Most of the defining moments in my early life are centered around my childhood home, the neighborhood I grew up in, and the schools I attended. As I entered my 20’s, other influences had an impact on what choices I made as I grew older and more independent. Places that I worked, the friends I hung out with, and how much money I had in my bank account determined my life path moving forward.
And what little money I had. I bought a car at 17–with cash. Probably the dumbest $2,406 spent in the history of Larry Kress. I grew up in the city limits of Pittsburgh. The buses ran every 10 minutes. My high school job was within walking distance of my house. The city’s junior college I attended had a campus on a bus line. Me at 17 thought “in the moment” instead of thinking “big picture”. I also spent a lot of money on my high school girlfriend–which was overall a good experience, but I probably should have saved the money for future endeavors.
As I poured money into a car I really didn’t need, and as I poured money into buying items for my girlfriend, I developed the urge to move out on my own. Being an introvert, I really didn’t want to have a roommate. I understood that living with two or three people would make it easier pay the bills, but I knew it would not allow for me to have my own space to decompress. Having four other family members in a three-story house was chaos, so I couldn’t imagine living with a few people within a two or three bedroom apartment. Even though I knew I wanted to move out of my parents’ house at 19, I didn’t have the finances to make it happen–especially if I would rent without roommates.
At 22, I started to save up a little bit of money. It was enough to provide three or four months of “rainy day money” if I decided to get my own apartment. I was working full-time, so as long as I had a steady paycheck coming in, I knew this was my chance to finally have my own space to be.
PLANNING MY ESCAPE
My parents didn’t think I could make it on my own. I was determined to make it work for my own sanity, not because I wanted to prove them wrong. I started crafting my plan to move out by creating space in their basement for boxes and small household items. As I started to build my neat pile of goods to be placed in my car one day, I had a money-saving thought: Instead of paying for a moving van and furniture deliveries, I should go to IKEA and find inexpensive furniture that I could build on my own. I could easily fit the flat boxes in my car when moving day finally arrived.
To this day, IKEA has one Pittsburgh location. It is in the West Hills, and has been there for 30 years. In the fall of 1998, I spent many evening hours making the 15-mile drive from central Pittsburgh out to Robinson Towne Centre. Each trip, I would buy a few big, flat boxes of furniture, slide them into my 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and head back to Pittsburgh. Eventually, the basement back home had many neatly-stacked cardboard boxes tucked into a small corner. IKEA provided me with efficient furniture at a reasonable price, and I didn’t have to worry about delivery fees; I could now build my apartment furniture on my own.
After sharing my strategy for independence with my friend Dave, he volunteered his time to help me on moving day. He borrowed his dad’s Ford F-150, and between my car and the truck, we smashed everything into ONE TRIP. I had acquired two big living room chairs, three lamps, clothes, kitchenware, one TV stand, one TV, a coffee table, a 5-piece dining set, and two end tables. The only two items I had to have delivered was a new sofa sleeper and a new bed.
At this time 21 years ago, I was building my IKEA furniture while listening to my CD’s, and enjoying my very own place. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life; a chapter that lasted 6 1/2 years, full of many memorable moments and its share of forgettable moments as well.
A NEW CHAPTER, SAME IKEA
The picture in the beginning of this post was taken by me at the very same IKEA I used to go to all those years ago. This is the “IKEA Family” section of the store as seen in 2019. My wife and I took our 6-year-old son out to IKEA for the first time. It was only my third visit back there over the last 14 years, because we have always lived more than 30 miles away from the store. This time around, we were there for our son. We purchased a kiddie desk, a small chair, a standing two-sided blackboard/whiteboard, and a wall shelf for organizing his art supplies. The familiar smells of the 2nd floor café and the downstairs warehouse drew me back to a time in my life when I was starting my journey into adulthood. The careful stacking of furniture boxes into our SUV took me back to my evening drives to this very same place in the fall of 1998.
Today, my son sits at his desk in his bedroom, creating his own artwork and enjoying his new space. His room was once just a place for sleeping; a place with numerous stuffed animals and random toys that he asked us to take downstairs into the family room. He can’t convey his feelings about feng shui yet, but based on his behavior, my son’s room is now a peaceful and creative place for him. A new chapter of his life is beginning, and a shopping trip to IKEA played a part in his transformation.
THE NEXT CHAPTER AWAITS
If The Fates allow, my son will have many more chapters in his life story. When it is time for him to leave our house and find his independence, perhaps a shopping trip to IKEA will be involved. Hopefully, my wife and I will be here to support him along the way.
And if he gets the opportunity to listen to his father’s “old man stories” about his broken-down high school car, and his sometimes broken relationship with his high school girlfriend, he’ll have a lot more money to start this chapter sooner than his father did.
After buying new furniture over the years, I have one item left from my IKEA purchases in 1998: A now-wobbly chair from my 5-piece dining set. We use it as an office chair, and my son sits on it when he plays video games with me. It’s just a chair, but knowing when/why I bought it–combined with my son sitting in it, reminds me how far my own life story has progressed.