Eug and I find ourselves talking about Ikea a lot these days- about our favorite chair, the cheap bookshelf, the fun trips to the Stoughton Ikea.
[Ikea is perhaps the largest furniture store in the world. It keeps costs low by designing furniture to ship in flat boxes and be assembled at home by customers.]
My love for Ikea was as much for the experience- going and getting breakfast or ice-cream or Swedish meatballs, drooling over the showrooms and then coming away with something that didn't look quite the same in our house- as for the furniture. While I loved the experience and was a shameless customer, I have no doubt that Ikea contributes to a throwaway culture- Ikea furniture doesn't exactly last if you're moving a lot, and we bought new furniture because we knew it was there, it was affordable, and that we would like it. I also think that Ikea contributes to a throwaway culture in the U.S. because the U.S. is already a throwaway culture; the impact of Ikea in Europe is likely very different. Ikea also sources its materials from around the world. The energy implications of a truly multinational furniture company are staggering.
This throwaway culture meant that Craigslist (the U.S./international Gumtree equivalent) prices for all second-hand furniture were driven WAY down, and plenty of people were just trying to get rid of their furniture for free. They could just get some good Ikea stuff to replace it. And we were often the beneficiaries.
While you can get reasonable prices for some furniture on Gumtree, the overall prices are much, much higher. New furniture is hugely expensive. So we're faced with the typical consumerist dilemma- do we want a consumer culture where we have more for cheaper, or not? If not, why not?
I remain a fan of Ikea for what it's trying to do- provide creative well-designed furniture and take over the world. It's a smart company. I miss it. But I hope it doesn't come to South Africa anytime soon. We're being much more creative about finding furniture and making do than we ever were in Boston. There are fewer ready-made solutions, and that seems good, at least for now.