Is The Ikea Breakup Age Really 34?

Photo: Tsuji/Getty Images.
A recent study from Earnest revealed some surprising news: There’s an Ikea breakup age. Looking at anonymous data from its users, the online-loan provider found that Ikea shopping peaks in your twenties, with a drastic drop-off after 34.

According to the website’s own report, this might be due to the fact that you realize “all your friends have the same Pinsoshën coffee table from Ikea.” The news sent waves of shock through our office, particularly for several R29ers who are past the “Ikea breakup age” and still shop there.

After taking a quick and informal survey of friends and coworkers, I didn’t find a hard-and-fast break-off point in your early 30s. Several people just past the “peak Ikea” age of 24 told me they were already sick of it. One woman, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of seeming “too bougie,” expressed frustration with having to move self-assembled pieces that often just fall apart after a few years of use. "I'm already way past the breakup age at 25," she laughs.

“I am literally living without a bed because I can't afford a nice one but also can't bring myself to buy another Ikea piece of shit,” explains contributing writer Amelia Edelman. At 31, she is a few years away from the breakup age, but attributes a cross-country move to hastening her own split from the retailer. "I couldn't handle the concept of bringing flimsy paperboard furniture across the country in a U-Haul.”

Then again, there were plenty of people on both sides of the so-called “breakup age” ready to defend the Swedish furniture giant. “Still shopping at Ikea as much as ever. Their nursery furniture is bomb,” says Michelle Taranksy Kleiman, 35. Several people past their “Ikea age” mentioned, in particular, loving its kitchen line.

Kate Fulbright, 27, summed up the feelings of many Ikea devotees in one sentence: “Never going to not shop there.” So is the breaking point really realizing you have the same particleboard coffee table as half your friends? We’re not convinced.

Not to get too Freakonomics up in here, but I can’t help but think some of it is correlation, not just causation. Do we get sick of Ikea as we grow older, or does a more settled, “adult” life naturally mean we drift away from shopping there?

For one thing, your early 20s often means you need to furnish an empty apartment from scratch. For this, Ikea is a godsend. Between the ages of 18 and 24, I moved 10 times, and I started several of those moves with an empty apartment and almost no furniture. Considering you can score a couch, bed, and kitchen table for under a grand (if you’re thrifty), I often found myself back at Ikea after these moves.

Of course, given that everything was from Ikea, it was easy to part with when I moved several states away, starting the Ikea loop over again. But even if you’re moving around within the same city, a couch that fits into one apartment might not even make it up the six narrow flights to a new one, so it felt best not to get too attached or invest too much. Now that I’m more settled (going on nearly four years in the same place!), I can take my time to select new pieces as furniture wears out or my tastes change. There’s no rush to fill an entire empty place to avoid serving guests dinner on boxes.

Another reason we speculate that Ikea becomes less of a go-to as you age? More people are settling down with someone. If you have a partner, you can combine finances and buy a piece of furniture that you could potentially hand down to your kids — or at least hold onto until the kids turn 18. Having a long-term partner is also something that can add to a sense of permanency, making you more likely to buy something that feels permanent, too.

But is Ikea’s reputation as being a place for temporary furniture that you toss out after a few years warranted? Maybe because so many of us spend our 20s surrounded by soft pine and Poang chairs, it’s easy to leave it behind for good once you hit 34. But the retailer has many pieces, both big and small, that don’t necessarily scream “Stockholm by way of a flat-packed box.”

Sure, the cheapest stuff might not outlast a post-college crash pad, but, if you take the time, you can find some hidden gems that will blend in with more “grown-up” stuff. Jamie-Lee Josselyn, sitting squarely at the Ikea breakup age of 34, put it this way: "[I] don't want my place to look like it's a page out of the catalog. Everything in moderation."

My mother, who didn’t even visit an Ikea until well after her “breakup age,” was like a kid in a candy store when she saw love seats listed for $300 — and she’s someone who owns antique dining room chairs we’re technically not allowed to sit on.

So maybe, no matter what your age when you broke things off, it’s not Ikea, it’s you — and it might just be time to give the store a second look. Sing it with me now: "Reunited, and it feels so good…"
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