IKEA, Masters of Manipulation

I love IKEA. I can maneuver through that twisty labyrinth they call a store in less than 10 minutes—I know all the shortcuts. I can sing most of Jonathan Colton’s “IKEA” from memory without a trace of irony. I think it’s amazing that I can get a dresser and a cheap-but-tasty lunch in one place. I love their inclusive advertising. And I love that feeling of sweaty accomplishment when I turn that tiny allen wrench one last rotation and stand back to revel in my newly constructed purchase of the week.

My home is truly a testament to IKEA. I go through the catalog with a loving but critical eye—what will be my next purchase? Will that coffee table fit in with the rest of my living room furniture (it’s all IKEA, so the answer, generally, is ‘yes’). I’ve finally developed a “grown-up” enough space that I could start buying “fancier” furniture, but I adore my IKEA products.

Come to find out, that’s all part of their master plan.

Well, maybe not master plan, but a nice side effect of their build-your-own furniture. Three psychologists studied the effect of labor on feelings of attachment. NPR did a great story on it.

To the shock of no one who has ever constructed a table from a pile of parts pulled from a warehouse, they found that it is not that we labor hard at things we love (though I’d argue we do that, too), but rather that we love things that we work for.

They offer a nice bunch of cheap jokes at the quality of IKEA furniture along the way (I’ll argue, however, that my furniture is, um, amazingly well-built. No crooked tables for me!…why no, I’m not possibly influenced by the IKEA effect, why do you ask?), but the authors also raise a good question: Does this apply to things besides self-constructed furniture?


Because, of course, it does. Businessmen are more enamored with an idea—even if it’s universally seen as a bad idea—if they came up with it. You know that at least some of the people on Regretsy thought their hand-crafted whatever was amazing, even while strangers mocked it online.

And writers, of course, can fall prey to the same possibility. We tell ourselves and each other to “kill your darlings.” And we try, we really do, but that’s why just about everyone recommends finding an editor—you can’t see the quality (or lack thereof) of your own work.

I think that aspiring authors are perhaps more aware of this phenomenon and its dangers than other folks. We also tend to be our own worst critics. I know I can see-saw from boundless enthusiasm to despair over a piece. There is an abundance of quotes from authors describing their own inferiority.

We know we love it. But we also know we hate it. That’s one of the reasons writing can be so painful, but also such a joy.

I’ll continue filling my home with IKEA, and I’ll continue writing, but I’ll keep an eye out for flaws in both.



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6 responses to “IKEA, Masters of Manipulation

  1. That’s a great observation! I’ve never thought of it that way before. 🙂

  2. Nice piece. My mind kept going to the opening sequence of Fight Club though. Maybe that’s why I blow up most of my stories. 🙂

  3. I suffer from ikeaphobia, the fear of being trapped in ikea for all eternity

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