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IKEA: Quite Possibly a Domestiphobe’s Worst Nightmare

A couple of weeks ago I informed you that my friend Alaina and I were planning a day trip to Charlotte to hit up that wonder of all superstores, IKEA, for the latest in ready-to-assemble Swedish decor for her nursery and my office.

We were going to go later this week, but since her husband was planning to come over to my house to play with my husband last Saturday (wait – that doesn’t sound right, does it?), we decided to go then.

That way I wouldn’t be here to witness them do this to my walls:

Now.  If you’ve never been to an IKEA before, there are a few things you should know:

1.  Preparation – especially if you don’t live close enough to run back to the store when you realize you forgot something – is key.  That means searching online ahead of time for things you might want, writing them down, taking measurements in your home, writing those down, and then checking the availability of those items at the store you plan on visiting.  I might have forgotten that last part.

2.  IKEA is BIG.  They have it set up so that you follow these arrows that direct you through the upper level of the store, meandering through a giant maze of show rooms and displays, oohing and ahhing at the cheap prices and simplistic designs and jotting down crazy names of things like “Ekby” and “Kivik” and “Klubbo” so that, when you get downstairs to where they actually have all the stuff for you to put in your cart, you’ve already seen what it looks like set up in a room.  The problem?  If you walk past something you wanted without realizing it, you might have to trek about 1.8 miles each way to go get it.  Wear sneakers, is all I’m sayin’.

3.  They have a kiddie play area where you basically sign your kids off to play while you shop and I’m pretty sure it’s genius and designed more for childless people like me than actual parents, but who cares because the kids are corralled in one place away from the rest of us real people and stop pretending to judge me because you know I have a point.

4.  Things aren’t always as cheap as you think.  Sure, that pretty print might look chic and affordable hanging in the showroom in its shiny silver frame, but looks can be deceiving.  You might not notice that there are two tags hanging from the picture – one for the print itself, and another for the frame.  And you like those library bookshelves with the glass doors whose price seems too good to be true?  That’s because you’re looking at the tag for just the top part of the shelf.  The bottom half and cabinet doors cost extra, just so you know.  In all fairness, you can usually find the price of an entire unit listed, but if you’re a newbie shopper there, just be careful to read the tag so you know what you’re pricing and what you’re buying.  You’d hate to get something home, put it together, and then realize you didn’t actually buy everything you wanted.

5.  With the exception of their kitchens, the majority of IKEA items tend to look a lot better online than they do in person, in my humble little opinion.  But hey – it’s ready-to-assemble furniture, people.  That means everything you buy – whether it’s a sectional sofa or a wall of bookshelves – comes in flat (albeit heavy) boxes just perfect for a brawny girl like me to drag into the back of the Tracker by herself because her friend is pregnant and I’ll be damned if I’ll let anything happen to the little kumquat.

And you don’t want to mess with these.

Side note:  Back in the day, Alaina and her husband (then boyfriend) Dirk bought all of his bedroom furniture from IKEA and enticed their friends over to help put it together under the guise of a party.  Approximately 6 hours and countless beers later, I was the last man standing.

And the furniture was assembled.

And it hasn’t fallen apart.


In all seriousness though, a truly gifted shopper like Alaina can emerge from IKEA happy, alive, and with the makings of a simply beautiful room.  Even the dresser she bought for the nursery had far superior glides to much of IKEA’s other bedroom furniture, and Alaina had the uncanny ability to breeze through the labyrinth, stocking her cart with a piece of fabric here, a lamp there, and knowing her, everything will fit together perfectly in the end.

Just don’t expect it to be as inexpensive as you thought.

Truly ungifted shoppers like me, on the other hand, tend to have problems in a place like this.  For one, there’s too much pressure.  There were too many choices and I couldn’t make up my mind and half the time I’d end up running back across the entire store just to get a sieve I missed back in housewares and where did you get that plant, Alaina because I want one, and crap I have to run back to home organization again because I forgot the hook thingies for my hanging thingies and WHAT?!  They are out of my shelf brackets?  You have got to be f*cking kidding me and will someone please just take me out to the parking lot, dose me up with tranquilizers, and shoot me now?

In case you haven’t guessed, I don’t really like shopping.

These are the things I wanted to get at IKEA:

  • File cabinet
  • Shelf brackets
  • Storage boxes
  • Desk chair
  • Hanging organizers

These are the things I did get at IKEA:

  • Storage boxes
  • Hanging organizers
  • Fake plant
  • Kitchen sieve and funnels
  • Candle

These are the things I wish I’d bought at IKEA but I’d already purchased them somewhere else:

  • Blinds (IKEA has nice, inexpensive faux wood blinds, but I’d already bought wood-looking aluminum blinds at Target that the dogs have already messed up.)
  • Wooden hangars (I just bought what I thought were pretty inexpensive wooden hangars at Bed, Bath and Beyond for the closet makeover, but IKEA’s looked better and were even cheaper.)

In person, the file cabinet I thought I wanted just looked flimsy and unsubstantial, and they were out of my shelf brackets.  OUT.

I have to say, the best part of the day by far was the plate of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry sauce served cafeteria style for like $4.  To a pregnant chick and a girl who still had to drive another 2 1/2 hours on pitch black, tree-lined, winding roads in the rain just to get us home, it was pure heaven.

I would’ve taken a picture, but they were literally gone in about 4.8 seconds.  My phone doesn’t work that fast.

At the end of the day, this meager pile is my total haul (before the storage boxes have been assembled):

My indecisiveness, lack of design skills, and just plain ol’ crappy luck were no match for IKEA’s wiley ways.

So.  After 2 1/2 hours driving to get there, and approximately 3 hours and 11.72 miles of walking through the store, and a stressful, stormy, 2 1/2 hour drive home, I felt deflated.  Alaina, who spent about 10 times more than me because she has a job and a design plan and the ability to make actual decisions, felt elated.

It was totally worth the trip.

But I have to say, before you make the trek to your not-so-local IKEA, you might want to figure out which one of us is you.


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I’m definitely more like you when it comes to shopping. If it makes you feel any better my dog has chewed through just one slat on my third set of wooden blinds downstairs because how dare I not raise them up high enough so he can stand on his hind legs like dachshunds do to peer out the window and bark at cats that stroll by. Ugh… I’m seriously thinking of just going wth shades.


Yeah… Mine have also messed up the roman shades in my living room, so that’s not necessarily a solution. ;) You’re little scruffball is lucky he’s so cute!


I don’t. :)


You forgot the number 1 rule of shopping at Ikea. Do not go on a Saturday. They’re so crowded, and (I’m not sure why)full of tourists. It’s a much more enjoyable experience in the middle of the week. You don’t feel like you’re part of a herd following those arrows, you can just kind of wander at your own pace. Pretty storage boxes! Thanks for sharing.


SO true! I wish we would’ve stuck to our original Thursday plan… I also forgot to tell people to bring their own shopping bags!


You make me out to be a much better shopper than I am. Really, I’m just taking advantage of the fact that I have a COMPLETELY empty room to start with and that Dirk didn’t give me a budget for stuff so that when I was the one who priced out what it would take to furnish the room, everything at Ikea sounded pretty cheap to me! Next time, we’ll go on a Thursday. Promise :)


I have to agree with Katie — your design sense is remarkable. I went with Sarah and Jill on Monday (for work mind you, for work!) and managed to buy some stuff for my house and when I got home all I could think was “Damn, I wish I bought this, this, omg that would have gone so well there, what’s that shiny object?” I have to warn people against getting the buffalo chicken wrap at their restaurant as well — what a disaster. But be forewarned…they tempt you with their reasonably priced Cinnabon knockoffs at the checkout line and boy do they live up to every image your scent glands make you imagine.


Stop being so modest – you KNOW you’re great with design. :) And the crowds actually weren’t too terrible on our Saturday! I think the crappy weather saved us.

And Lee – how are you managing IKEA trips for work? And more important, are you hiring?! ;)

international woman of mystery

I LOVE and HATE Ikea. I think I mainly love it cuz it’s Swedish. I also love that I can eat Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes and lingon berries there and for a few minutes, I feel like I’m in Sweden. Seriously, you should try it next time.

But it is a hassle and you can get lost in there for hours and hours and hours and emerge only with things like fake plants and candles. I’m glad you survived.

All my furniture is from Ikea. It looks nice. It wasn’t super cheap but also comparatively, wasn’t too expensive and it’s still standing.


YES! I have the meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingon berries every time I go. In fact, I kind of wish I’d bought the frozen ones at check-out, but I’m pretty sure that’s a “meal” I should save for special occasions. ;)

And I agree – their stuff can look great IF you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, I’m a fake plant and candle type of person because when I get in that place, I lose all sense of direction and purpose. Except towards the meatballs…

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