In today’s culture of “order today, delivered tomorrow,” it’s easier than ever to redecorate. No matter your budget, style preferences, or how busy you are, it’s simple: hop online, buy that new chair in a matter of minutes, and have it delivered ASAP. You don’t have to take too much of your extremely limited time (or budget!) to replace a broken-down sofa or an outdated table.
Cheap, trendy furniture can be a convenient way to change the look of your house whenever you want. Some platforms may even encourage you to treat your furniture as a disposable item! But what’s the environmental cost of this type of furnishing? Read on to learn more about fast furniture, its impact on the planet, and how you can kick your fast furniture habit!
What Is Fast Furniture?
Fast furniture is cheap in every way.
Much like fast fashion, fast furniture is a broad category that covers many different aspects of the furniture itself. Typically, “fast furniture” refers to low-quality, trendy furniture intended only to be used for a short period. Fast furniture is often made of cheap materials such as particle board and large amounts of plastic. Like fast fashion, fast furniture often capitalizes on short-lived micro-trends, such as those in social media ads.
Why does fast furniture exist?
Fast furniture exists because of the demand for low-cost trends, and modern manufacturing makes it possible. Researchers have found that even just looking at items for sale causes the pleasure centers in our brains to light up, meaning that shopping has a psychological benefit. Studies have also shown that this pleasure is increased when you get a good deal.
Combining those factors makes it easy to understand the rush of purchasing new furniture for your home frequently. Staying up-to-date with the latest online “it” items and the internet’s ability to quickly push new products out to consumers creates the perfect storm for this type of furniture to flourish.
According to GWI’s 2023 consumer research, Millennials and Gen-Z are most likely to shop online. 63% of Millenials and 59% of Gen-Z reported a preference for online shopping, as compared to 46% of Baby Boomers. Millennials and Gen-Z also reported that they tend to use the internet to find inspiration, including for home decor.
Why is fast furniture a problem?
Okay, so you know what fast furniture is. But what’s the problem with it? After all, you even put your old furniture out on the curb for someone else to use or sell it online for even less than you paid. The main problems with fast furniture are its ethics and sustainability.
Fast furniture is, by definition, cheap. That means the manufacturer has to cut costs somehow to make a profit. That typically results in inexpensive materials and lower wages being paid to employees. Though the statistics for furniture are not as readily available, in the fast fashion industry, it’s estimated that fewer than 2% of workers are paid a living wage. Additionally, these workers often deal with downright dangerous conditions with little regulation.
Aside from the human cost of fast fashion and fast furniture, it also comes at a price for the environment. From the manufacturing side, cheap materials like plastic and lightweight wood can help reduce the cost of the product. At the same time, that wood is often the product of unsustainable forestry practices, and plastic can contain environmental toxins, including PFAS.
What does that mean for you?
You’ve probably heard your parents or grandparents lament that “things just aren’t built like they used to be.” And it’s true. Once fast furniture is in your home, the cheaper materials and high correlation to micro-trends often mean it is not built to last. The EPA estimated that in 2018, 12 million tons of furniture were thrown away, with 80% ending up in landfills – and no measurable amount was recycled. Even if you didn’t buy fast furniture to throw it away at the end of the season, it simply doesn’t hold up. Flimsy materials are challenging to repair, and low prices mean buying something new is often easier than messing with an unsightly renovation job.
How to Leave Fast Furniture Behind for Good
Wait – you’ve already got fast furniture. What now?
If you’re reading this and are horrified because you have a house full of fast furniture, it’s okay! No need to burn it. It’s important to know that one-off purchases of cheap furniture – especially when it’s the best fit for your budget – will not be the breaking point of the climate crisis. The problem is the excessive consumption of unnecessary goods treated as disposable, not in families trying their best to get by.
So what do you do with the fast furniture that you already own? Make it last as long as possible! A few different ways that you can extend the life of your fast furniture include:
- Repair: If your furniture breaks, do your best to repair it. It may be more difficult with cheap materials, but it can be done with extra care and patience!
- Upcycle: If you no longer want to use your furniture for its original purpose, find a different way to use it. Examples include repainting it, turning it into outdoor furniture, or even taking it apart to utilize small pieces.
- Give it away: Could a friend or family member give that old end table a second life? Would someone in the community find it useful? Consider giving it away directly to someone who can extend the life of the furniture instead of throwing it in the trash.
Give used furniture a second life instead of buying new.
Purchasing ethically made furniture is the best option. And if the price tag is too steep, consider buying furniture secondhand. Some things may not be “made how they used to,” but there are still plenty of high-quality furniture manufacturers creating furniture that’s made to last. The second-hand furniture market is full of beautiful pieces that will hold up for many years. And if you end up purchasing used fast furniture, you’re simply extending its life before it ends up in the trash, which is ideal.
Another way to invest in used furniture is through CORT Furniture Outlet. CORT Outlet takes high-end, quality furniture from CORT Furniture Rental and gives it a second life. Unlike what you might find on an online marketplace, CORT Outlet pieces are CORT Clean Certified™, meaning that they have been inspected, repaired if needed, and then cleaned by our experienced team. In addition to being more sustainable, CORT Outlet furniture is budget-friendly!
An important factor to consider when buying new furniture is how it will fit in your home and lifestyle. Will you use it often? Does it physically fit in your space? Stopping to think about purchases, and not just impulse buying (as fun as it can be!), will help you make better-informed decisions when it comes to furnishing your home sustainably.
Go timeless, not trendy.
Purchasing timeless pieces in classic tones means you can style them to match any new trend without buying new furniture altogether. Instead of buying everything in the color of the year, keep your larger furniture, such as sofas and beds, the same but swap out smaller pieces like pillow shams.
Consider the useability of the piece when shopping for investment furniture. The more ways that you can use it, the more likely you are to keep it! Consider multi-purpose furniture such as storage bed frames or ottomans that double as side tables. Look at heavy-duty furniture that can be repaired and even repainted and repurposed throughout its life. Remember that the longer you keep an item, the more sustainable it is because it keeps another thing from being made without need.
Change up small pieces when you need to.
Shopping mindfully and sustainably doesn’t mean your home has to look outdated or boring! Use your large pieces like sofas and tables as a base for your unique style. Swap out smaller items like decor and pillows to shift your style as the seasons or “in” looks change. Repurpose, upcycle, or reuse your old decor to keep it out of the trash while still maintaining the of-the-minute look you might want.
Ditch Fast Furniture, Not Great Prices
Sustainably furnishing your home often means repurposing what you’ve got. When you’re ready to join the circularity movement and invest in quality pieces that will last, CORT Furniture Outlet is here to help. Shop online or head into your local CORT Furniture Outlet to find new and gently used furniture and decor at up to 70% off retail prices.