Building My Marriage One IKEA Bookcase at a Time

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Maybe this sounds weird, but I find assembling IKEA furniture to be a profound marriage-building activity.

Actually, I know it sounds weird.

I know couples who bond on marriage retreats, or through deep-and-meaningful conversations, or share hiking, or photography, or puppy/pony/ferret-taming. To each their own, n’est ce pas? For us, two things stand out as significantly maritally-enriching activities: first, cooking together. Second, tackling a box of interlocking particleboard planks—armed only with a leaflet of wordless instructions and ambiguous cartoons and a couple of Allen wrenches—and turning it into a piece of furniture.

Over the years, we have developed something of an assembly-rhythm: we know who opens the boxes (me), and who lays out the pieces (him). We know where we put the screws and bolts (in the bag or next to it?) We have developed a sense of when this is a one-person step while the other finds the pieces for the step-to-come, or whether this particular step requires both of us to grab a tool and work on opposite sides tightening bolts.

There’s something about the symmetry of lifting something heavy at the same time without it toppling, of one holding it steady while the other fastens the joint into place that reminds me we’re a two-as-one team. We work quickly, with little-to-no haggling, and somehow, assembling furniture together makes me feel gorgeously in sync with him.

Perhaps it is a throwback to the early years of marriage, when many thing were difficult, and talking was hard. We were setting up house and figuring stuff out, and yet somehow, in the rhythm of building bookcases, we found a sweet spot: an hour of togetherness as we were literally on the same page, literally building our home.

In the space of an hour we could transform our space: on bended knees with tools and particleboard, we could work side by side and arise more together than we had been before, as if we ourselves were being joined, tightened, better fit in the process. “Some assembly required” is something true of relationships, too.

Our home was more homey at the end, and not just because we had better storage space.

(Aside: If Ikea had a name for this perhaps it would be Mårrïj: their design names being hilariously funny, as Darna discovered.)

There was a season when we assembled a lot of furniture. These days, with a house full of kids and ample book cases, those opportunities are rarer. But when they come, I relish them, for the nuts and bolts of relationships are not just shared responsibilities, but shared wins: Look! We build that! We did it! Together!

For some,  theirs is a story told by vacation photos, or a successfully tamed ferrets. For me, there are bookcases and sets of Malm drawers that serve as milestones in our marital journey. Here we are: Team Us. Making our home.

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10 thoughts on “Building My Marriage One IKEA Bookcase at a Time”

    1. Our boys are hankering for bunk beds… I look forward to our being able to build some for them!

  1. I witnessed this in you & your hubby!!! (On Thanksgiving when you decided to put away that heavy board out of R & J’s house after dinner, with me “directing traffic” 🙂 )


    1. Ripping up carpet is such an emotional experience: it’s so gratifying to make such a big difference in so short a time, and SO GROSS to see what is under old carpets. Wishing you luck and many good laughs of solidarity!

  2. Oh, how this made me laugh. And cry. (So really, Bronwyn, you’ve written a perfect piece for me to read.) I laughed because that’s what I am able to do now when I hear how other couples love to put things together. It took me over ten years of marriage to realize and accept that assembling furniture is not at all good for my marriage. What’s good for my marriage is for me to find a piece at a local flea market or thrift shop that is way less expensive than new and made out of solid wood and built by someone else. In his graciousness, the Lord has provided such shops. I cried because I get it: I really wanted us to love putting things together. I’ve had to let that go, and take care to be content about the things we do enjoy as a couple.

    1. home repair and makeovers are terrible for us…. The decision making process (what color? where should we buy it? what type of stain or tools? how long will this take?) involved in remodeling are AWFUL for us. There’s something very simple about furniture assembly(just follow the instructions)… but I wish we were the kind of couple who could thrive on doing a home make-over together. In honesty, I think it would cripple us!

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