There’s no place like IKEA: Where else can you buy Scandi-chic furniture, stock up on faux plants, and chow down on a heaping plate of Swedish meatballs at the same place? It’s no wonder it’s everyone’s favorite design store. Well, everyone except for me—until now.
That’s right: I may write about interior design for a living, but I’ve never actually stepped foot inside an IKEA. For the longest time, I always blamed it on the distance. I lived in Upper Manhattan, and up until IKEA opened its Planning Studio in Lenox Hill, you’d have to trek all the way out to Brooklyn—by ferry no less—to shop. Um, no thank you.
But deep down, shopping at IKEA sounded downright intimidating. I’ve heard horror stories about how stressful the storefront can be. I’ve read about couples fighting under the blue and yellow sign.
Now that I've moved to the west coast and live a lot closer to an IKEA, I realized the jig was up: It was finally time to check out the store for myself. After completing (and surviving!) my first trip, I realized that shopping at IKEA isn’t as stressful as it's pegged to be. With the right tips, it can actually be enjoyable. Whether you’re an IKEA aficionado or, like me, heading to the store for the first time, you might wind up discovering something new.
Read on to learn the seven biggest takeaways I learned from my very first trip to IKEA.
Create a Game Plan
With so many options and so little time, shopping at IKEA runs the risk of becoming stressful. But take a deep breath—it’s going to be okay. Before you walk into the store, create a list of items that you need. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all too easy to be swept up in a pile of throw pillows that you likely don't have space for. Not only will making a list help keep your eye on the prize, but it also gives you permission to walk right past a few showrooms. Why waste time in the home office department when you don’t have one?
As you walk through the store, make a separate list of items that strike your fancy. When you get home, you can view them again online to ensure you choose the best piece for your space.
Opt for Off-Peak Hours
If the mere thought of stepping foot in an IKEA is enough to make you anxious, just imagine shopping with hundreds of customers on a busy weekend. (Actually, spare yourself the panic and don’t imagine that.)
There’s no denying that most of us have busy schedules—and many people are in the office from nine to five. But if you can swing it, save your IKEA shopping spree for a less popular time of the week. Instead of shopping on a busy weekend, I went to IKEA on a Monday afternoon and was able to glide through the store with ease. Whether you’re working from home or looking for a productive way to spend your lunch break, going to IKEA when it's not overcrowded will save you time and energy.
Follow the Straight and Narrow
Unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of your local IKEA’s layout, do yourself a favor and stick to the store's pre-made path. Sure, each area is packed with shortcuts, but you might waste time if you don’t know where you’re going.
Don’t worry: Walking through the entire store doesn’t have to be a snooze. During my first trip to IKEA, I followed the pre-made path and took the time to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts. And since you’ll have a shopping list, you can zip by any irrelevant departments.
They say a picture is worth one thousand words, and a quick snap of your favorite IKEA products is no exception. With so many options to choose from, shopping at IKEA can be incredibly overwhelming—and that’s where your smartphone comes in.
When you spot something you like in one of the model rooms, snap a quick picture. Thanks to your Kodak moments, you’ll be able to pick your favorite pieces out of a lineup. Since you'll have a gallery of photos to view easily, you'll be able to edit down the picks you actually want to purchase. Bonus: Before you start to add things to your yellow-and-blue shopping bag, you can swipe through all your snaps to make sure the items actually go well with each other.
Let the Model Rooms Guide You
Your home should be a direct reflection of your personal style. Sure, most of us don't want our space to look like a page in from latest IKEA catalog, but you can use the store’s model rooms to inform your shopping strategy.
You see, the store has a knack for creating great model rooms for every type of design style—so it’s in your best interest to pay attention to rooms that cater to your aesthetic. For example, if you love bohemian vibes, check out the rooms decked out in macrame accessories and rattan IKEA furniture. Rather than focusing on rooms that don't fit your aesthetic, let your excitement guide you to the spaces filled with items that will suit the style in your home.
Embrace the Bundle Deals
Whoever said less is more has clearly never shopped at IKEA. When it comes to stocking up on essentials like glasses and dinnerware, you’ll get more for your money with a pre-packaged bundle.
For example, IKEA sells its VÄRDERA side plates for $3.49; however, the brand’s 365+ 18-piece set costs $39.99. If you do the math, the 365+ bundle offers more pieces for a lower price. Even if you already have a few plates at home, you might as well stock up on a great bundle—chances are, you’ll wind up breaking some plates and need to replace a few over the years anyway.
You Can’t Beat the Bistro
My biggest regret from my first IKEA experience? Skipping the Bistro. It’s no secret that IKEA’s restaurant boasts a delicious menu, ranging from macaroni and cheese to frozen yogurt (and of course, classics like Swedish meatballs). Plus, I could’ve used a pick-me-up after aimlessly walking around the store for what felt like an eternity.
It’s okay, I’ll save the taste test for next time. Yes, there will be a next time.