Following in the footsteps of fast fashion, ‘fast furniture’ is on the rise. There’s a clamor for quicker, cheaper home goods, and the demand is met with big box stores full of cheaply made pieces. Before you join the trend, take a moment to consider the dark side of this movement. We’ll give you three compelling reasons to steer clear of fast furniture.
Cheaply priced items are inevitably cheaply made. Fast furniture is typically constructed with pressed wood, rather than solid wood. Pressed wood, known as particle board or MDF, is essentially sawdust held together with a mixture of chemicals and resin, heat pressed into usable panels.
Cheaply priced items are inevitably cheaply made.
If you’ve ever moved with a particle board bookshelf, you’ll know that this material is not made for the long haul- quick to show serious signs of wear and tear. Add inexpensive hardware and quick construction, and you’re left with furniture that might last as long as your shoes (and we don’t mean your best pair). Fast furniture is not durable, and often not easily repaired- instead, it’s made to be routinely replaced.
As you marvel at the low price of a particle board shelf, try multiplying that price… many times. Most fast furniture items don’t make it through the first move, or the first kid. Over the years, people spend more on multiple, cheap purchases rather than investing in well made furniture from the get go.
Over the years, people spend more on multiple, cheap purchases rather than investing in well made furniture from the get go.
Add to that price tag the cost of assembly- most fast furniture is flat packed for efficient shipping, and requires intricate assembly at home. This is such a notoriously tricky task that metro areas support full time freelancers whose sole job is to assemble IKEA furniture in other people’s homes. This has been such a profitable pairing that IKEA recently purchased gig economy platform TaskRabbit- so they can profit twice from your purchase. Finally, fast furniture items don’t retain much resale value. People often prefer to buy a new version of the same shelf that you’ve worn out over a year. Rather than passing on a useful furniture item to a second owner, the item is likely to end up in a landfill. Which take us to our final point...
You now know that most fast furniture is made with particle board or MDF. You may not know that serious chemicals are pressed into the process, most notably formaldehyde- a known human carcinogen. By purchasing a pressed wood item, you bring this chemical into your home, where it will offgas harmful toxins into your space. Additionally, particle board takes significant energy to produce: wood scraps must be shredded, dried, and mixed with chemicals and adhesives, all before the heating and panel pressing process begins. To top off the deal, particle board is often not recyclable, due to the adhesives used to hold the wood particles together. That shelf that you've banged up over the past year, that no one else seems to want? It ends up in the landfill, in a sea of identical shelves.
That shelf that you’ve banged up over the past year, that no one else seems to want? It ends up in the landfill, in a sea of identical shelves.
Next time you look at a piece of fast furniture, consider the hidden costs behind that low price. The shelf that looks sharp in the store will look significantly less sharp as it is used daily in your home. As it accumulates dings and scratches, the particle board panels can’t be cared for with furniture oil; as the hardware fails, the panels won’t allow for replacement- these pieces are not made to be maintained. Instead, sooner than you realize, it will be time for a new shelf. When this time comes, even the college kids next door won’t want to take it in. Lacking resale value, the shelf will be placed by the side of the road, where it will be picked up and brought to a landfill, outside of your city or town. And there the shelf will sit, for far, far longer than it sat in your home. And you’ll buy another shelf to take its place.
That first quick purchase, that low, low price? All part of a growing disposable economy. Opt out, if you can.