Are you suffering from the Ikea effect?
We feel a disproportionate affection towards something we helped to create
Ikea’s arrival in the State in July 2009 changed the way our homes look more decisively than the invention of wallpaper or plasma-screen televisions. Photograph: Eric Luke
At least twice a year, I struggle with a strange, irrational and slightly shameful compulsion. Experience has taught me that I either resist it or risk disruption to my mental health, my finances and my marriage, but I appear powerless. I find myself wanting to go to Ikea.
This admission is made easier by the knowledge that I’m not alone. Worldwide, there are 349 Ikea stores in 43 countries. Perhaps more tellingly, it is claimed that 10 per cent of all Europeans alive today were conceived on an Ikea bed.
Ikea’s arrival in the State in July 2009 changed the way our homes look more decisively than the invention of wallpaper or plasma-screen televisions. Profits in the Irish store have halved every year since the dizzy heights of 2010, but we still spend €2 million a week there; still sleep on Hamarvik mattresses beneath Dvala sheets, and lounge around on Soderhalm sofas.
When Ikea recently announced that it was killing off its Expedit shelving range and replacing it with an almost identical one, there were howls of outrage from around the world, and Facebook pages set up in protest. The fact that there are only so many gigantic adaptable storage units you can squeeze into the average family home is, of course, beside the point.
To the uninitiated, Ikea’s appeal will always be baffling, and to an extent the love affair with the Swedish behemoth defies logic – until you’ve been there. Everything about the store – from the aisles, which curve every 50ft in order to keep us interested, to the lingonberry jam on the meatballs – is designed to lull us into a pleasantly suggestive state, in which we are unable to resist the lure of another set of Fargrik mugs.
The thing we are supposed to hate most about Ikea is the reason many of us love it: self-assembly. Psychologists have dubbed this “the Ikea effect”: the disproportionate affection we feel towards something we helped to create. The Ikea effect could be applied to lots of different phenomena: the success of Build-a-Bears (if you’re confused, ask the nearest five-year-old) or the reason our own children are always so much more appealing than everyone else’s.
Ikea’s success lies in the suggestion that you are building not just a bookcase but an entire lifestyle, one in which all your well-dressed friends will regularly stop by your tasteful loft-style apartment to perch on your Bosse barstools and drink from your Rattvig champagne glasses.
A screw loose
Deep down, most of us know we don’t have any friends like that; that even if we did, they’d be drinking Scrumpy Jack instead of champagne; that we live in a three-bed semi, not a loft, and that the elegant glass-topped table won’t look quite so good in our own cramped dining room, covered in Lego and spaghetti sauce. But maybe all we need is another set of Tindra scented candles to set it off. And so, like the addicts we’ve become, we are already contemplating the next hit.
Amy Poehler once said that “Ikea” is the Swedish for “argument” – and yes, I’ve had my fair share of bust-ups amid the bath mats. But I reckon there’s a missed opportunity for all of us here. Just think how much future marital strife could be avoided if one of the parties to a fledgling relationship took the initiative of sidling up to the other, brandishing an Allen key and uttering the words “Besta burs”.
If the object of your affection responds with either confusion or horror, you might as well break up now, because it will happen at some point anyway, very likely somewhere in the no-man’s land around aisle 19, location 11. Meanwhile, any couple able to survive the relationship death match that is the Market Hall is destined to be in it for the long haul.