Jim Duffy: How I won war with Ikea furniture and felt like a real man

Putting Ikea furniture together can prove challenging for some and, as Jim Duffy discovered, a degree in sociology does not help (Picture: Johannes Simon/Getty)
Putting Ikea furniture together can prove challenging for some and, as Jim Duffy discovered, a degree in sociology does not help (Picture: Johannes Simon/Getty)
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Putting together Ikea furniture proves a struggle for Jim Duffy, who laments his short attention span and lack of practical skills.

At the ripe old age of just over 50 – well, 12 months over 50 – I’ve realised how totally useless I am. Having spent years developing my brain, learning new stuff and having a go at different things, I have just realised that despite all this energy and effort, I still cannot build Ikea furniture. And it’s causing me angst ...

As Ikea, a global phenomenon and enigma at the same time, opens its first store in India, I still cannot get my head around its magnificently profitable business model. Why am I expected to queue, pay, collect, transport and then build the sodding stuff, only to find during the building process that I am inept? Me and probably half the adult population. I’m being careful here not be gender specific as one of my best friends, “Wee Gaylsey” is a dab hand when it comes to erecting Ikea jigsaw furniture. Why, after all my years of “getting smarter” and gaining more insight into life and domestic tasks, can I not manage to successfully build Ikea wardrobes and couches?

Firstly, I need someone to blame, so I’m going to blame the education system. Yes, that’s always a good start when we realise that we have a lost generation. My generation were sold the myth that education, exams and post-nominals were a pre-requisite for getting on and getting better and moving up the ladder of success. For me, that was a degree in sociology through the Open University. To be fair, I did get a first and my primary subjects included semiology, contextual post-modernism and language. Yes, there’s not much I don’t know about the semantics, syntactics and pragmatics of applied, contextual English. And how useless is that! Especially when the Ikea instructions come in the form of little diagrams that require constant interpretation and checking. So much for sociology at the OU then. I should have done a course in bricklaying which, as my grandad was a bricklayer, could actually have been more meaningful and fun. And a lot more relevant to Ikea.

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Secondly, as a product of the “hurry up” generation, where things do not move fast enough and careers are so slow, my attention to detail is poor. As I have learned to graze on my news feeds, blogs and websites, I have shortened my attention span to seconds and minutes. This has been multiplied by a factor of 100 as the digital age has really kicked in. Now, I swipe left and right and up and down incessantly as I juggle this story and that picture and this celebrity and that politician.

In short, I now have the attention span of a blue bottle. And this does not bode well when a 58-page set of instructions pops out from the miles of cardboard that cocoon an Ikea sofa.

Yes, 58 pages of instructions and I’ve lost the plot after page five.

Next, probably like all of us who have a sedentary lifestyle with a garage that just about holds old bits and bobs and not a car, and perhaps a garden hut that houses the lawn mower and trimmer, I have nowhere appropriate to build my Ikea furniture. Joiners and carpenters have benches and proper cutting tables. All I and, I guess, you have is the kitchen floor with a rug on it. And this causes all sorts of pain. Notably, that I have to get down on my knees, which are sore from running half-marathons over the years (another waste of time – a good walk would have done). Add to this the need to bend over to get leverage over the weird Ikea screws and I’m almost practising yoga just to get one side of the wardrobe aligned. After 30 minutes of this, my ankles are sore, my knees are numb and my torso feels like it has been put through a grinder. Why, oh why, did I not go to a “proper” furniture shop!

As I get to about page 10, my lack of dexterity and mobility, my lack of mental agility and focus, and my lack of understanding of spacial awareness and how to follow simple instructions really kick in. All the fancy degrees in the world cannot save me now. I’ve started this Krypton Factor Ikea test and I cannot escape as the kitchen floor is strewn with wide, laminated wooden panels, wooden dowels and all the tools I can muster from my garage. Ah yes, the tools. The Ikea instructions tell me I need a tape measure, drill, numerous screwdrivers and a hammer. Thanks to the Homebase and B&Q summer sales over the years, I have indeed amassed these bad boys, albeit, they are still in the boxes and needed charged for an hour or so. But, Ikea also gives me little tools as part of the charade of me being a joiner for the day. And they hurt like hell.

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Screwing, rotating and anchoring Ikea furniture with the little keys and tools, places enormous pressure on my hands and fingers that, as a big softy with an OU degree, I am not used to. I exert a huge amount of pressure on my thumbs to give these little screws that final push to ensure my Ikea wardrobe doesn’t not fall down within 12 months. This results in me developing sores and very reddened hands. I can tell you, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Five hours later, I have completed the Crystal Maze and I stand proudly in front of my Ikea furniture. I’m a real man! I’ve done it. The sense of achievement is palpable. It doesn’t matter that there are still some wooden dowels and a coupe of screws on the kitchen floor. Hell, who needs them, the thing is standing upright – right? And it looks great. And now, my Ikea lightbulb moment kicks in. I’m at one with my furniture, I get it, I have consumed and produced at the same time. How very post-modern? The only thing now left to do is fill a transit van with all the packaging and head to the local skip.