The IKEA Catalogue Raised Me
Why I’ve embraced it again after two decades.
Published Nov 4, 2019 8:00 AM
The week before I started eighth grade, I fell in love for the first time. Bored, restless, and desperate for change, I abandoned my pile of library books for something that seemed colorful and new; for something I considered to be a gateway to independence.
I flipped through my first IKEA catalog, and in it found my definition of adulthood.
After plucking the catalog off the bench in my family’s front hallway, I hunkered down in my bedroom and poured over the interiors that looked nothing like the space I was in. I was transfixed by the late-’90s mix of minimalism (such sharp lines and no ornate wood carvings!) and maximalism (so many colors and fabrics!), which were in direct opposition to my own childhood space. I wanted to feel like a grown-up, and IKEA seemed like the path to that. So I did what any 13-year-old in my position would do: I begged my parents to take me there, promising I didn’t want any actual furniture. I merely wanted, say, a rug.
And I got a rug: A small, woven, $7 rug that I ditched after high school because it wasn’t “adult” enough to me anymore. Plus, a lamp and a few shelves my dad put up to replace the bookcase that had long threatened to tumble over. He put them up and I sat on my bed, transfixed, knowing that I was one step closer to abandoning childhood forever. When he finished, I put on Jewel’s Pieces of You—the most grown-ass-woman CD I owned—knowing that everybody at school would be able to tell how far I’d come. (Spoiler alert: My head was still covered in butterfly clips and I wasn’t allowed to see most PG-13 movies.)
But eventually, the older you get, the more jaded you inevitably become. And in desperation to eject myself from the earnest person I used to be, I went into my late teens and early twenties determined not to love or like anything that once defined me. And this included the IKEA catalog. While my bedroom still consisted almost entirely of the brand’s furniture, I assured anybody who came over that it was out for sheer convenience.
Then, I ventured into my 30s and I discovered that growing up and morphing into an adult doesn’t mean you have to set fire to the parts of yourself that ushered you into being who you are. As I prepped to move into the apartment I’m in now, I jumped back into the IKEA catalog “for research purposes” and realized I’d rather buy furniture I could afford and put together with my dad than anything that cost two months’ rent. And most importantly, I learned that wanting to re-create that feeling of independence I felt with my first IKEA purchase was okay. Ultimately, I’ve started to move a little closer to the idea of happiness that fuelled me once upon a time.
Which, I know, I can’t totally get with the acquisition of more Malm. But my return to the open arms of the IKEA catalog has been like an extension of my love of vintage clothing: As an adult, I can finally combine what I thought was cool back in the ’90s with what I think is cool now. I can stop running from the embarrassing enthusiasm of my wee baby self because her tastes set me up for what I love now. And that’s something worth celebrating.
This year, after a morning spent flipping through the glossy pages, I found myself at IKEA again. I wanted the type of rugs I’d condemned to die once I hit high school. And then I started looking at desks, knowing that my childhood bedroom—that I still stay in when visiting my parents—needed somewhere for me to work. And right now, I’m sitting at that desk, typing this story, and pretty sure that whether visiting my IKEA-filled apartment or this very room, 13-year-old me would be pretty psyched about her adult choices.