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February 17, 2009

IKEA Shopping Tips

Ah…IKEA…paradise in the real world. A shopping haven loaded with budget-friendly organizing and decorating solutions…what could be better than that?

Well, for starters, having an IKEA in my own town would help. The closest IKEA is a four hour drive for me—from driveway to parking lot (which means another four hours to get back home!) So, a trip to the paradise known as IKEA, while worth the time and effort, must be a well-planned event.

Blog reader Vickie is planning an upcoming trip to IKEA so she asked if I had any suggestions. She, too, has the long drive factor, and needs a plan for a successful shopping day. So here are some ideas for a well-organized IKEA trip.

Shop with a list. For me, shopping with a list is necessary even when the stakes aren’t high like they are with an eight hour drive to IKEA. A list is a must for me, but even if you live close to IKEA, a list is still a great idea. The place is big and very enticing, and it is really easy for things to jump into your cart when you aren’t looking. J

To create your list, start by browsing through the IKEA catalog.  You can get a copy via their website. Or, if you prefer paperless browsing, simply peruse the website and begin creating your list.

Make your list as specific as possible. It might just be me, but after a while all the names for the IKEA furniture and containers start to blur together. Include the IKEA name for the items you want. Model numbers, color and dimensions are even handier.

Check availability online. Last time I went to IKEA, I had two very specific needs in mind: a 2x4 Expedit bookcase, and a 4X4 Expedit bookcase. If I had arrived at IKEA only to find that there weren’t any in stock…it would have been a really long four hour drive back home. To check the stock status for your items visit the IKEA website and go to the product’s web page. Once on this page look for the link that says “check stock” and you can access the current stock status for your store. While you’re at it, jot down the “rack” and “section,” as this will tell you exactly where to find your items when you arrive at IKEA.

Make sure your stuff will fit. Measure your vehicle’s available storage area (such as the dimension of the trunk, hatch back area, etc.) so you’re sure your purchases will have a place to ride home. Also, check the box dimensions of the items you want to purchase. (These also can be found online.)

Shop early. If your trip to IKEA involves a long drive like mine does, I recommend checking stock status the night before. Then, go to bed early and start your trip at the crack of dawn (or before!) so you can arrive at the store right when it opens. Purchase your must have items first...then shop for the smaller, less mission critical items.

Shop on weekdays. If possible, plan your trip for a weekday…so the crowds are smaller.

Take a friend…even if it means you can’t buy as much stuff. I know. The temptation to make the most of the trip and load your vehicle with IKEA goodness is strong…but I will never again shop at IKEA alone. Never again.

The IKEA shopping experience is a bit stressful, truth be told. It’s a combination of realizing this is a once-every-few-years type of trip (pressure!) along with “I can’t return this if it doesn’t work out at home” (pressure!) Plus, there’s the fact that the store is big, loaded with really cool stuff, and arranged in some sort of circular maze…that makes it really easy to get lost and overwhelmed.

A friend is an IKEA shopping necessity. She can help you with decisions like “Will this blue blanket work in my bedroom?” as well as “I think we really should stop and eat some Swedish meatballs…you seem to be losing your focus.” This helps you avoid getting overwhelmed, lost or dizzy, and helps you purchase things you need, as well as items that will work well for you back home.

Other handy things to bring along. Aside from the most important shopping accessory (your friend) it’s also handy to have a notebook or clipboard and paper, a pen or pencil, a calculator, and a tape measure. Also bring along any fabric or paint swatches so you can make sure things will look great in your space. Also, take along measurements of your space so you can be sure your new purchases will fit as you envisioned them fitting.

Last but not least, load up your CD player with your happiest tunes for the drive, and wear comfy shoes. Plan a break for hydration and Swedish meatballs, and a successful shopping day is in the bag!

Do you have any IKEA shopping tips to share?  Or favorite IKEA finds? I’d love to hear…


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Kristina R

I have an IKEA within 30 minutes of me and I still follow your tips. Especially after one rather unfortunate overspendy trip that resulted from my lack of a list.

christine :)

I always plan my trip to IKEA around a mealtime... We eat a meal in the cafe after walking through the showroom and before we head down to the marketplace. It's affordable and sooo convenient! And the meatballs ROCK!


Hello Aby and all IKEA-lovers,
I'm a german girl and I really love that shopping mile. There are so many ideas to discover ...
at first I'm, not we're (my mom and I) searching all goodies from my/our 'inköpslist'. After that we're eating the nice meatballs, it's lunch time ;-) and for relaxing we're mostly ambling through the showroom - till the end of a successful shopping day :o))

By now I've found a good method that works for me. If I have a problem, in organisation or other kind, I drive with that problem in my mind to IKEA - not yet with a detailled solution. There were'nt the right things in product range, because I was looking for THAT thing, it works for me. So, now I'm walking through and have an eye for anything ... to discover ... to get inspired!

Best regards,
(hoping my english isn't so terrible it sounds to me, sorry!)

Leah Schoonover

I love IKEA! Thankfully I have one only about 30 mins from my home! I agree that it is worth it to eat lunch there...yummy meatballs! I usually go with a friend and with only one or two things on my list. My favorite IKEA purchase is the CHARM cheese grater! Comes with two in a package for $5.99. I have serious issues with grating cheese and this is my favorite grater. Love it!


Don't take small children =) I made that mistake the first time I went and it was not fun! They can get lost in that maze very quickly. I highly highly recommend going through the catalog first, the store can be so overwhelming, but the catalog is broken down and easy to circle what you want. It is also very inspirational. Also, measure everything in your house before you go, that way you know if something is going to fit in your house if you get to IKEA and love something.


I just returned from Ikea the other day! Bought an amazing desk (what I went for), some photo frames and paper napkins:

My Ikea trip is 4 hoursish round trip. It's a day trip.

Katie R

I try to combine IKEA trips with other trips to see friends. I have several friends who live within 30 minutes from the nearest IKEA (2-3 hours). That way, I get to see friends AND enjoy IKEA.
I have two great finds that are my favorites so far, both from the bargain area. One was a blue and white print, king-sized comforter cover. I don't have a king sized bed but I did have an intense need for a huge amount of yardage of fabric to make curtains for our bedroom. Since our windows are not standard, each panel is 5' wide! It only cost me $10 to make the curtains, a matching pillow plus having 3+ yards extra. The second great deal was a 3' long white wall mounted shelf with hooks underneath. We've hung it over the tv and have treated it as a "fake mantle" for Christmas decorations etc.
Needless to say, I LOVE IKEA!


Ikea is down the street from my office. Fortunately, I don't have to go into the office every day. AND that convenient location means we can have Swedish Meatballs for dinner when a meeting runs long. And yes... I have gone and purchased JUST food!

All good tips. A calculator to total up all those "great deals" will help you have a realistic expectation at the checkout too.

If possible, get there early and have a $1 breakfast first. Odds are, you'll be there long enough to need refueling before hitting the road again and you can get a dose of meatballs before you leave.

Bring a cooler and take a couple of bags of meatballs home with you. Ligonberry jam is quite yummy too. (I just finished my lunch of PB& Ligonberry jam sandwich!)

Think outside the box for uses of Ikea things. DD and I bought several of their food jars and have them filled with office and bathroom supplies. DD is also using a hanging rack for the kitchen for her pencils and art pens and the like.

Expedit shelves are the. best. Especially with labeled boxes (Ikea has several styles that will fit).

My only warning is on the lighting fixtures. Most of them use European sized lightbulbs. Which means you can't go to your local drug store and get a replacement. So stock up on the proper size bulbs if you do get a lighting fixture.

Most, if not all, Ikea's have child care available. I think it's free. I have teens, so I don't pay much attention!


I moved from England - with THREE Ikea's within a (possible) 40 minute drive time - to SK, Canada and the nearest Ikea a minimum 5 hour drive away - needless to say I don't go as often as I used to - and the trip is more of a luxury! Last time I went with three friends and we had a blast, we all had specific purchases in mind including one of us buying for a new scrapbok room. We managed all of it included lunch & supper while in store and drove home with two vans FULL and big smiles on all our faces.

Micha B

my biggest ikea tip is to shop in july!!! i kid you not. this last year i just happened upon the sales that were everywhere as they switched to the new year's catalog. i can't even begin to tell you how cheap some stuff was.

my favorite find was a set of three white ceramic cylinder vases of varying sizes that came all together. originally (it's even on the website as a current item still) it was about $16 for the set but i found them for 1.99 - no foolin. i also found a $30 outdoor ceramic planter for $2.99. at that time of summer TONS of the outdoor planters were clearing out for $2-4 each even when they retailed for up to $50 initially. killer fab. can't wait to go again this summer. even i can afford to make my house a little cute with deals like that.


Just a warning about the stock quote. We did this for a bookshelf for the playroom. Drove to the store, shopped, paid for everything and then turned in our list for them to get it. (I can't remember why it wasn't a self-serve piece.) Waited for 35 minutes for our number to be called to be told that the item we had already paid for was out of stock, they had no idea when it would be in and we had to go to the very long customer service line to get our refund. It was beyond frustrating!

Having said all that, I still love IKEA! :) I'm going to the big Chicago one (Schaumburg) on Friday just for fun. I don't *need* anything, but I'm sure I will once I get there. LOL

When you come up here, do you go to Bolingbrook or Schaumburg? Didn't I hear STL is getting one soon? I can't remember where I read that, but I'll let you know if I find confirmation.


Oh my gosh, you're all making me want to go to IKEA now! Thanks for all the great comments. Love the tip about the light bulbs. I had the same problem and didn't get light I wasn't sure if IKEA sells light bulbs. But yes, buy bulbs if you buy a light fixture! Thanks for that one.

I go to the IKEA in Bolingbrook, though I prefer the one in Schaumburg (seems like less of a maze.) And I have heard rumors about IKEA in St. Louis for if you know something about that...oh please share! I think I would do cartwheels. (Not that any of you could see that...which is good.)


Karena, Piece By Piece, Professional Organizing

I live 10 minutes from IKEA, but still use these tips. I also like to bring a diagram with dimensions of the spaces I am shopping for. This helps me know what I can fit where in case you find the thing you thought you wanted just doesn't look the same in person and needed to pick out a new piece.


I agree about the maze; I really don't like the set-up in Bolingbrook, but it's less than 30 minutes versus almost an hour for Schaumburg.

I need to go to The Container Store too so I figured a trip to Schaumburg was in order. :) I can seriously make an entire day out of those two stores. LOL I had planned to go today, but my daughter was home sick from school. Fingers crossed it doesn't pass from kid to kid all week and ruin my Friday plans. (Says the mother of the year here.)


As-is is great if you have no style set yet. Or have a lot of things from Ikea. It's also a good place for replacement parts. Ours will put out a cart full of just pieces and wrap the whole thing up in plastic. $5 or $10 for the whole thing. If you know your Ikea furniture, you can usually tell if there's a whole piece in there or not. We got one lot that had an entire bookcase except the back (you can purchase a piece of wood from Lowe's or Home Depot cheaply to replace it), a second bookcase, two cabinets, and a huge piece of countertop that hubby was able to use as a spare part. Granted, that was an unusually good score, usually we just get one piece and parts to use for something else.


It is very very very important to know this...

We were just there asked a lady about what we needed for the bed she told us, we drove the 2hours home to find that this was NOT what we needed called asked to speak to the store manager, and they told us that it's a self serve store,and 99% of the employes do not know anything about the products, so my husband was angry and called up the main office, and they said the same thing, and told us the best tip or advice they could ever give is this.

"take your cell phone, and call our 1 800 number if you have any questions about anthing in the store"

so make sure you have the cell it's charged and you's worth it, now I am stuck with parts I don't need and beds I can use untill I can get a day to travel 4 hours round trip!

and yes, I do still lvoe ikea!

Katherine McKamey

We drove the 4+ hours to IKEA and I was armed with a list and a hand drawn floor plan but that wasn't good enough for DH. He still insisted that 2 of the Expedit 5x5s would fit where I had drawn in 2 of the 4x4s. Needless to say, I ended up with 2 5x5s that didn't fit. We had to drive the 4+ hours to IKEA to return one of them (a friend bought the other one) and buy the 2 4x4s I wanted initially. Of course, after all the remeasuring we were able to fit a 2x4 on top of each 4x4 horizontally! It. is. awesome.! That (along with all of the clear box/drawers gave me 48 sections vs the 50 a pair of 5x5s would have. SO I think I came out ahead of the game with the second trip. It just meant more driving than I really wanted to deal with but we used PriceLine and found a hotel and stayed the night each time. (Granny & Grandpa kept the twins and got them to school! They are wonderful people!)

After our pipe break that ruined most of our downstairs furniture we were told that we would have to order our replacement IKEA furniture to be delivered. Since it was more than 4 hours away they sent it on a Moving van for $500! More than 2 times the cost of the bookcase! (5x5 Expedit!) And it took over 2 months for it to arrive. If we had gone we could have had it within 2 days at a substantially lower price. Oh well - we got what we needed and it's all over and done.

I never did really get a chance to enjoy the store, though. We were so overwhelmed by our first visit that we spent most of our time just wandering. The second time was actually more productive but I haven't been able to make a third trip. Maybe one of these days 'cause they have some really cool stuff in the 2009 catalog!!



This post is too great, Aby! I have an Ikea less than 10 minutes from me and have NEVER been. I think I may just have to go to on a little field trip :).


My nearest Ikea is 5 hours away, planning a trip in April with some girlfriends.
I usually stock up on the cardboard boxes and magazine holders, so my tip is to buy one more than you think you need since they are so cheap and don't take up much room. You will be grateful when you get home and need just one more box or magazine holder to finish a project. :)

Becky Reynolds

In addition to your tips (which I do most of) I actually have figured out a way to take my kids. (I do live close to an IKEA, so I don't have the really long drive--I don't think this would work if I had to drive a long way.) I take the backseat out of my van before I leave home, so I have more room. Then I drop them off in the play area for the first hour and go through the places that have lots of breakables like the kitchen area and picture frames. Then I pick them up and we have lunch together. Then I go through the rest of the store. The way ours is set up the rest of the store has the kids area, the couches, beds, and office areas which all are good places for the kids to play and have something to do. I can do IKEA in three hours, but I do know that if you don't live close and it's a big excursion then taking kids would not be an option. But this way works for me!!!

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