Life Lessons from Ikea


By Belinda Thomson

I was pretty impressed with myself when I went to Ikea to purchase some things, and bought only those things. The market hall – with its bright, shiny, bargainy objects – held no sway over me.

I went in, bought the side tables and bedside lamp on my list, then proceeded in an orderly manner to the check out. I had nailed the whole thing.

Or so I thought. Turns out, those $10 side tables had plans of their own. They look so simple: there are four legs, attached to the tabletop by four screws.

But not any old type of screw – these were threaded on both ends. You stick one end in the table and one end in the leg, screw together, and hey presto!

Except for this: how do you grab hold of a screw with no head? If there is neither a flat head nor a phillips head, then there is no place for a screwdriver. And if the thread on the screws is sharp enough to cut into the chipboard, surely it is sharp enough to do the same to your soft and delicate lady fingers? Yes, it is.

So I tried to grab it with a cloth. No joy.

Then I decided to find an adjustable wrench. My husband Heath has an extensive range of tools, if only you know where to look. But the wrench was a total fail. Wouldn’t grip the thread.

So by this time I was hoping Heath would take pity on me and do it himself. The signs were good when he went down to the garage and emerged with a new tool – a pair of pliers. He managed to grip them on and get one of the screws in. Then looked at me victoriously, and returned to the lounge. And when I tried to do the same thing? Fail. My grip just wasn’t strong enough. But I gave it my best shot for a good ten minutes.

There comes a time in furniture assembly where you have the option of giving up. I could have chucked a tantrum and demanded that Heath finish it. Or I could have written off my $20 and bought something easier to assemble.

But I knew that this was a test of my moral courage. It was a trial of my tenacity. And I figured that somewhere, in that capacious garage, there was just the right tool for the job.

So I went and opened a bunch of toolbox drawers and landed on a selection of vice grips. This tool is a complex feat of engineering, and I quickly discovered that I didn’t quite know how to work them. I finally gave in and let Heath show me. And after some buggerising around, I felt them grip the screw and spin around.

Hurrah! It took me about 2 minutes to screw that baby in. Then the same for the remaining six screws. That’s a total of around 12 minutes; I had spent at least half an hour getting the previous one screw in. My road to victory was a sprint at the end.

And so my side tables were placed triumphantly beside the bed and adorned with the new bedside lamp.

In the great wash of victory, I realised that Ikea is much more than a well-priced homewares emporium; it is a test of the human spirit. It teaches problem-solving, determination, patience and teamwork.

And I finally saw what my dad and my husband and my grandfathers had been telling me for years: it’s all about having the right tools in the garage.

  1. I’ll never be convinced of the merits of a $700 laser level thingy. But maybe that’s just me.

  2. And not cheap tools, either – if you didn’t learn that from your dad, Heath certainly would have made the point. At least, that’s a boy’s justification for spending what might otherwise look like sinful amounts of money on shiny new toys for the garage.

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