My Ex-lover, IKEA

One night when faced with a remarkably greasy, caked-on sauté pan sitting in my sink, I made an impulsive decision to not clean the pan. Instead, I threw it away.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot muster the emotional energy necessary to switch from disposable to cloth diapers. I know the cloth diapers of 2014 are easier and more evolved than cloth diapers of yore, but I just can't get over the ease of disposable - no matter the financial costs to me or the environmental costs to my great-great-grandchildren. Sorry progeny!

Sometimes, when cleaning up the "clutter counter" (a small 2 x 4 surface in my kitchen where bills, kid drawings, mysterious trash, winter hats, lone chocolate chips, and junk mail congregate) I find an odd penny, and in a mad fit of decluttering, toss it into the trash.

I have done all these despicable, wasteful things. And yet, I'm not exactly cavalier about this "throw-it-away" attitude.  I won't be getting a "I throw away pennies" bumper sticker in the near future.

But, like any other clutter-hater would attest, throwing things away just feels so good.

In that sense, I've very much bought into the disposable culture that currently reigns supreme.

"They don't make 'em like they used to," the service technician marveled, walking by my 30-year old Maytag dryer en route to replace a broken garbage disposal.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"They were losing money. Nobody ever needed to replace it. Now the parts are made of things more like plastic, breakable parts. Now people replace them every 10 years."

Then he replaced my 2-year-old garbage disposal.

Even though, in my own (dishwashing-phobia) ways I subscribe to this de rigueur disposability culture, I really, truly despise it. I want to buy something that lasts. I want heirlooms. I want things of substance, with a long-shelf life and a true purpose. I do, in my heart of hearts, want to stop throwing away pennies.

Which is why I need to stop throwing them at IKEA.

I get it. IKEA is great. It's cute. Easy-going. Fun. They have everything, and will you just look at that funky nordic print on those bedsheets, and can't you just picture this armchair next to our dresser, and will you just look at those prices. Plus, meatballs!

It's a seductive sell.

Now wait a minute. Before you look at that EXPEDIT or POANG next to you and feel offended and think I need to get off my high-horse, let me tell you, it's actually not a horse, it's like a small, raggedy pony. I'm riding real low here. I may not have IKEA furniture anymore, but what that really means is I don't have hardly any furniture. I don't think people who love and buy IKEA are silly, junk-loving peons. I truly do get the allure. I'm not looking down on anyone here, except a culture at large. (And without IKEA, amazing things like this would have never happened.)

I too once loved IKEA. But something always felt a bit off. It took me many trips languishing through the set-pieces of IKEA's sprawling lovesong to urban/sub-urban living before I could figure out what bugged me so much about it. (Moreso after I'd bought the pieces into my house, only to have each and every one of those particle-board pieces break.)

IKEA is disposable design. Lorem ipsum furniture. Stuff you get until you can afford to get the good stuff that you really want. Furniture for the noncommittal. It's a cheap thrill, in every sense of the phrase.

(And the history of the company is fascinating, in case you were wondering, which you should, because this article is really good. And it prompted this diatribe.)

After fawning over the novelty of everything in the giant blue and yellow warehouse like any good American did, the concept of IKEA quickly came to lose its veneer just as fast as the furniture did.

My materialism shifted gears and now I craved things that were beautiful, thoughtful, designed, functional, and most of all, that would last. I wanted a coffee table I could count on. I wanted to fall in love and truly commit to something. I wanted to get married, and IKEA was kind of just a cool boyfriend who like, went on study abroad and spoke a phrase or two of conversational French but who was never going to get serious.

I was bored to tears antiquing with my grandmother as a child, but I think I'm starting to get it. I want something with a story. I want heirlooms. I don't want $7.99 side tables that are mass produced and that show up in every other American tract house and whose legs have been hollowed out to save money on  shipping. I don't want lame furniture. I want furniture that looks alive, clawfeet that could get up at any moment and dance.

I want meaning and goodness in everything around me, including my furniture. I also want a three thousand dollar Amish-made, Mission-style sideboard in my living room. That's not too much to ask, right? (Not to mention original art?)

And, for instance, things made of real wood. I mean, have you looked at wood? It's lovely. Even that orangey 80's oak can be lovely in a way. (Don't get me started on painting over wood - a cringeworthy practice that I will not go into much now. Hey, I have opinions. Sorry.)

The soul-crushing effects of cheap furnishing were easier to overlook in the days of apartment-living in Morningside Heights, where I literally pulled my furniture off the street at the end of each Columbia semester (the majority of it IKEA!) where students would just abandon perfectly adequate furniture on the curb. In one instance, I solicited a homeless man to push a large chest of drawers to my apartment in his shopping cart, for five dollars payment.

It was easier to overlook in a rental house, small enough I could afford to furnish the whole thing, transient enough to know I didn't really have to commit to any real pieces.

At first it was easy to overlook in a house with young kids because, well, they break and puke on everything anyway. Might as well throw it away. Get another one next year.

IKEA's not the only enemy though, just an easy target I suppose. It's a symptom, not the cause. I'm not actually totally sure what the real cause of disposable culture is, but I'm sure it's about the transience of life and being irresponsible stewards of the earth and I'm also sure it's about money to be made.

There are plenty of other places for me to complain about, since I guess complaining is what I'm doing.

Walking into a Forever 21 or even Old Navy sometimes makes my skin itch (as often do the clothes).

Disposable clothes, cheaply made, cheaply worn, easily discarded. New wardrobe each season. Another absurd concept.

Don't even get me started on how depressing the mall is.

Then there's disposable media. Post-modern media, television so riddled with pop culture references that week  later it feels irrelevant and/or unintelligible. The majority of YouTube, a million views today, a thousand in a month, zero in a decade. The late 1970s, just because I'm picking that decade, were an amazing time for movies that still hold up so well. Most of the movies of this year will show up in the $5 DVD bargain bin next year. They're made quickly, mass-produced, made to make money, not to make a difference. We need more classics, less self-referential crap. We need well-built media, movies and shows built to last and have meaning and that don't star Katherine Heigl.

We need stuff that is lasting and good and true.

After the service tech fixed my garbage disposal, I looked at the remains of the old one in the trash. Shiny, black, plastic.

This weird little expensive food-eating device that just cost me more than a hundred bucks to replace, that I will likely replace again in 5 years. This little device that helps me clean my dirty dishes. Unless, on that day, I decide to just throw them away again.


Jackie said...

Yeah, this is pretty much exactly how I feel. That's why I don't have hardly any furniture. But we will in time--you and me. PS--we shoud BUILD a piece of furniture...that would be heirloom. I'm thinking of trying to build a very, very small cedar box for our daughter's special things. I'm going to use a board that my Dad had in the garage. Maybe we can try to make two :-).

Jacki said...

My soapbox is wool fabric. I love it. Wool holds its dye color. It keeps you warm. It lasts. It isn't all itchy like people think either. Even just a little wool added to the weave helps a lot. But wool isn't so easy to find these days sometimes not even in upscale stores. Today when it was freezing cold and I needed to be dressed for a wedding that would mean going outside in the cold I dashed right to the thrift store and bought myself a long wool skirt--actually two of them. Because in all of this valley that is actually your best chance at getting a garment like that. PS I'm not typing these that late at night but it keeps marking it as if I am...

Dianey Face said...

I really like this post. It connects to the concept of minimalism. Instead of consuming so much stuff, just have a little of what you actually want or what can make you truly happy.