Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

I’ve Been IKEA-mized

By Cam Mather

Last week Michelle and I took a trip in to the big city. It felt kind of like one of the “Little House on the Prairie” books when Pa loaded up Ma and the kids into the wagon and headed to town for supplies. Except that I didn’t have to hitch up the horses. I just turned the key and used the horsepower of my Honda Civic.

We had some other errands to run and Michelle suggested that we make a detour that included a stop at IKEA. I can always be talked into a visit to IKEA because they have a great selection of light bulbs! Don’t say I’m no fun at parties… “Can I show you my light bulb collection?” My desire for a large, well-varied lightbulb collection comes from the workshops that I present concerning energy efficiency. Whenever I mention compact fluorescent light bulbs I am always deluged by a litany of complaints about all of the locations where they are not applicable. I’ve heard, “But you can’t use them in… dimmers, candelabra outlets, floodlights, etc. etc.” So I make a point of taking a box full of a variety of light bulbs that are commercially available and work in all those applications to show to the doubters. Many of the bulbs come from IKEA. Leave it to those Swedes to make a large variety of CF bulbs.

Our closest IKEA is in Ottawa and Michelle was interested in going because they recently built and opened a new one. The old store, which was massive, wasn’t big enough, I guess. Ottawa has a population of 700,000 and the IKEA store there draws shoppers from quite a distance, but this new IKEA is, well, obscene. Think of an aircraft hangar you’d need for a 747 Jumbo Jet, then multiply it by 10. This IKEA is so big you can see it from space, with the visible eye. The Empire State Building would fit in the “I” of the new sign it’s so big. OK, I made that up. But it is truly bizarrely massive.

The new Ottawa IKEA is MUCH bigger than this....

I understand why they did it. On the weekends when there are hundreds of thousands of people there buying stuff, the old store got real crowded real quick. This new one will alleviate that…. for a few years.

We got there early enough that Michelle suggested that we should start out with their $1 breakfast. Really? $1? For that price you just knew it was going to be good! The $1 breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, 2 sausages & deep-fried hash brown potatoes that looked as if they had been fabricated at an injection molding plant in Scandinavia. There was a fair amount of food, especially for a buck. I think IKEA’s strategy is to get you so full of calories that you’ll have the energy to walk the whole endless store. But because their food is so cheap, people waste tons of it. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat it all, and so I planned ahead and took in a plastic container for my leftovers. And since I don’t eat sausage, and Morgan the Wonder Dog was home guarding the homestead, I decided I’d save them for him. As I carried my tray over to where you take your dirty dishes, I was (jokingly) grumbling about these Nordic socialists who expect me to clear off my own table and wondering if I would have to do the dishes too.

There were lots of racks for you to place your tray and the racks were full of other trays with plates covered in leftover food. It was absolutely disgusting. It’s what happens when you don’t charge people the true cost of something (like electricity) – they waste it. Only this was food! So I quickly began filling up my plastic container with other people’s leftovers. As soon as Michelle noticed what I was up to, she walked away swiftly before anyone noticed that she was with the guy collecting the leftover food. And I’m down with that. I just wish I’d brought a bigger container. I could have fed my dog for a week with all of the wasted food.

Then we entered the labyrinth that is IKEA, a convoluted maze that you can’t get out of, once you’re in. It’s like a horror movie, but with colorful plastic crap in bins. And you are led, like cows to slaughter, through various theme showrooms to the ultimate destination of a check out area that would make Ellesmere Island’s Ellis Island’s immigrant processing capability look like a convenience store. Soooo big.

I’m torn about IKEA. Michelle and I have bought IKEA furniture over the years and still have most of it, like our bookshelves. Some of the other stuff that we bought moved out with our daughters when they headed to university and after one or two moves it pretty much disintegrated. Dressers pulled apart. Drawers collapsed. It’s inexpensive furniture, and sometimes cheap too. It’s nice and lightweight for moving up to that third-floor walk up apartment, but if you drop it on the way up, you might as well just kick it back down the stairs in pieces.

Things like glassware and pots and pans seem fine, like what you’d buy anywhere. And they have these very cool “houses” where they set up actual living spaces. They start big (768 square feet? about the size of most North Americans’ garages) and work their way down to apartment size at 250 sq ft. It’s a cool concept. With 7 billion of us on the planet, we all need to take up less space. These rooms all seemed quite livable. And they have lots of compact fluorescent light bulbs, although I was pretty disappointed to see how few LEDs they had. They usually lead the way but my local Canadian Tire store has better LEDs.

I guess it’s the size and scope of IKEA that I have a hard time with. They seem to promote some good sustainable practices like shipping their furniture flat packed so it takes up less room and yet it’s just so big, and they sell so much stuff. There are pallets and pallets full of “stuff” everywhere. Stuffed animals, candles, glasses, paper serviettes, cutlery holders, watering cans … just so much stuff. And from so many different places. Poland. China. Indonesia. Sweden. Although I couldn’t find anything that was made in North America.

Since it was a weekday the lineups weren’t too bad. We bought some candles. From Poland. The last time I’d been to an IKEA was when my daughters in Toronto asked me for a ride there. It was on a weekend so I waited in the car, rather than deal with the crowds. At one point I walked over to the exit doors just to take a glimpse at the sea of humanity. Thousands of people in line with so much stuff.

I feel ill about all that wasted food. I get depressed when I think of pallets full of stuff that people are loading up their homes and multiple storage units with, much of which will end up in landfills. And I was part of the madness. I ate the powdered eggs. I bought the vanilla candles. I think next time I’ll just sit in the car and read. With my sunglasses on so no one recognizes me.


1 Comment

  1. I’m working out so I can visit this Ikea sometime soon…….

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