The complications of simplification

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” I’ve long advocated Emerson’s famous advice, although it always seems to me he could have done without at least one “simplify” if he was truly serious.

In recent days I have been especially intent on simplifying my life, trying to shed extraneous practices, habits, and especially possessions.

But it’s tough. Henry David Thoreau seems to have found it relatively easy to wander off to Walden Pond, throw up a small cabin, and devote his time to thinking deeply about the bare essence of life. He was young, single, and surrounded by people who would happily feed and clothe him if he discovered the bare essence was a little more than his meager life and income would support.

I’m deep into middle age and surrounded by people who pretend not to know how to operate an automatic dishwasher, much less a manual one. And who like to eat out a lot. It is, they argue, simpler than dirtying up all those dishes.

When I try to tell my granddaughter that when I was her age, my brothers and I were the TV remote for our dad, she can’t even understand the concept of a three-channel black and-white television, much less one that depended on direct contact from a human being to operate. So I just sigh and click on HGTV to watch other people work. Thinking deeply about simplifying my life can wait until this couple sees their new kitchen, I guess.

Still, I am making progress in some areas. We have learned to do without some of the gadgets that most homeowners clutter their garages (and lives) with. I don’t have one of those recliner chairs with blades that most folks around here use to mow their lawns. My lawn mower doesn’t have a cup holder. It doesn’t even have a gas tank.

Joyce and I recently decided it was time to replace our Sleep Number bed (a purchase we made years before my simplification campaign). It was 16 years old, and the company was frequently sending us coupons and other incentives to subtly remind us that they haven’t seen any of our money in quite some time.

“Ah,” I said to myself, “here’s an opportunity to simplify our lives. We’ll buy a plain mattress and put it directly on the flat platform that underlay the Sleep Number mattress and pseudo-box spring foundation.”

After a fair amount of research I built what I considered a solid argument that people have been sleeping on simple pallets or mats since time immemorial. Most of the world’s population still does, and it’s the spoiled Americans who suffer the most back and sleep problems.

Joyce agreed with my basic premise of buying a simpler mattress.

“But,” she told me, “I’m a spoiled American, and I’m not sleeping on the floor.”

Conveniently ignoring the implications of her statement, I mentally chalked up a victory and started looking on-line for products that would satisfy us both.

Soon I had narrowed the list to two options.

The first was a Japanese-style cotton mattress, made in the U.S. Even if we bought optional tatami mats to go under the mattress, we could refit our queen bed for just a few hundred dollars.

The second was a latex foam mattress, which would be more expensive, but still cheaper than the more elaborate conventional, Tempur-pedic, or Sleep Number sleep sets.

The problem was, both options were available through Internet retailers. Neither of us was willing to take a chance on buying something without trying it in person.

Soon we were on our first trip to the local IKEA.

It was everything my anti-big box inner self feared it would be. A complex system for packaging and selling simplicity. A gigantic, sprawling, environmentally insensitive development designed to bring current and future devastation to a previously undeveloped area on the outskirts of the city.

With a tree-hugger’s righteous indignation seething in my heart, I drove our environmentally marketed SUV around until we found a parking space near the entrance.

Inside, we found it is not possible to go directly to the department you want. You must follow the arrows on the floor and use maps and signs designed to take you through as much of the merchandise as possible. But eventually, we wound our way through the displays to the bedding department.

They didn’t have anything like the futon mattress I had found on-line, but they did have a couple of latex mattresses. We stretched out on them, as well as some more conventional mattresses to get a comparison. After much sampling, we decided on a latex mattress we both liked.

The queen size was less expensive than the on-line versions I had found, a pleasant surprise. And it would fit on our current bed without any additional foundation.

“So, I guess we’re ready to buy this one?” I asked Joyce.

“The king size is only $100 more,” she answered, somewhat sheepishly.

“Huh?” was all I could say.

It turns out that Joyce had really liked the king-size bed we had slept on during our recent beach trip. It was a silent addition to our shopping agenda that was only now coming to light.

“But we don’t have a king-size bed,” I said helplessly.

“They sell them here,” Joyce said. So much for simplification. And budget.

Soon our purchase list had ballooned to include a new king-size bed, plus two twin XL Laxeby foundations. For good measure we added a couple of contour pillows. You can’t very well simplify your life on old pillows. It would be something akin to putting new wine into old bottles.

It took us two trips to get everything home. The mattress, which everyone assumed would come compressed and rolled for easy shipping, came out of the warehouse packed flat in a gigantic cardboard box. As a lightning storm raged around us, we had to get some other shoppers to help us unpack the mattress and roll it into a form that barely fit into our Suburu Outback. Thankfully, the loading dock is covered. At this point, that was about the only good thing I was thinking about IKEA.

When we finally got the mattress home, we wrestled it into our bedroom and plopped it onto the floor beside our now under-sized bed. We spent an hour or so disassembling our old mattress and bed and finding places for the pieces that would be out of the way for now.

I started unpacking the new bed. My scorn continued to grow.

“Yep, just as I thought,” I complained. “The triumph of engineering design and clever marketing over inferior materials.”

The wood components of the bed are solid wood, for the most part, but they are apparently pine. Finishes are okay, nothing fancy. The result is cheap-looking to someone whose house if furnished with good quality used hardwood furniture collected over a lifetime of searching.

Then again, we paid very little for the bed, I admitted begrudgingly. And the instructions are very cleverly put together. They are almost entirely in pictures and actually easy to follow.

I was beginning to soften until we tried to put the headboard together.

Even though the pictures said we’d need just a screwdriver, parts of the headboard just didn’t fit together as they should. After realigning and adjusting about every way imaginable, I decided to apply the Pa Kettle principle.

I went and got my hammer.

Well, my rubber mallet. I tapped and pounded to try to get the pieces to fit together as pictured in the instructions, but without success. Around midnight I suggested we try again tomorrow. (Translation: I threw down my tools and said a few words I don’t normally use.)

We dug a set of king sheets out of the closet (purchased for a beach house we rented a couple of years ago). I collapsed onto the mattress and went to sleep.

The next morning I found enough pipe clamps to pull the stubborn pieces together, and construction continued. In fact, after that, it went quite easily.

Next came the Laxeby foundations. Laxeby, I figured out, is Swedish for “bundle of sticks,” for that is what came spilling out of the boxes when I opened them.

“We’ll be in trouble if the big bad wolf ever huffs and puffs on this bed,” I said aloud.

“Good one, Granddaddy,” said Emily, my eight-year-old granddaughter. That is the highest praise a silly joke can earn, in case you don’t have access to an eight-year-old.

For each twin XL Laxeby foundation, there are 87 (if memory serves) inch-wide curved laminated slats that fit into little rubber end pieces along both sides of the framework. That’s 174 tab A into slot B operations (or more if you misinterpret the drawings and have to redo some of them. How was I to know what those little X5 and X12 notations along the side were supposed to mean?) times 2. My fingers were sore for a week.

When we finally got the thing all assembled and put the mattress on top, I have to admit I understand the appeal of IKEA. The design really is clever, and we got a solid, functional, comfortable king-size bed and mattress for less than we were going to have to pay for a highly advertised mattress and foundation elsewhere.

But this simplification thing is complicated, isn’t it?





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