Last night I sat in the floor of our new big-kid apartment in the city, half a country away from my friends and family, without furniture or cooking utensils, and I did what a thousand city newcomers and empty apartment dwellers have done: I scoured the Ikea catalog.
I’ve heard about Ikea forever but, being from a small town, I had never had the opportunity to actually visit one. As I sat with the 400-some-page mini-book of wonder, I turned from wall to wall, trying desperately to imagine what that bookshelf would look like over there, or how I could maximize my closet storage. Each page contained items that would set my imagination running anew: look how sleek that unpronounceably-named chair is, or how bold would we be with a red couch? How many shades of grey can I put in a room before it becomes monotonous? (Answer: about three.)
Ikea is the compulsive organizer’s crack. Fight Club makes so much more sense to me now.
It had been a very, very long time since I had leafed through a physical, paper catalog. Something about turning the pages, about being able to stand with it and run from room to room (literally room to room—we only have two) matching colors, rather than clicking from thumbnails, made the whole experience more exciting. There was just something about saying “Oh, look at this!” and sliding the book across the bare floor that doesn’t always exist with, “Here! Can you see this? Let me enlarge the photo. Hold on, it’s taking forever to load. Oh $%*#, my computer froze.”
The whole thing reminded me of when I was a kid and obsessed with the American Girl series. I read every book with the original group of girls, and when Josefina’s series came out, I gobbled that up too. I checked books out of the library like mad, and when I could wheedle it out of my mom, I bought them too. When my parents started talking about moving from our middle-sized city to a small, rural city, I imagined running through fields like colonial Felicity, complete with bonnet and boots. More than once, I tried to fix my hair in Kirsten’s thick, Princess Leia-like braids.
But Molly, oh, Molly was my girl.
I loved everything about Molly: her glasses (like mine), her hair (not like mine), her not-quite-girly-girl attitude (also like mine.) I became obsessed with her World War II era, and began imagining what I would do during threats of air raids and foreign bombings. (This became less like fun and more like dread post-9/11. Molly always had hot chocolate and stuff, and she wasn’t super concerned with nuclear radiation.) I wanted to be just like her. And then, at some point, my mom signed me up to receive the American Girl catalog. I found out that, while I couldn’t be just like Molly, I could, in fact, own her.
The begging began immediately. I wanted an American Girl doll, and I wanted her badly. I could flip through the catalog and immediately begin dreaming of how I would dress her up, the furniture I would buy for her, and how much fun we would have. Oh look, I could get her a dog! It’s on page 24! And my heart would melt. In fact, we could have matching outfits. I was caught up in the love that only a girl and her hypothetical doll could share (or not share, as it were.) When my parents made me be—horror of horrors—patient, and didn’t buy me the doll straight away, I sighed wistfully and decided to delve into my quickest means of getting exactly what I wanted: my imagination.
I would like to preface this by saying that I had an incredibly vivid and consuming imagination to an inappropriately advanced age (by that, I mean to this day.) Always an easily self-occupied kid, I could spend hours playing with my imaginary doll. I would talk to her and we would have adventures, and at night before bed I would still flip through that catalog, dreaming of the day she would be mine.
Finally, after what I’m sure was a couple of months but felt like eons, my parents got me my very own Molly doll for my birthday. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to get exactly what I wanted for a gift. I would brush her hair and dress her up, and I would make her furniture out of shoeboxes (because some of that stuff in the catalog was stupid expensive), and we would have many adventures. I still have her—I opened her box the other day and looked at her stylish outfits, some gifts from my grandparents who are now gone—and she holds that same magic in a nostalgic way.
I’m writing this from the hardwood floor of my new apartment, trapped inside because it’s raining and I’m waiting for the Ikea delivery truck to arrive. As torturous and pathetic as it was as a kid to play with an imaginary doll, let me tell you what—it’s a lot less fun than that to sit on an imaginary couch.