How to Avoid Fighting at Ikea

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Ikea fights are practically a promised part of any Ikea excursion: winding corridors of ersatz living rooms, Swedish meatballs, and discord. That’s just how it works.

As Corinne Purtill wrote in a piece we ran this week:

The showroom is also where troubling questions of taste arise. In an environment where choosing a coffee table is marketed as an expression of identity, it’s easy to project deeper meaning onto a partner’s opinion. If I like the Lack and you like the Klingsbo, do we want the same kind of home? Do we want the same kind of life? Who are you, really?

Anybody with the slightest bit of remove from this environment can tell that this is ridiculous. But the problem is that for those couples, trapped in that Ikea maze, they have no remove.

Which is why when my husband and I go to Ikea, we observe a strict rule: snack breaks at the cafe every 90 minutes. There, away from all the Hemnes and Pax and Poäng, we can have a nice, sane conversation about the task before us. As he puts it, “It’s like a casino. Everywhere you want to go, you have to take a weird path past higher-profit stuff. It’s hard to have a level-headed discussion in such a stimulating environment.”

He adds, “Plus, yum: almond cake.”