October 2014

Life's Plans

7 October 2014
13:54 EDT (-04:00 GMT)

I'm not bad with a hammer and saw. I have a bit of skill from classes I've taken and some real-world experience. If you give me a set of blueprints and enough wood and glue, I could probably build it. The advantage of the type of carpentry I can do, of course, is it only needs to last for a few weeks (a month at the most), can look like crap from behind, and the people looking at it aren't any closer than about 30 feet. Oh, and the lights are designed to complement, so it will mask any imperfections, as will strategically-placed duct tape.

Beds, dressers and dining room tables are another story. These pieces need to be sturdy, well-built and, depending on your family and friends, stand up to the scrutiny of an eagle eye. If you're like me and bang a box of nails in to ensure it doesn't crumble, a critical eye will see it. No one wins when your dinner guest snags her clothing on a protruding nail head because she's sliding off a chair that has one leg askew. Likewise, you don't want to lie down on your bed after a long, hard day only to find yourself on the floor in the middle of a pile of kindling.

The simple fact of the matter is some people are better at building than others. Nevertheless, we all like to make things, to build it with our own hands. Who doesn't puff out their chest a little when they show off something they made on their own? I see it in my children when they draw something, make something with LEGOs, or invent something with the sundry tools children have at their disposal these days. I see it when we go to friends' houses and watch as they show us the fruits of their various hobbying labors. We all want to show that we're useful, imaginative, and capable.

And that's why, I think, the Scandinavian DIY craze has lasted as long as it has. The designs aren't amazing or truly inspiring; indeed, Mr. Magoo could pick out an IKEA original from a mile away. But yet, we love to shop there and brag about assembling our new beds, dressers, and dining room tables -- not because we love the look or we think we found a great deal -- no, the reason is much simpler. IKEA pre-drills the holes for you. There's no measuring. There's no guess work. The hardest part about putting together a piece of IKEA furniture is trying to ascertain if it's the longer or shorter screw; the thicker or thinner wooden peg. And once you've put together one thing from IKEA, you really don't need to look at their instructions ever again.

And that’s the true secret to their success, isn't it? They allow people who don't know Phillips from Allen to put together a dresser that would make a Shaker proud. In about 11 steps, you can assemble your own bed and impress everyone who sees it. You can even buy an IKEA tool kit that has all the screw bits you'd ever need to put together everything in the IKEA catalog.

Why can't life come with predrilled holes? Everything would be so much simpler if you could just unpack it, lay out the precut, predrilled, prefinished boards, arrange the included hardware, and thumb through the provided instruction manual. Life would always be so orderly and neat. Yes, we'd all have lives we could be proud of. No more guessing which path to take, which friends to have, and what to eat each day. Predrilled holes and correctly-sized wooden pegs would take all the guesswork out of it.

An IKEA life wouldn't be half bad…as long as my life was a Hållö -- comfy and machine washable -- but not a Hjälmaren, just too many hooks to get snagged on.