18 Tips to Save Your Sanity at Ikea

18 Tips to Save Your Sanity at Ikea | Rourke Planners

Do you remember that episode of 30 Rock where Liz and her boyfriend go to Ikea on Valentine's Day and break up? She's well aware of the terror of Ikea ("I took measurements, I looked at colors, we came here!"), he's oblivious ("Come on, it will be fun!"), and she's so frustrated with him because he keeps wandering and getting distracted, picking up all the little knick-knacks. Then all the furniture becomes metaphors for the problems in their (and others) relationships. And the Ikea employee is wandering around, soaking up all the fights? But it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to be Liz (or Criss). You can be Criss-post-Ikea "You wanted a table, I wasn't super helpful, who cares". You can survive Ikea.

18 Tips to Save Your Sanity at Ikea

I am known within my family as an Ikea-addict. This is partially true. My home is about 50% Ikea, 35% Thrift & Vintage, 15% Hand-Me-Downs. I seriously love Ikea. They are cost-conscious, creative, and innovative. And if you get their quality pieces and treat them right, they can actually last years and years. I also grew up about 25 minutes from the northwest Chicago Ikea (FYI Chicagoans there are 2 - Schaumburg in the North and Bolingbrook in the South). I can get in and out in 20 minutes when I know what I need. I think of myself as a seasoned Ikea shopper. And I frequently suggest Ikea when it comes to organizational materials, so I thought it only fair that I give you tips on surviving this circus of a store.

Ikea is a wonderful place for purchasing organization materials or just home furnishings in general. I especially love how creative they get with their storage, inspired by the small apartments of Europe. I highly suggest checking out their catalog either in print or online. But Ikea is not a typical store - it's a whole different beast. For reference, Ikea Schaumburg is 300,000 square feet, and it's parking lot is probably a square mile. Problems will arise when you treat Ikea like any other store. It's not even like Costco on Sunday - you can't find Dad by the TVs, because there isn't a TV section (that's where I always find Dad, at least). This is why Ikea has a reputation for fights, breakups, or 'relationship tests'. Also screaming children running around getting in your way. But I'm going to give you my tips to save your sanity at Ikea. This way, even if there are children running around & screaming you'll get out with enough brainpower to drive home. You may need to get a 6-pack of cinnamon rolls to do so, but still.

Real quick, I wanted to note how Ikea is different from other stores (besides the size). Because the first (unlisted tip) is that you have to remember Ikea is not just a store. The best thing to do is to not think think that it's 'just a shopping trip'. Don't have that expectation and you're halfway there.

  • Ikea is designed so you start at the top and work your way down (2 or 3 stories). 
  • Ikea doesn't have aisles, it's designed as a pathway system with areas in the store that sell and display items for different areas of your home (living area, bedroom, linens, bath, storage, etc.) and they have mock-up display rooms EVERYWHERE to get you inspired. 
  • You can't pick up the furniture in that area. Every furniture piece is found in the pick-up area on the lowest area in a warehouse like setup. You can, however, pick up smaller decor items, plates, and such. You'll need to take note of the location and number of boxes for the piece you'd like to buy. This is another way Ikea keeps their prices down, because most of the restocking happens in the warehouse area.
  • Checkout lines are long. Just a fact. 
  • You can't bring your cart to your car at some stores. A lot of people are frustrated by this, but frankly it's best for everyone. Do you realize how much Ikea would have to pay to have employees wrangle carts and bring them in from a square mile area? Plus these carts get heavy and if there is any angle to the parking lot (at all) you would have so much car damage from runaway carts. 
  • They don't have tons of employees waiting on you hand & foot. Think Target, not Room & Board.
  • They have delicious cinnamon rolls. (& a little food store past the checkout area)

Now onto my tips for surviving Ikea.

1 List what you need, then make a list from the Ikea website.

List what you need. Dining table? Curtains? Be specific. List out sizes, colors, materials, looks, any other details. Once you have your list, go on the Ikea site and find the pieces that fit. One nifty feature is you can save pieces on the site and then print them out with their locations. So you won't forget that your new bed frame has 3 boxes you need to grab. The most important thing is KNOW WHAT YOU NEED AND WANT. If you actually need something, you can't go in there without a plan. Otherwise you'll find you've been in Ikea 4 hours and you still haven't picked out that thing you need and you'll get stressed and yell at your friend or SO and then grab 5 chocolate bars at checkout. This is especially important if you're going with a roommate or significant other. Be very clear about what you need, it's style, it's storage, etc. so you aren't arguing later. 'I know you like that one but it just doesn't have the storage we need'. 


2 Choose either a 'get in/get out' or a 'walk around for inspiration' technique. Not both.

Until you're well-versed in Ikea stores, you can't combine both. You'll just wander around forever then by the time you remember you need to grab something you'll be exhausted. Just don't do it.

3 Take lots of pictures. 

Whether you're looking for inspiration or for specific items, take pictures. Take a picture of the item then the tag. If you're looking for inspiration, this is a good method to note what you liked in store. If you need you can also write notes. If you're shopping, taking a picture of the item then the tag (specifically where the item is located in the picking area). If you're buying quite a few items this is a lot easier than listing it on a piece of paper.

4 Don't go back in.

Unless you're only going back for ice cream or cinnamon rolls, don't do it. It's not worth it. 

5 Go in with a full belly, caffeinated, and comfortable.

Get food and coffee ahead of time. Or go straight to the food court. You do not want to be tired and hungry. That is one of the worst things to do. Wear comfortable clothes. If you're going for a lot I seriously recommend wearing sneakers. You'll be standing for a while. Maybe even workout clothes since you'll also be doing some lifting getting your items into and out of your car. And maybe be sure your phone is fully charged.

6 Drop off your kids in Smaland.

Seriously. They don't have opinions over what plates you get, so just leave them in the kiddie fun zone. ESPECIALLY on weekends. Ikea is insanity on weekends, and you want to bring your kids into that? Not only will you get super stressed and yell at them, making them cry and everyone else feel uncomfortable, they are running around getting in peoples way. If you are shopping for them, get what you need, pick them up from Smaland, and go right to the kids section of Ikea. I'm not trying to be harsh but I've seen angry stressed parents enough times to know it's just not worth it.

7 Hit up the 'As Is' section.

This might not be for first-timers, but you can get some serious discounts from the as-is section. If you're looking to buy some furniture, bring a set of allen wrenches + screw drivers just in case you pick something up from the as-is section that's already put together. You can get great deals on perfectly fine items because it's from a display or it has a small scratch on the backside.

8 Don't go on the weekend.

This part is kind of obvious, but it's worth saying. It's so much easier to do on a weekday. People come from OUT OF STATE to get here, don't be surprised when it's super crowded on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. When people say 'Ugh Ikea is so crowded today', I just want to say 'no sh*t'. That's like being surprised Six Flags is crowded on a Saturday in June. And if you need any help from a salesperson you're much more likely to find one on the weekdays.

9 Don't go in August.

I know, this is prime college shopping time. That's why you shouldn't go then. If you must go in August, go on a weekday. It is seriously the most crowded place on August weekends. 

10 Bring your cart to the farthest loading area.

So at Ikea you can't bring your cart to your car (explained above). You bring your car to a loading zone and fill it up there. Going to the farthest (and/or least used) loading zone can be a pain but is worth it. It makes the whole backing up into the spot thing easier and, if you're by yourself, you'll feel better about leaving your cart to run to your car. FYI I've left my cart about a dozen times to go get my car and I've never had anything taken. But if you're worried or going during a busy time it might be helpful to bring another person, if only to protect your stuff when you get your car. Also, don't feel like you NEED to backup your car into the spot. If you feel uncomfortable doing it in a tight spot or if you plain just don't need to, then don't. No shame.

11 Don't leave your car in the loading zone to go back in to do something, to pickup something, whatever.

Go back and park in the lot. This isn't really for your sanity but more for everyone else's. Otherwise you're a huge jackass because people need that spot.

12 Pay for delivery.

If you're getting more than one large piece and you're not super far out, you should get delivery. Especially if you, oh I don't know, live on the third floor by yourself. It was so nice to have couches and tables and chairs driven out to me, and taken upstairs, for $60. Be aware they do outsource things outside the store (delivery, assembly, kitchen measurements, etc.) so quality will range. I had a great experience, others have had terrible ones.

13 Always be in contact with whoever you go with and have a meeting place near checkout.

If you ever get separated, have your phone on loud. Also set a meeting place near checkout just in case. You can easily get separated in a busy Ikea and you don't want to worry about finding your other person. 

14 Don't slowly walk around and stand in the aisle while looking at rooms and items.

Another tip for others sanity. You are definitely in the way and it's just plain rude. Go into the room setup and talk about whatever in there. 

15 Get the Ikea Family card.

You get free coffee at the cafeteria and you can save some serious dough when the item you want is on sale. I saved 45% off my 4 Besta doors because the whole Besta system was on crazy sale. 

16 Bring bags. And buy extras.

This is obvious for anyone who lives in Chicago (where single use bags are no longer allowed), but they don't give you bags (how could they with the weight you'd be putting in them?). However, you should buy extra bags. Those giant Ikea bags are seriously so awesome. I use them not only for any Ikea trip but also for any large shopping trip, and especially for Christmas. 2 Ikea bags full of presents and we're off. They're like $.60 and awesome. 

17 Don't expect them to load your items.

Seriously. If you have to put together the items yourself, why do you think they'll have people waiting around to load your $250 couch into your car? If you're buying anything heavy, bring someone strong with you. I have found other customers to be very kind as well and they've helped me every so often. 

18 Don't take anything too seriously & don't be on a time crunch.

Both will make you angry from the minute you walk in. Even if you have lots to buy, just have fun with it. If you need go on instagram and look at puppy pictures and videos (@puppystagrams , @corgistagrams , @babyanimalstagram , @corgiplanet , @harlowandsage , & @retrieverstagram are all highly recommended). 

So those are my tips for saving your sanity at Ikea. And at the end of the day, remember, it's just stuff - relationships are much more important. What tips do you have? Any harrowing experiences? Share them below!

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