The Blog

Unassembled Lives

Staying overnight in IKEA strikes me as a really interesting statement on a year which a lot of people have judged to be very troubling. IKEA is a whole world of its own. The showroom offers us so many variants of everyday life at home.

So teenagers have been holding illegal sleepovers in IKEA stores in Sweden.

The miscreants hide in wardrobes towards the end of the showroom's opening times, to emerge after dark, use the furniture during the night and leave next morning. I'm not sure whether they make it into the restaurant or the food shop to snaffle a few meatballs or a Daim tart, or whether they slide through the Market Hall on a trolley, avoiding the slow procession, which that usually involves.

Staying overnight in IKEA strikes me as a really interesting statement on a year which a lot of people have judged to be very troubling. IKEA is a whole world of its own. The showroom offers us so many variants of everyday life at home. Wandering around it, I always imagine what it would be like to live in this tiny apartment, that kitchen, that bedroom. I always imagine the scaled-down families who might occupy each scaled-down home. I pick up the books on the Billy bookshelves, marveling that they actually offer Swedish translations of well-known novels though also wondering why anyone might want twenty copies of the same book. IKEA showrooms offer us so many variations of lives we haven't lived - lives we might just live in an alternate world. Imagined other lives on the top floor and the component pieces of such lives to be collected right downstairs.

And it's the flatpack culture which, of course, makes IKEA different from so many other places. There are jokes about flatpacks: 'hate you just don't them', focusing on getting all the right pieces but in the wrong order. There are nightmares about Allen keys and missing screws; assembled items which have gone so badly wrong that they could pass for modern art. People have started lucrative businesses assembling IKEA furniture for those not so skilled in doing it themselves; others have assembly parties involving alcohol and hilarity. Sensible people like my husband do it the right way, following the instructions and involving the meticulous deployment of a cordless screwdriver. Less practical people like me, useful only in passing flatpack components and tools, muse about the deeper meaning of the flatpack experience: assembling a life, piecing together something meaningful, trying to get things to make sense. The people who have illicit sleepovers in IKEA showrooms are trying to skip the step where you have to put life together: they want to capture the whole thing right away, imagining themselves in a new existence and trying to step out of the wardrobe into their own Narnia without assembling the pieces first.

So many people are saying 2016 was a dreadful year. So many tragedies and in particular, so many celebrity deaths. I'm not going to disagree, especially about a year which included the death of several musicians I have always really admired. But really, these are not our tragedies - even as a lifelong fan of Leonard Cohen, I can't claim his death as a bereavement. These are more lives we haven't lived. We imagine we know our idols - their music, their stage or screen performances, become so much part of our world that we imagine that they're integral to our lives. It's as if we know them personally: but we don't. They may have opened their minds, even their hearts, in what they've written, performed, presented, but they're not our friends, our relatives. We might be saddened by their deaths but the illusion slips: the imagined closeness is about as real as the scaled down homes in an IKEA showroom. We can sleep over illicitly in the illusion for a while. Ultimately, though, the reality of morning will come.

So it seems really apt, as 2016 creaks wearily to its end, that the favourite Christmas toy, the Hatchimal, has gone a little bit wrong. Outraged parents have been reporting that their little darlings have been disappointed as some hatchimals haven't hatched as they were meant to do. There have been stories of emergency 'c-sections' being performed with Dads cautiously knocking the plastic 'eggs' against kitchen walls to release the creature inside. My personal favourite anecdotes have involved hatchimals emerging cursing furiously, reacting to the reality of the world outside the egg. Could anyone blame them?

In a world where a kids' toy curses as it emerges with a motorized blink from its plastic egg, where Swedish teenagers reject Nordic Noir for a night in a world of assembled flat pack lives, where so many of us are bemoaning a year which took away so many we admired, there's only one thing for it. Let's see what 2017 is like when it's assembled. Let's see if the pieces are in the right order. Let's see what it seems like when it hatches.

Happy new year.