Designer Secrets To a Successful IKEA Trip

designer secrets ikea

**Please note, the following applies directly to the Seattle/Renton store in Washington. Some things may differ from store to store or country to country**

Oh, IKEA. On the one even a college student can afford. On the other hand.....things that only cost $1 that we buy when we really don't need them (and that last as long as a $1 product should). And the actual shopping experience? Can. be. exhausting. The crowds, the sheer amount of products, the names of the products? It can be a lot! But! There is a way to take advantage of the super buys that are available without completely losing your mind and your wallet. Let me show you how to make the absolute best of your IKEA shopping trip.

Successful IKEA trip: Before you go

Nail down your budget

You know, as well as I do, that there are many many little trinkets that could easily make their way into your cart at IKEA. Because they're so cheap, right? Except those add up. Especially when you never end up using them. Be brutal but honest. And stick to it!

Go to the website

This is going to sound strange, but I encourage you to look through each category of the website. Even if you don't think you need something from there. Because if you've seen everything available, you won't be tempted to pop over and see those office supplies that you might (but really really don't) need.

When you find something you like, there are a couple of options.

One is to pop it onto a shopping list that they'll keep running for you (and even email to you to make it easier).

The other that is available for some products is to buy online/ship it. I would advocate for putting as many things in the shopping cart as you can. If you need to, you can easily switch it to the shopping list. But it's a good idea to see what you can order without making a trip to the store (i.e. seeing other things you might buy)

Speaking of shipping straight to your home. Amazon now carries some IKEA products. Because of COURSE they do. It's another way to potentially save a trip to the store, and they'll charge less (if anything) for shipping than IKEA

Photo by IKEA

Photo by IKEA

IKEA app

I am a new convert to the IKEA app, but I'm already in love. They give you so many options for streamlining your experience. There are probably options I'm completely missing, buthere are a few I love:

It will save your Family membership card number (I never have that card where I need it when I need it)

It also gives you all sorts of info on your store (hours, directions, in-store map--more on that later)

You can search by name (because good luck remembering what your product is called!) but also by barcode. Scan that baby and up your product will pop!

It also lets you know the probability of your product being available in your home store, and when more are coming in (hint: low stock on weekends. Go figure).

Plan to arrive when it opens, on a weekday when possible

I cannot stress to you how much I recommend this! 

Last trip I arrived at the store 8 minutes after it had opened. Front row parking. Little to no waiting to pay. Walk right up to Smaalland.

By the time I left (45 minutes or so later...we stopped for fro yo), people were hiking to the store from parking way over yonder and I didn't even look at the line for the play area.

If crowds or walking to park bother you, GO EARLY. If it's unavoidable, pack patience. 

Once there

Made it inside? Grab a free map, a pencil and head one of two places


There WILL most likely be a wait unless you come when they open. And you can't walk straight up. You have to register them first, which takes a bit.

Kiddos must be potty trained; they're not messing with any of that.

Kids must be between 37" and 54" tall WITHOUT SHOES. They check. And they're strict. I one time had my son's (somewhat unruly) hair flattened down while they measured him and then was deemed too short. Crying ensued. And not just from him.

Once in, you've got an hour to yourself. And your 1,000 other new IKEA friends.


Believe it or not, eating at the cafeteria is one of my favorite parts of a visit. The food's good, fast, cheap, they have kids food as well.....

It's also a good idea to start shopping on a full stomach. You'll be less tempted to buy those heart-shaped cookies they have (I did say "less"; no guarantees) AND you'll have a lower chance of getting hangry. IKEA can bring out strange behaviors in people. Don't be one of them.

Oh, and two special words "lingonberry sauce". Try it. Kicks cranberry sauce's ass. We serve it at every holiday now. Get a bite of chicken meatball, a swash of mashed potato, a dip of gravy and top it off with lingonberry sauce. Mmmmm. Mmmmm.

Photo by IKEA

Photo by IKEA

Full stomach? Ready to go? Start shopping!

Grab a cart.

This is going to sound funny, but wheel it around a bit. You do not want to be pushing a wonky cart all over IKEA.

My advice is to completely avoid the showroom areas. IKEA will not like me for suggesting this. If you're prepared with your carefully thought out list, you have no need to be intrigued by beautiful displays of things you do not need. We decorators know our stuff! Stick to that list!!

Give your map a quick check and head out!

Take special notice of and advantage of shortcuts. They'll be labeled on your map and have signs in the store.

You can usually see what you're missing ("Yep! There's the bedding. Don't need any of that today! Over to lighting,". Take that opportunity to avoid more splurges!

You've made it to the warehouse

Before I actually enter the warehouse, I double check to see if I've grabbed everything. If you use the app you can mark off products as you pick them up. It's pretty much the last time you have to turn around and head "upstream" to grab forgotten items.

If you're picking up flat pack and/or large items, your app should tell you exactly which aisle to find things.

If that fails, there are computers available to look up items and where they're stored. There are usually even IKEA workers here to help you! This can't be promised elsewhere in the store, unfortunately. 

Photo by Kai Oberhauser

Photo by Kai Oberhauser

Woohoo! You're heading into the homestretch! Check out!

You've emerged from the warehouse into the bank of cash registers. Look up; read the signs. Some are credit only. Some are express. Place yourself accordingly. Again, strange behaviors of hangry people have been reported for missing this step.

I learned this trick from somewhere, and it's done me right so far. Just like in airports, the longest lines are usually the central ones/the ones easiest to get to. Head to the outer sides of the lines (most left or most right lanes available). There are often fewer folks in line out there.

In line? Great! Chill. The fuck. Out.

Pardon my language, but you just have to take a deep breath and get through this process. Don't be in a hurry. Don't huff and puff. Everyone is here for the same reason. Be kind to each other.

If those heart-shaped cookies made it into your cart anyway (don't feel bad. They always do) it's a super handy time to break those puppies out! You can still scan the wrapper after you've demolished them. In fact, 0ffer one to a neighbor! You'll make a friend!

Be nice to the cashier. This may seem like a no-brainer, but, having worked as a cashier before, I can guarantee you they are doing their absolute best. As fast as they can. And they're trying damn hard not to make any mistakes. They've also probably been faced with cranky customers and had to reply with a smile.

Offer them that last cookie. It just might make their day!

I see light at the end of the tunnel!

Literally. You've made it through the checkout line and can see the exit. Stop by the bistro and treat yourself to a fro yo. Or splurge and get the parfait. C'mon. it's $1.50. You've earned it!

Photo by IKEA

Photo by IKEA

Believe it or not, there's even more to talk about! I get so excited about this stuff! But I don't want to talk your ear off. So check back next week for the second part of the IKEA guide: what to buy and what to be careful with. OR sign up right here and get part 2 delivered straight into your inbox. And that's a great thing.