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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 12:24 pm | Fair 66º


Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 116) — Go to Ikea

Oblique Divorce Strategy #12 — Go to Ikea.

Divorce is a defining experience. The inevitable pain causes reconsideration of old ideas and openness to new ones.

An Oblique Divorce Strategy is a direct statement that helps exploit the opportunity to identify and evaluate an old belief or to increase receptivity to a new one.

How does going to Ikea do either? This column is addressed to those who like (and also to those who hate) the store.

But first let me tell you about my experiences with Costco, which are still in the process of reeducating me. Fifteen years ago I went to Costco to get a one-time prescription filled because I was told I could get it for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere.

I went, but I couldn’t buy anything without purchasing a Costco membership. I didn’t want a membership (or another plastic card in my wallet), so I went across the street to Long’s and paid full price.

Five years later I went to Costco with my wife, Alice, but the enormous and unrelenting stacks of stuff made me seasick! I had to return to the car while she finished shopping.

I finally got over my seasickness at Costco when I was prescribed a drug that was new on the market and significantly better than the one I’d been taking for years.

The old drug, available as a generic, cost less than $20 a month regardless of where I got it. The retail cost of this new prescription ranged between $297 and $306 per month — or about $3,600 a year.

For the last year and a half I’ve been able to get each month’s supply from Costco for $25. I use no insurance. The pills come in a sealed bottle directly from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Costco doesn’t sell at this price as a favor to me, and I can’t ignore the difference between $25 and $300 per month. That’s $300 a year at Costco versus $3,600 anywhere else.

How can one store sell a product for $25 when another, less than a mile away, sells exactly the same thing for $300? The cost at one store is 40 times greater than the cost at another. Who gets the difference?

I can’t explain it. It undermines a bunch of my existing beliefs about money; supply and demand; price and cost; price and value; the delivery of health care and an economic system that creates incentives for one retailer to sell a product for $25 while others sell exactly the same product for $300.

This, for me, is the origin of a pervasive sense of cognitive dissonance.

Costco, which once repelled me, instead provided me with an experience that revealed fundamental flaws in the way I understand economics. I’m on the lookout for information that will serve as a corrective; Costco is changing the way I think.

In the meantime, I’ve become a loyal customer and proudly carry a Costco Black Card right next to my State Bar Card.

How can Ikea do for you what Costco is doing for me?

If you don’t like Ikea, I understand. Here’s a list of reasons for staying away from the place:

» It’s too far away.

» The trip from Santa Barbara to Burbank and back is depressing.

» The merchandise is cheaper and lower in quality than what you are used to.

» The product lines are too similar.

» Ikea is a running gag line about the exterior lives of young adults.

» The merchandise is part of a "one world" promotion you want no part of.

» All the stuff in an Ikea store makes you seasick.

» You resent the way the stores are designed to herd you along a given path.

» They are usually out of catalogs.

» You buy things you don’t need and can’t use.

» You have to put things together using Ikea’s cryptic instructions.

My daughter-in-law, Natalia, loves Ikea. When I wanted to get new curtains for the guest room, she offered to drive me to the Burbank store. We had a great time and I noted some of the reasons people like shopping at Ikea:

» The drive is lousy, but the parking is easy and free.

» The parking lot is under a big national bookstore that’s still in business (unlike the ones that folded after they drove the independent bookstores from downtown Santa Barbara).

» You can start the Ikea experience by eating an Ikea cinnamon roll. Some of us think there are none better.

» Start at the start and follow the path from one department to the next. You’ll see everything. You’ll be able to find each other. You’ll spend less time wandering.

» The merchandise is made all over the world but it’s all marked to show it was “designed by Ikea” in Sweden. You might not like the design, but Ikea gives you what I’ll call a complete design experience.

» You always see products you haven’t seen before and wonder why.

» Like walking around an old-fashioned hardware store, you see products that inspire solutions to “problems” you’ve perceived in the details of your daily life.

» Displays of entire rooms — often an entire living area of less than 1,000 square feet — show what it could be like to live smaller than what you are used to.

» If you feel compelled to buy things you don’t need, at least they are cheap.

» If you buy something needing assembly, you get introduced to Ikea’s communication system, which is designed to bridge more than a dozen languages.

» You can conclude your shopping experience with lunch or dinner. I told Natalia to order anything she wanted and I did the same. Swedish meatballs for me and a mac and cheese for her plus a choice of beverages and unlimited refills — the total tab was less than $10!

» You can take home cinnamon rolls (we didn’t bring home enough!), lingonberry jam (we didn’t know what a lingonberry was, but we didn’t bring home enough of this either!), and bulk candy not generally available in the United States (I brought home too much!).

It’s a long and potentially depressing drive to Burbank and back. Now that I’ve done it with Natalia, I don’t want to do it again unless I go with her; I concede that a trip to Ikea requires the companionship of a friend.

Just as Costco shakes up the way I think about economics, Ikea shakes up the way I think about the details of living. It makes me question the amount of space I take up and the efficiency of the way I do daily routines.

Ikea has succeeded in creating an all-in-one international style demonstrating that it’s possible to live comfortably and relatively inexpensively within a range of stylistic choices — choices that are narrow but not intrusively awful. Life beyond Ikea is a matter of preference, not necessity.

One of the tasks to be accomplished during the course of divorce is to design a way of living that doesn’t include the benefits and costs associated with the person you once selected to be your partner.

When we travel and immerse ourselves into another culture, the experience tends to be so enveloping that it’s impossible to resist the temptation to pass judgment, which is a way of defending our old ideas.

A trip to Ikea (with a friend) isn’t an immersion into another culture; it’s just a dip. The dip is so quick and cheap that it’s possible to notice and understand what’s different — about you — because nothing is gained from judgments about what’s better or worse.

Next column: Oblique Strategy #13 — “Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.”

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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