IKEA (aka: Junk We Can’t Resist)

IKEA blue and yellow store It was time to replace the boys’ bedroom lamp, which was broken beyond repair. “Family trip to IKEA!” I announced. A few years ago, my three kids would have lit up at the sound of the word IKEA. They would have jumped up and down, eagerly anticipating a visit to the huge blue-and-yellow building, its magical Småland playroom, and its inviting children’s furniture area.

But now, my kids stared at me, horrified. “No Mom, not IKEA!” they groaned. “IKEA is junk!”

I sighed. It’s the sad truth. Our beloved Swedish big-box store is a producer of junk. Our family has shopped at IKEA since my youngest was a toddler. Every room in our house boasts at least one piece of furniture with a cool-sounding Swedish label. A Stornäs dining table graced with Färgrik dinnerware. A Tromsö loft bed. And yes, one extra tall Billy Bookcase. We bought each piece in a flurry of excitement, and assembled them in the usual painstaking fashion, wielding our tiny S-shaped hex keys. Each piece added a touch of Scandanavian style and beauty to our home.

And each piece turned out to be junk.

Broken IKEA chair

With the exception of the dining table, every piece of furniture we have purchased from IKEA failed in some way within two years. The Tromsö loft bed creaks with the slightest movement. One of our Ingolf dining chairs lost a wood slat. And our once-lovely computer desk is now a mess of stuck drawers and missing handles.

And yet, despite the high fail rate, something keeps drawing me (along with millions of other people) back to shop at IKEA. Could it be the lure of Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce? Is it the exotic appeal of foreign labels and furnishings with odd designs? Is it the impossibly low prices of plastic chairs and build-your-own table pieces?

frustration of assembling IKEA furniture

Maybe. But I have another idea. Right beside me on the (non-IKEA) bed where I’m typing lies IKEA’s current catalog, which is chock-filled with glossy photos of furniture and design ideas. On the cover, a grinning, messy-haired dad is pouring a glass of juice while his barefoot young son smiles up at him while perched on a Mästerby step stool. It is an ideal Saturday morning pancake breakfast scene. Flip through the catalog, and you will find more examples: a young girl happily engaged in play while her mother folds laundry beside her in a perfectly-organized walk-in closet. A young college student relaxes in her chic little apartment while enjoying a bowl of Asian noodle soup. A group of friends gather around a dinner table, smiling as another guest arrives at the door.

IKEA family values

IKEA is not merely selling us products. They are selling us an experience. We want the ideal scenes filled with happy friends and family. We want the perfectly designed homes with spaces for each member of our family. We want the organized closets, the cozy nooks, and the clean and simple look that will surely simplify our complicated lives. Who cares if the tiny showrooms are filled with uncomfortable sofas and flimsy fake wood tables? Those rooms hold a promise of independence, of more time with family, and of finally getting our lives together. Besides, they’re adorable.

IKEA fun kids playroom

But still, they’re junk. Adorable junk designed in Sweden, made in China, and selling the American Dream. I am convinced that somewhere in Sweden, a billionaire IKEA founder sits in his ultra-comfortable chair from Scandanavian Designs, twirling a cheap hex key and laughing at the IKEA shoppers of the world. Well-played, Mr. Billionaire, well-played.

Yes, I did end up dragging the kids along to IKEA that day. We did not buy a cheap lamp for the boys’ room. But we did have an enjoyable time strolling around the store, pretending to live in the tiny showrooms, and playing hide-and-seek (which, if you’ve never tried in an IKEA, is an absolute must). We did not leave the store that day with a cart full of junk furniture, as we had in the past. But we left feeling content, as though we’d finally managed to “get” the true IKEA experience — simple time spent together, enjoying life as a family.

 

Merry X-cess (aka: Leave No Trace)

Christmas Save the PlanetEver notice what a waste Christmas can be? No, not a waste of time or energy (although that’s debatable). But what a waste of paper!

(Buckle your seat belts, readers. This is going to be one long, bumpy guilt trip.)

It’s ironic that I would be preaching about excess exactly one day after I braved the mall to purchase an excess of stuff so that my kids won’t think I’m a total Grinch. By the end of my trip, I was carrying so many shopping bags, that some kindhearted stranger offered me a few crumpled dollars. Okay, that totally didn’t happen. But it could have.

Excess of Santa Clauses

An excess of Santas

Excess of Xmas light-up stuff

An excess of holiday lights. What show-offs!

Anyway, there I was, gliding past Hot Topic and Yankee Candle, when it occurred to me that I was carrying so many plastic shopping bags full of plastic doodads, that it could probably be melted down and reformed into an entire Barbie Dream House. Or better, a whiffle ball bat. Very useful tool for fighting one’s way through the mall crowds this time of year. And all around me, people swarmed like Orcs — I swear, my keys were glowing blue and everything.

blue glowing sword

What happens to my keys when there are too many people around.

 

Between the excess of people, the excessively tall North Pole Christmas tree, and the excess of soon-to-be plastic junk in every store window, three words popped into my head:

LEAVE NO TRACE

Leave No Trace

 

Now I know what you’re thinking. Go back to Jupiter and let us have fun destroying our planet in peace! Well too bad, because I’m just getting warmed up — exactly like this planet. (See what I did there?).

I love the principles of Leave No Trace. The idea is that we can all take steps to help to protect the earth’s natural beauty and pass along the heritage to future generations. Yes, the principles largely apply to venturing outdoors, but what if we took it further? What if we attempted to “walk lightly on the earth,” as Barbara Ward once said, and applied Leave No Trace ethics to everything we do, including our holiday celebrations? How would Christmas look if we were to focus a little less on creating the world’s tallest mountain of torn and crumpled Santa Claus gift wrap, and more on the impact our choices may have on the environment? What if we all rose up and decided to ex-nay the excess for once? What if we…

Hold that thought. One of my kids just mumbled something about my spending an excess of time using the computer, which just happens to use an excess of electricity, kind of like the non-LED and therefore not-environmentally-friendly Christmas lights blinking on our non-replantable Christmas tree. Okay fine. I give up. Just call me Miss Hypo-Christmas. Anyway, I’ve gotta go wrap some plastic junk in a bunch of shiny paper.

Not-So-Average (aka: Bra-Shopping Woes)

I finally broke down and did it. It was something so hard to do, that I kept putting it off. But today, I decided that I could not wait any longer. It was time to face my fears and jump in with both feet. So, I did it.

I bought a bra.

so many brassieres for other peopleYes, yes, I know. You are probably frowning right about now, and wondering how on earth shopping for a brassiere can be such a difficult task. In that case, you probably belong in one of three categories:

  1. You’re a dude.
  2. You are so flat-chested that bras are optional.
  3. You have an average-sized bust

The world of women’s fashion was created for the average female bust size. It’s true. All those cute, sexy Victoria’s Secret Miracle push-up bras? No miracles there for me. And those Target and JCPenney racks (pardon the term) full of adorable, lacy things in every color of the rainbow? Nope, can’t wear those either. Oh, how I long to be able to walk into any lingerie department and find a dozen $30 bras to try on – ooh, maybe even with matching panties! But alas, it is only an unattainable dream. bra shopping sucks

Truth: If your cup size is somewhere in the B-D range, and your band size is 34 or higher, the world of lingerie is your oyster. You are the gem of Bali, Playtex, and Vanity Fair. You could probably breeze through the bra section and happily spend less than $50 for a couple of those foamy padded things I now see filling the underwear section of every store. Even “normal-sized” overweight or full-figured women can find a delightful and affordable selection.

Truth: We *ahem* bustier women, and/or we women who learned our true bra sizes, thanks to Oprah, have a tougher time of it. Especially those of us who not only have a rather large cup size (let’s say more than a DD), but paired with a rather small band size (let’s say smaller than 32). Yes, we do exist. No, I did not achieve this type of figure by surgery (nor do I judge the women who have). But to buy something as simple and necessary as a well-fitting bra is CRAZY HARD TO DO! Not to mention expensive. But once we find a bra that actually might work for us, we are willing to pay almost any amount of money.

Truth: Most well-fitting bras for large cup, small band-size women cost somewhere between $50-$80. I am not even exaggerating. Oh – and most of those bras are made in the U.K. Because apparently, here in the U.S., all women with large breasts are overweight. Or nonexistent.

Truth: Getting properly fitted for a bra is an embarrassing experience. Especially for those of us who are shy about our bodies. But knowing and wearing the correct bra size can make a huge difference in our appearance and comfort. Plus, it’s totally free.

bras are a difficult fittips on finding the right bra

But anyway, I bought a new bra. A $63.83 new bra. From on online shop somewhere on the other side of the world. So yay. For the moment, I can relax, and hope that it will fit. And I will   try very hard not to think about the swimsuits that have begun to appear in the department stores .

How to Be a Grownup 101 (aka: 38-Going-On-8)

Twenty minutes away from my house, there is a large, high-end shopping mall. From time to time, I enjoy shopping there. I stroll leisurely through the mall, admiring the architecture and design, and visiting a number of familiar, “regular-folk” shops, like Yankee Candle and JCPenney. But there are also a number of shops in that mall that I avoid completely. Designer shops, filled with name brand clothes and accessories that probably fill the closets of celebrities and have price tags higher than the total of all my personal assets.shops better from the outside

Now I know – it’s a free country. I have just as much right as anyone to browse the racks in high-end shops. But anytime I have dared to cross the threshold into such places, I am overwhelmed with the sudden urge to tiptoe, and the paranoid suspicion that the salespeople are keeping their eyes on me, the black woman with the Target store wardrobe. I am hyper-aware that I do not belong there, that my worn-out Sears flats should not be stepping across their plush carpeting. And so, I avoid these shops, limiting my browsing to a quick glance at the window displays as I rush past.

It is not only shops in the mall that produce the sensation that I am a foreign visitor in a land which I do not understand. There are several types of places that I generally avoid – not for lack of curiosity, but due to insecurity and cluelessness. Bars, for example. I have never once been to a bar. For starters, I would not even know what to do if I were to go to a bar. On television and in books, people just walk right up to a bartender and order some type of drink. They don’t, like, study a menu or anything. So how do people know what drinks even exist, or how much they cost? Does the rest of the adult world take a crash course in How to Order Drinks 101? I guess I missed that class. Secondly, I have never been to a bar, because (again, my learning is entirely based on television and books), it seems like people pretty much only go to bars because they are shopping for a one-night-stand partner. Not only am I not even remotely interested in such a thing, but the very idea of being surveyed that way gives me the urge to run away screaming. Nope, no bars. bars are for grownups not me

Another thing that other adults seem to enjoy doing is going out to casinos. I am amazed by the way people discuss weekends in Reno, or Vegas, or the Indian casinos, with as much excitement as kids discussing a trip to Disneyland. I have only ever been in a casino three times – mostly just hurrying through on my way upstairs to the Circus Circus acrobatics shows. Though once, I boldly wasted $5.00 on slot machines (and won nothing), and felt no excitement – nothing but the realization that I just threw away $5.00 and didn’t even get a video game out of it. I wandered around a little afterward; feeling completely overwhelmed by the blinking, flashing, buzzing machines, and the excited shouts of people as they handed over their money and watched the dealers do whatever it is the dealers do. Clearly, they all learned how to play those games in How to Gamble, 101. I missed that class, too. They Make it Look Fun but I dont even know what they are doing

little girl playing dressupIt isn’t just that I feel out-of-place and clueless in high-end shops, bars and casinos. It is also that I feel like a little girl navigating a world that belongs to grownups. I am 38, going on 8 years old. I have the right to enter a shop, a casino, or a bar, but any minute, someone will come along and point to the door. “Goodbye, little girl. Come back when you are older and more experienced and know how to do what the rest of us already know how to do.”

Sometimes I feel utterly clueless about parts of the grownup world.

Sometimes I feel utterly clueless about parts of the grownup world.