On Sunday I faced my biggest test so far since undertaking my Challenge of the Utmost Kind - a trip to IKEA. We went with a friend who has just bought a new appartment, to help him transport his new furniture. I'm glad to say that I came out empty handed and was surprised to find that I wasn't even tempted to buy anything. In fact, the whole experience kind of annoyed me.
First of all, a trip to IKEA, in Italy (the 4th biggest consumer of IKEA products) on a Sunday afternoon, a month before Christmas is a bad idea. The place was heaving, people were fighting over spaces in the parking lot and getting tetchy in the customer services queue. After a certain amount of time I found a sofa in a quiet corner near the exit and waited until my friend was finished.
I sat there for about an hour watching all the people going out with trolleys full of stuff. I wondered what they would do with that stuff and how long it would be before they'd throw the stuff out and come back to buy more stuff.
IKEA has an image of being an environmentally conscious company, they use wood which is ethically sourced, have reduced the use of certain dangerous substances and have a growing range of recycled products for sale. However, I can't help but wonder how they are able to produce goods at such low costs and I'm sure that somebody somewhere is loosing out. In fact, they were placed on the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame by the International Labor Rights Forum.
Nonetheless, my main problem is not with IKEA itself, it's with the vast number of people who decide to throw out their existing perfectly functional furnishings to go out and buy cheap replacements from IKEA, completely re-doing their homes every few years. Do these people really think it will make them happy to go out on a Sunday afternoon and buy a new dinner set or new bedding, spending their hard-earned cash to replace something that they already have?
I'm not saying that I will never buy anything from IKEA, I think they have some really good products available (I love their wardrobes which have ways of keeping your clothes perfectly organised). However, anything I buy will be something which I think will last for a long time and that won't need to be replaced every few years.
Needless to say, it will be a while before I'll be making another trip to IKEA!