I Just Went to IKEA for the First Time Ever, Here's Everything I Learned

pink living room


Ah, 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? It’s no wonder it’s everyone’s favorite design store. Well, everyone except for me. 

That’s right: I may write about interior design for a living, but I’ve never actually stepped foot inside an IKEA. (I know, don’t hate me.) 

For the longest time, I always blamed it on the distance. I lived in Upper Manhattan for the past five years 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 down-right 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. I’ve seen that 30 Rock episode.

Now that I 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 IKEA for myself. After completing (and surviving!) my first trip, I realized that shopping at IKEA isn’t as stressful as its pegged to be. With the right tips, it can actually be kind of enjoyable.

Check out the seven biggest takeaways I learned from my very first trip to IKEA. Whether you’re an IKEA aficionado or, like me, heading to the store for the first time, you might wind up learning something new.  

1. Create a Game Plan 

With so many options and so little time, shopping at IKEA runs the risk of being incredibly stressful. But take a deep breathe, it’s going to be okay.

Before you walk into the store, create a list of items that you actually need. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all too easy to be swept up in a pile of throw pillows that you don’t need. 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. 

I mean, why waste time in the home office department when you don’t even have a home office?

2. 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 we all 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. 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.

3. Follow the Straight and Narrow

Unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of your IKEA’s layout, do yourself a favor and stick to IKEA’s pre-made path. Sure, the store is packed with shortcuts, but you can waste a lot of time if you don’t know where you’re going. 

Don’t worry, walking through the entire store doesn’t have to be such 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.

4. Take Pictures 

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 tin.

When you spot something you like in one of the model rooms, go ahead and snap a quick picture. Thanks to your Kodak moments, you’ll be able to pick your favorite pieces out of a lineup.

Before you start to add your favorite pieces to your yellow and blue shopping bag, you can swipe through all your snaps to make sure your picks go well with each other.

5. Let the Model Rooms Guide You 

At MyDomaine, we firmly believe your home should be a direct reflection of your personal style. Sure, very few people want their space to look like a page in the latest IKEA catalogue, but you can use the store’s model rooms to inform your shopping strategy. 

You see, IKEA 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 furniture.

It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely you’re going to find the decor of your dreams in IKEA’s traditional or mid-century fueled rooms. 

6. 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 stock up on them anyway.

7. You Can’t Beat the Bistro 

My biggest regret from my first IKEA experience? Skipping the Bistro. It’s no secret IKEA’s restaurant boasts a delicious menu, ranging from macaroni and cheese, to frozen yogurt, to (of course!) Swedish meatballs. Plus, I could’ve used a pick-me-up after aimlessly walking around IKEA 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.

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