Two years ago, in a fit of mania and a deep desire to live in less hideous surroundings, I went to Ikea and bought a bunch of shit. My boyfriend and I lived in a one-bedroom on the first floor of a dumpy street, where we had a view of a blindingly bright auto repair shop that used more fluorescent paint than a rave. The apartment was stuffed with ugly hand-me-downs given to my boyfriend by his mother, and I’d occasionally wake up and gaze at my surroundings and think, “Am I 32? Is this what 32 looks like?” This crippling rumination often resulted with me on the couch on a sunny day, unable to do anything more than watch back-to-back episodes of Haven while eating gummy bears.
And then I hit my breaking point. During a weekend where my boyfriend was on a motorcycle ride with his pals, I thought, “I will make this place beautiful and surprise him.” Not wanting to wait for bargains, I simply went to Ikea and spent close to $2,000. I bought two bookshelves that were black-brown and a step up from the Billy model. I bought a matching TV console. I bought a Poäng chair with a textured army green tweed cover. I bought a bed frame and two rugs. I bought a new cupboard for the bathroom.
It occurred to me somewhere in the showroom that this shopping spree was way beyond my budget and not very well planned but there was a momentum to the process—renting the van, driving to Ikea, hauling boxes onto the slab-like shopping cart, and slowly winding my way to the check-out—that forced me to go through with it.
Back at home, a friend came over to help me assemble the furniture, which took all day. It was swelteringly hot and we were surrounded by a menacing amount of furnishings. By the time it was all set up, the results were only slightly better than what was there before. The scale was wrong, or maybe it was the lighting, but the new furniture did nothing to detract from the dingy yellow walls or the scuffed linoleum floor. I smiled and proclaimed success, but deep down I knew I’d made a big mistake.
Fast forward two years: We have moved to a new apartment in an upcoming neighborhood. We’ve tripled our amount of space and doubled our rent. We’re expecting a child and I’m redecorating with a fervor that can only come from the nesting instinct. This time I’m smarter, more calculating, and considered in my choices. I seek out used finds on Craigslist and at flea markets. I budget.
Last weekend we went to look at a couple of teak Danish chairs that I discovered on Craigslist. We ended up falling in love with the owner’s 1960s sitting room set: a tobacco-colored leather couch and two armchairs, which he was willing to sell for $1,ooo. It was a spontaneous decision, but this one felt right and even a bit joyous.
As we fit all the new goods into our living room, I began to photograph and post the furniture we no longer needed, which was pretty much all of the crap I bought at Ikea. The old adage: only buy stuff you really love, was never far from my mind as I listed each item on Craigslist at prices where I knew they would move. Ikea doesn’t retain value particularly well so the prices went something like this: Poäng chair (was $89.99 now $35.00). Hemnes bookshelves (were $119 each, now $70 for one; $130 for two).
A fellow came by today to pick up the Poäng chair. I listed it at $35 and he offered $30, which I accepted. Our cat, Bullet, loves that chair and sensing that it was about to go, he clung to it with dear life, mewling like his home was being taken from him. It was a terrible moment and one that filled me with guilt and shame: “Why did I buy it in the first place? Why was I so impulsive? Will I be a good mother if I can’t even deal with a tragic cat?” And finally, “I should never buy anything new again!”
Even though I have often been on the buyer end of these Craigslist deals, it was surprisingly disheartening to be the seller. The dumb fact of watching that value disappear is not particularly confidence boosting. It also points to this gross wastefulness that I’m not usually prone to. I’m the girl who saves her vegetable scraps to make stock once a month, not some box store Betty who tosses out factory furniture into the Craigslist landfill. I felt jealous of the truly wealthy, who can afford to buy quality items and if they do decide to resell, are able to do so for antique prices (see: Fran Lebowitz). The brunt of the lower middle class, those of us who watch how often we eat out, take our lunches to work, and cut our own hair to save for a vacation, are the ones who end up getting screwed by our purchases.
I pictured myself walking around Ikea two years ago. The displays were so alluring and seemingly attainable. They promised a fast-food version of coziness, that in my desperation, I bought. The problem with that kind of fantasy is that it’s all empty calories. By the time I realized it was trash, I had to accept what I could get for it.
Sabrina Small works in finance and lives with her boyfriend, cat (and soon to be daughter Winona) in Berlin, Germany. To pump up her adrenaline, she often fills online shopping carts and abandons them.