09/08/2019 16:42 EDT | Updated 09/08/2019 17:52 EDT

In Defence Of Ikea Furniture

Come on, you know you love that Billy bookcase.

Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury via Getty Images
"Wait, where did the Allen key go?"

Note: This is not sponsored content! Like every big company, Ikea has made its fair share of mistakes, including ones involving falling babies and bacteria-ridden marshmallows. This is simply one person’s opinion.

There’s a very specific stage of adulthood that starts at different times for different people, depending on the particularities of their social group. For me it started in my late 20s, but maybe for people who settled down earlier, or for people with a lot of money, it starts earlier.

Many people treat it like a milestone — it’s when they start talking about “outgrowing Ikea furniture.” 

I started hearing it mostly from friends who were on their fourth or fifth apartment, who had lived through a variety of places with leaky pipes and loose floorboards and — in one case — actual mushrooms growing out of the mould in the wall (the Toronto rental market is no joke). These were people who, against all odds and for quite a hefty price, had found decent places to live. They were homes that made them feel comfortable and settled, and that they hoped they’d never have to move out of in the foreseeable future.

People who find themselves in that position generally become invested in their living space. They’ve spent enough time in places with mismatched chairs and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” posters peeling off the wall to really value a living space that’s comfortable and well put-together, with deliberate colour choices and solid furniture that won’t break apart. They’re fed up with having the same Billy bookcase or Havsta coffee table as everyone else, and as a way to assert their maturity, they wanted to spend thousands on a modern dresser from EQ3.

And that’s the stage where they abandon Ikea, and the very idea of furniture basics.

Artyom Geodakyan via Getty Images
As if this isn't a gorgeous living room!

On first glance, it’s a reasonable enough premise. Ikea is often associated with dorm rooms, with the least expensive option. It’s “starter” furniture. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that every piece of furniture from Ikea will fall apart quickly — or, more importantlythat everything needs to be replaced in order to fit into your adult life.

Yes, of course it can feel like your life is progressing when you’re finally able to trade in particleboard for real wood, generic for bespoke, unvarnished for marble-topped. But, the forces of capitalism can easily convince you that everything inexpensive is devoid of worth, that something that served your needs when you were broke is suddenly incapable of serving your needs once you’re a little bit more comfortable.

In fact, now more than ever, that’s an attitude we should start working against. The idea that we have to constantly replace everything we own is taking a significant toll on our planet. Last winter, Canadian researchers found that common habit of buying a smartphone every two years is releasing an explosion of carbon emissions that’s destroying the environment.

And while I’m here, even the idea that Ikea furniture is “cheap” is unfounded. If it works — if the table stays upright, and the dresser holds your clothing — then what does it matter if it cost $400 or $4,000? Whatever people can and choose to spend money on should be enough.

Peter Cade via Getty Images
Okay, maybe this sucks now, but it will definitely be worth it.

Maybe some people don’t want to have to assemble their furniture themselves anymore. Fine. If that’s work you truly hate doing, or you don’t have the time, or it feels like a significant marker of your success not to have to do that, I understand.

But, what I will say is this: think about why it is you don’t want to do that. Is it actually the work itself, or is the idea of it? Because, and I’m sure this sounds cringeworthy to people who actually work with their hands, but if you work in an office, I would highly recommend taking the time to actually put your furniture together yourself. It’s probably not as bad you think it is, and it can be so gratifying to build something with your own two hands. Even if it is a Hemnes dresser.

Four years ago, when I moved into a tiny student apartment with three roommates, it took me almost an entire day to put together my three-drawer dresser. But, it felt satisfactory in a way few other things in my day-to-day life did. I liked that I had made it myself, with all of the screws and bolts and wood panels and, of course, the trusty Allen key.

Maybe other people would look at it and see cheap furniture, but I saw something I had done myself and could be proud of. Something I felt attached to, because I had put it together. That isn’t something I want to lose, even when I can afford a modern contemporary walnut veneer and engineered wood dresser from Article. (Just kidding! That will never happen.)

I no longer live with three roommates, but I still have that dresser, and I plan to hang on to it for a while. The fact that it’s recognizably Ikea doesn’t make it any less valuable to me.