience with IKEA. Like so many other stories, mine involved sweat, blood, angry outbursts and a quite a few tearful phone calls. Looking back on the day I spent hammering together my “Tarva” bed, I have been able to weed out a few unexpected life lessons IKEA has taught me.
Here are six lessons I learned from that afternoon — shared not to scare students away from the IKEA experience (building furniture is an underrated skill) but so that IKEA-bound NYU students can prepare themselves for what is in store, hopefully with minimal heartbreak and physical injury.
When Paolo from UX Home Delivery unloads the last of the heavy IKEA boxes, sweating in our unairconditioned apartment, he looks around, confused.
“You gonna build this stuff all by yourself?” he asks me.
I flex my spidery arms. “Yes, sir!”
“Ha! Good luck, girl,” he says, chuckling as he walks to the door, “You’re gonna need it.” He turns and makes his way down the hallway, filling the humid air with his laughter.
Lesson #1: Don’t let the haters get you down.
The Tarva Full Bed three-box set sits gloomily at my feet. Taking a deep breath, I drag the biggest of the three into my room, which makes an unpleasant grating noise on our wood floors. I mouth a silent apology to our downstairs neighbors. After a flurry of unpacking, I look around at the wood, metal, screws and empty boxes that fan out in front of me and realize something is missing. My stomach drops.
Lesson #2: To build IKEA furniture you must own/buy tools. They are essential.
Over at Fulton Hardware, I step into an unknown world. The shelves and walls are filled with things I have only ever seen in episodes of “Desperate Housewives” (remember Mike the Plumber?) or stumbled upon in the cabinets behind the washer and dryer at home. What are those saw-like things and what could those giant pliers possibly be used for?
I look around and see four employees and five fellow customers staring at me. I stutter, afraid to lose face: these guys would just laugh at me, like Paolo.
“I need these things,” I say, probably a bit too loudly, and shamelessly shove my crumpled IKEA instruction manual into the hands of one employee, Fernando. No one laughs, points or teases. All present return to their tasks except Fernando, who nods solemnly and says, “IKEA furniture is really a pain in the neck,” before sending me away with a hammer and a nifty convertible screwdriver.
Lesson #3: Ask for help. You look sillier if you don’t.
Humming along to a bit of heavy Hendrix, I confidently stick a wooden peg into the wrong part of the frame. Undeterred, I realize my mistake and tug gently. Nothing. I grip it more firmly and try again. Nothing. I twist, I wiggle, I jimmy. Nothing. Finally, I yank and WHOMP! The wooden peg is out, and my nose is bleeding.
I have punched myself in the face.
Lesson #4: Keep first aid supplies at the ready at all times.
Nosebleed in retreat and headboard complete, I stare at the tenth step in the wordless instruction manual and sigh. In the past hour, I have single-handedly nailed in nails, screwed in screws and maneuvered the bulky bed without too many catastrophes. It had actually been kind of fun. But I have reached a crossroad: there is no way I am connecting the bed’s base to its headboard without the aid of another human.
I waste 30 minutes sitting on the floor, envisioning the possibilities of this next step and mentally vetoing every one of them. Finally, when I am about to attempt a trial that undoubtedly would have ended in tragedy, my roommate walks in. I jump up and hug her and forget my pride in a wave of relief.
Lesson #5: Two hands are two too few to build a bed.
Lesson#6: IKEA-ing is a day-long event. Acknowledge it. Accept it. And remember that sleeping in a bed that you have labored over all day is 110 percent better than sleeping on your mattress on the floor for yet another restless night.
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