Saturday, September 19, 2009

Retail therapy at its best.

I am a thrift store junkie. (I am also obsessed with rummage sales, but in my temperate zone, thrift stores are a more reliable fix.) Becoming an avid “thrifter” thoroughly alters a person’s shopping sensibilities. After spending an hour browsing through an almost unimaginably diverse selection of jeans with prices that could be covered by the change some people find in their couch cushions, it’s almost impossible to go to a mall. The shop windows showcase a small variety of “current trends” at prices that would get you garbage bags full of gently used clothing. And I guess there’s something about the thrill of the hunt that gets inside you. With a little extra work, you can find something unique. Something that has already lived one life, and instead of going into a land fill, is going to live a second life with you in your closet. Thrifting enlivens hunter gatherer instincts. It helps the environment. It saves you money.

But just because I love thrifting, doesn’t mean that I haven’t found a few other places to satiate these urges. I have often touted my local Forever 21 store for feeling like a thrift store, with its tightly packed racks of uniquely trendy clothing. But there’s one store in particular that provides the same bliss of a totally satisfying shopping experience. That is Ikea.

When my grandmother and I were walking through the amusement park sized parking lot up to Ikea last week, she made a very telling comment, “I feel like we’re going to have to pay to get in.” It was not the first Ikea visit for either of us, and we were both treating the trip like a special event rather than an errand. A single shopping excursion with a singular purpose can easily take hours, and result in more than a few unplanned purchases.

Firstly and most importantly, Ikea has beautifully designed, environmentally and socially responsible products at almost unbelievably low prices. We saw these pillows (vacuum sealed to save space in your shopping cart) for 99 cents.

This company has discovered a formula for reducing cost as well as environmental impact. Sure, you might have to assemble that shelf yourself, but by shipping things “flat” they can put more products into a truck or plane, and reduce the carbon emissions of transport. I saw lamps that used their own shades as the container, and lamps that use solar power. These Swedes are talented designers, not just for their practical sensibilities, but for their keen aesthetic understanding.

Wandering the store is like browsing an interactive three dimensional catalogue. I am a sucker for their carefully detailed store displays, where you can go up to a kitchen cabinet, and open in to find real Swedish food products available to buy on the ground floor.

And since you’re probably going to spend hours here, it’s a must to have lunch in their cafeteria. The prices were incredibly reasonable, and the food? Delicious and nutritious, as they say.

And even I thought Ikea had outdone themselves when I heard the announcement that there was a wandering magician on the second floor. We made sure to stop and catch a bit of the show (though my experience with magicians from my time in the circus sort of takes the mystery and thrill out of illusions).

In the end I managed to purchase only what I had come for. Though I did take the time to garnish a great deal of inspiration, and take a great deal of photographs. There was an almost poetic repetition of shapes and colors everywhere I turned. It was just like a thrift store, a vast retail landscape beckoning for me to explore and discover.

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