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Why Is IKEA Furniture so Hard to Assemble

While I can handle a lot of home projects on my own, there are some that just push the limits of my skill or sanity. I still remember the first time I brought home an IKEA desk. I’d just moved into my first apartment, and it was going to be the first real piece of furniture I had other than my bed. I was so ready to get to work, only to find myself sitting in a pile of boards, screws, and tears two hours later. 

IKEA furniture is often spoken of as a fun and easy DIY project that gives you the satisfaction of literally putting together your own home. The problem is that it’s often not actually that simple! A lot of work goes into assembling your own furniture, and it’s perfectly understandable if you find yourself confused. Let’s look at why putting together IKEA products can be more troublesome than it seems.

Assembling furniture is a skill that not everyone has. Flat packing means more pieces to be assembled. Many pieces are small and can go missing. IKEA instructions are pictographic, which is hard for non-visual learners. Most assemblies are designed for two people. Parts can be missing from the kit.

Making Furniture Is a Skill

man assembling furniture

IKEA is incredibly popular, in large part due to the low cost of their furniture. Yes, they save money by using particleboard and MDF, but a large part of this cost reduction is because the labor of assembly is put onto the customer, who puts together their furniture themself. 

Here’s the catch: when you pay for a product, you’re not just paying for the materials and labor used to make it. Skill is yet another one of several factors that go into determining the price of an object.

The problem is that a lot of people get the impression that putting together IKEA’s pre-cut furniture is about as easy as putting a puzzle together. If you have basic construction knowledge that may be the case, but what about someone who has never used a drill?

Look at it this way. Would you expect someone who has never baked before to bake and decorate a beautiful three-tier wedding cake on their first try? Even with a recipe, probably not. Just like baking, assembling furniture is easier with some experience in the field. This brings up a question: is it necessary to assemble all IKEA furniture?

Flat-Packing Means More Pieces

Part of the problem with IKEA furniture being difficult to assemble lies with the fact that it is flat-packed. While this makes the furniture easier to ship and easier for a customer to take home, it can also complicate putting the piece together.

Larger units like drawers are broken up into multiple flat boards. On top of that, any of the handles, screws, dowels, or other parts that are needed to make the drawer functional, stable, and complete in design are also packed and bagged separately.

In addition to drawers, a piece of furniture could have shelves, doors, wheels, or other design elements. The more of these elements a piece has and the larger the piece is, the more complicated it will be to assemble.

Small Pieces Easily Go Missing

Again, since every item is flat-packed, IKEA furniture comes with many small pieces. Any number of screws, bolts, dowels or other pieces may be necessary for assembly. Unfortunately, this also means you have more parts to keep track of.

Here’s a scenario that’s all too common. You got your furniture, opened everything, and organized all the parts around your working space. You’ve been putting your new shelf together, and you’re just about to attach the last board. 

You reach to grab your last four screws just to find that there are only three left! Panic sets in, and you look under every piece of plastic and cardboard. You stand up and search again for a second, third, and fourth time just to confirm that the last screw is well and truly lost.

Now, one might chalk this up to IKEA failing packaging everything you need or assume they simply misplaced the piece. They may even be questioning if they did something wrong during assembly, especially if they have extra parts despite missing the necessary item.

In short, too many small pieces can land you in a big mess. Yes, you can just order or collect a replacement screw, but this causes delay in completing your item.

Pictographic Instructions Not Always Helpful

Concentrated young man reading the instructions to assemble furniture in the kitchen at home.

IKEA does come with instructions for each piece of furniture. To some people, this is a saving grace, but to other people, it’s just one more confusing item to add to the pile. 

IKEA’s instructions are thorough enough that if you take things step by step, you should be able to complete the project without too many hiccups. However, while the instructions do cover every step, they are pictographic.

Not everyone is a visual learner, so having to teach yourself as you go just by looking at a set of pictures might be difficult. Further, if you’re not familiar with construction, the different types of screws and other connecting pieces may be difficult for you to tell apart and remember even with a guide to refer to.

Assembly Not Actually Designed for One Person

If you look at the instructions IKEA provides you, sometimes they will actually recommend that you have two people assemble a piece.

There are a few reasons a piece may require more than one person for assembly.

For starters, it’s possible that a piece is large, heavy, and unwieldy once you begin to put it together. This can make it difficult—if not dangerous—to try and secure a piece while holding it into place on your own. 

Having a second pair of arms will solve issues with moving weighty parts, or holding pieces in position at awkward angles. Once a piece is fully assembled, you may also be grateful to have an extra hand helping you move your complete furniture into the right spot.

In addition to safety reasons, it can also be helpful just to have someone help you keep track of pieces or interpret the instructions.

It is possible to assemble IKEA furniture alone, but IKEA recommends more than one person for assembly. Help can save time, mitigate frustration, and even prevent injury. Time, patience, organization, and some tools are essential for making the solo assembly of IKEA furniture successful.

Furniture store, upholstery, repair services advertisement, relocation at first home of young family, bank loan approved concept. African couple placing new modern comfy armchair in light living room

When looking at IKEA’s assembly instructions, you’ll find that it is normally recommended for at least two people to work on putting together a piece of furniture. This makes it easier, quicker, and safer and also reduces the chance of the item being damaged during assembly.

While there are many benefits to having a second person assist you (IKEA furniture assembly has many factors that make it difficult), you might still prefer to work alone. In many cases, this may be perfectly within the realm of possibility.

Heavy Items Require More Than One Person

If you are going the solo route, then steer clear of heavier items. At the very least, get some help moving the box into the area in which you are going to do the assembly.

Looking at the box can tell you if the product requires a “team lift,” meaning it is recommended that more than one person carries the item. If this is the case, you should assume the item is very heavy.

While you might be stronger than average, it’s still a good idea to have a hand when moving particularly heavy furniture. A slip-up could mean breaking the product, damaging your home, or injuring yourself.

The furniture could be large and unwieldy on top of being heavy, meaning a second person would be a huge help in helping you to maneuver it around.

Furthermore, if you must lift and attach heavy pieces during the assembly process, this can be especially difficult and even dangerous if you are alone. You might have to let go of a piece to secure it using both hands, leaving it free to fall and hurt you.

Parts Can Be Missing

repair, improvement and furniture concept - stressed woman assembling new locker at home

It’s recommended that you begin assembly by laying everything out and checking to make sure you know what’s what. It doesn’t hurt to do a sweep over the instructions to get a better idea of how your furniture will come together, either.

By reviewing what you have before you begin, you’ll also be able to see if you’re missing any pieces. Ideally, you won’t ever be without the necessary parts, but sometimes this happens.

If you know you’re missing something before you start, you can tuck everything away until you are able to get spare pieces. This will prevent you from having to endure the nightmare of being halfway through assembly wondering what went wrong or what you’re supposed to do next.

On top of being an eyesore, half-finished furniture lying around will cause you to lose valuable space in your home until you the piece is complete. Until you can get replacements to finish assembly, having your remaining parts lying around in an open bag means you could also lose them in the meantime.

IKEA Offers Assembly Service

Needless to say, IKEA furniture isn’t exactly fun and easy for everyone. It can definitely be a hassle when you consider how complicated self-assembly can actually be.

Luckily, if you’re struggling with putting your furniture together and you’re about to call it quits, IKEA does offer assembly services in some areas through TaskRabbit.

Using TaskRabbit, you can schedule an appointment for someone to come to your home and put your furniture together for you. The cost of assembly services will differ depending on what you need help with, but it might be worth it to you to save yourself the frustration. 

Is It Really That Hard?

Assembling IKEA furniture is often perceived as a challenging task by some, but in reality, it shares similarities with building LEGO sets.

If you possess skills in assembling LEGO structures, you’ll likely find putting together IKEA furniture to be a straightforward and manageable process.

Both activities involve following step-by-step instructions and connecting pieces, making the transition from LEGO construction to assembling IKEA furniture a relatively seamless experience for those familiar with the former.


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