Earnest, a credit and financing company, wanted to know at what age people begin to ditch Ikea. They analyzed a dataset of more than 10,000 American shoppers’ spending habits and came up with the ripe old age of 34.
That’s the age when most shoppers begin to transition away from particleboard and pages and pages of assembly instructions that honestly, and truly, should include marriage counseling, and into places like Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Ashley Furniture.
I’m 34 years old right now, and the thought of wandering through a million different rooms made up to look wonderful, but are actually furniture built in my home with a million complicated to construct particle board pieces and a teeny-tiny Allen wrench, sounds about as enjoyable as slamming my hand in a car door.
Please keep in mind, however, that this isn’t a dog on Ikea because it clearly has a place in our lives. But ultimately this study shows that it isn’t a permanent thing — more of a phase that most adults seem to grow out of. According to Zachary Crockett of Vox: “More than 771 million people visit the home furnishing company’s 375 retail locations (40 of which are in the U.S.) each year. Collectively, these stores generate an annual revenue of $34.5 billion USD and use 530 million cubic feet of wood to manufacture their ready-to-build offerings. A supposed ease of construction, modern design, and relative affordability have made Ikea a furniture mecca for young college grads.”
It’s the “young college grads” part that really rings true. I don’t want to sound like an old fart, because I’m not. I’m only 34. But I’ve been out of college for a few years. I have a pretty good job. I have a savings account, a mortgage, and three kids, and if I don’t have to assemble my own furniture, I sure as hell am not going to.
I’m also in that stage of life where I’m looking to buy furniture that lasts, rather than things that are affordable and look good, but will break in a couple years, like the Ikea particleboard dresser I have in my bedroom. It got my wife and I through grad school. We learned a lot about our marriage while assembling it. I may have spent a night on the sofa once it was complete. I’ve lugged it across three states. It’s been good to us. But I’d never buy another unless I had to.
Right now I see life like a checklist. And I’d like to check that dresser problem off for the rest of my life. I want to buy something that doesn’t require a regular application of wood glue. I want something that opens and shuts without me swearing.
And I’m lucky enough to be in a position to put those things behind me. Not to make myself sound like a cliché, but everything I’m feeling about Ikea is confirmed by this study, because it shows that, as consumers, we go through stages.
Crockett explains that while consumers in their 30s transition to stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have “outgrown Ikea.” Rather, in their 20s, they may purchase necessities like beds and sofas and actually continue to use them well into there 30s, a time when they also begin to purchase more luxury items like home accessories that include higher-quality bedding, drapery, and dinnerware. Home improvement retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s are more popular among those in their late 40s to mid-50s, and when this demographic purchases furniture, they are more likely to choose preassembled items from large retailers like Ashley Furniture.
What is very telling about all of this is that suddenly it feels like I have a consumer path laid out before me. I’ve graduated from the Ikea stage, and have moved into Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond. Not that I didn’t shop at these stores before, it’s more that when I think of home repairs and furniture, I only think of them, while the thought of Ikea brings me anxiety — just like how Hot Topic doesn’t fit my fashion choices anymore because it’s socially odd to attend a work meeting with a spiked dog collar.
Ultimately, this is adulting. We move from sporty cars to minivans, and from regular Coke to Diet Coke. But I must say, it isn’t without remorse. The first time I stepped in Ikea, it felt like a wonderland of possibilities. It felt like I was looking at rooms that could, one day, reflect my success as an adult. Not that any of the rooms in my house look as made-up and pristine as the showroom Ikea models.
I have kids. Nothing is safe. But perhaps that’s the real appeal of the store. It’s the dream that your life, your home, might one day look like that. And perhaps that’s what’s so painful about going into Ikea in your mid-30s. It’s the reality that life doesn’t look like an IKEA room. It’s stickier than that. It doesn’t smell like new furniture. It smells like sour milk and dirty diapers. It looks like toys in the living room and a sink full of dirty dishes.
Maybe that’s what really happens at 34. You become pragmatic. You’re not looking for the glamour, but rather real and tangible items that are long-lasting and durable. You are interested in maintaining what you have. And you’re not interested in living in some Ikea wonderland, because you have enough years under your belt to know that it just isn’t real. And you also really hate Allen wrenches and sleeping on the couch.