A new Ikea report is an unsettling look at life in the 21st century

Every year, Ikea Group and INGKA Holding (the holding company that controls the majority of Ikea’s retail stores) publishes a research report on how people live in and relate to a specific aspect of their homes. Since 2014 it’s dealt with morning routines, food and kitchens, and disagreements at home. This year, it takes on a more existential tone–dealing with loneliness, belonging, and the effects of living in cities.
Two years ago, the company asked thousands of people about where they felt “most at home.” At the time, 20% of subjects said it wasn’t the space in which they lived. Two years later, they asked again, and found the number has risen by 15% among people who live in cities. In other words, 35% of people who live in cities don’t feel at home in their house or apartment.
[Image: courtesy Ikea]
Other statistics from the report–which surveyed 22,000 people in 22 countries–paint a picture of two competing versions of “home.”
On the one hand, people find a sense of belonging outside of conventional living spaces, whether in the park or at school. In fact, almost a quarter of people who live with others feel more comfortable outside of their homes altogether. At the same time, living spaces are increasingly tied to peoples’ livelihoods, often directly generating income: One in four people surveyed works more from home, and another 25% who live with strangers also rent their space out on Airbnb.
On the other hand, people report a creeping unease with their living spaces: 53% of young families don’t get a sense of belonging from their residential home. Only 57% of people who live with family or alone feel a sense of belonging, and the number drops to 34% if you live with friends or strangers.
One person in Rome reported going out to sit in their car on the street to find a fleeting moment of “mental privacy.” They weren’t alone: “Almost half of Americans (45%) go to their car, outside of the home, to have a private moment to themselves, surpassed only by the bedroom (72%) and bathroom (55%), much more traditional and expected spaces to go to have a moment alone,” the authors write. Only 45% feel a sense of privacy or security. “Life at home is changing, profoundly, all over the world,” the report concludes.
[Image: courtesy Ikea]
This dovetails with a huge amount of research and theory going back to the early 1900s on changing definitions of home. But what’s fascinating about Ikea’s report is that Ikea, simply by being the largest furniture retailer on earth, has a role to play here. The corporation has more than 400 stores in 25 countries. It reported 936 million visits to its stores last year. One favorite faux-factoid, which, obviously, can’t be verified, claims that 1 in 10 Europeans is conceived on an Ikea bed. We are increasingly renters rather than owners, which makes inexpensive and disposable furniture a necessity. As the writer Sarah Amandolare pointed out a few years ago, “home” has become less permanent and more transient than ever, and, as a result, we’ve stopped thinking of our homes as “self-expression.”
Ikea, of course, has a stake in helping people feel like they can create a sense of belonging, regardless of where home is–and a real shot at doing so, given its scale and ubiquity in cities. Rather than suggesting a new sofa, the report ends with an interactive quiz that asks about how you feel at home, mapping your answers on a pictograph and offering you a personalized “manifesto” of affirmations about finding alone time and building community. “The important thing is that everyone deserves to experience that feeling of home,” the report adds.
None of it has very much to do with furniture, which is perhaps a reflection of a moment when buying things as self-expression has taken a back seat to self-care for consumers.