November 02, 2022
When Melissa and I moved to Arkansas we were coming from one fully furnished house to another fully furnished house. While I had enjoyed our Mission Style furniture in Kansas it was nearly 15 years old. While still in good shape, the camp was considering using the house as another rental outlet for small conferences (four bedrooms and two meeting areas), so we donated most of our furniture for that purpose. Arriving in Arkansas, we knew the furniture there was also over 15 years old and while not worn, it was not in really good shape either. We waited several years and finally decided to purchase new living room furniture last year. After looking at several local outlets, we found an online source that was purported to be like the Mission Style I enjoyed, and at a cost we felt we could afford. We purchased a sofa, loveseat, and chair/ottoman combo we hoped would fit our space. Imagine my surprise when today’s NY Times feed mentioned the growing trend to purchase fast furniture, especially during the shutdown of the pandemic.
When I looked online, I found fast furniture is a cultural phenomenon born of ease and our increased mobility. With so many people relocating, downsizing, upgrading, or just shifting their homes and home design preferences each year based on the latest trends, fast furniture aims to create cheap, stylish, and easy-to-breakdown furniture. Fast furniture is produced quickly, sold cheaply, and not expected to last more than a few years. According to the EPA, Americans throw out over 12 million tons of furnishings and furniture each year. Because of the complexity and varying materials in the items over nine million tons of glass, fabric, metal, leather, and other materials end up in a landfill. Trends in furniture waste have increased almost five times since the 1960’s and many problems are directly tied to the growth of fast furniture.
When we purchased our furniture, it was touted as “mostly assembled”. What that meant was it came like the bicycle your father ended up working on all night on Christmas Eve to have it ready for “Santa’s” arrival. The ottoman was simple enough as I just attached the legs and screwed the top onto the frame. The chair was more complex, requiring all the different parts to be assembled prior to attaching it together. The “handy wrench” that accompanied the kit was not handy, and the angles made it almost impossible to turn. After 1½ hours of toil it finally looked like a chair. I waited two months before tackling the couch, and then only after Melissa’s assurance she would help by holding the larger pieces and with some of the screws. This piece was larger and took us another two hours. I confess, the love seat is still packaged waiting for us to put it together.
THOUGHTS: Candice Batista, an Environmental Journalist, says, “Fast furniture, like fast fashion, exploits natural resources, precious minerals, forestry products, and metal.” Fast furniture contains toxins in the furniture fabrics and finishes which the EPA says is worse than outdoor air pollution. While this is true for all furniture, fast furniture is designed as disposable. This has prompted some waste management companies to offer options to donate, resale, and recycle old items with the hopes of lessening the environmental impact on a global scale. Other new-age furniture companies give consumers the option to rent preferred items on a monthly or contract basis. As companies and brands create alternative options the hope is to lessen the environmental impact, starting with awareness. Still, in our neighborhood the preferred method is to place the ratty chair or sofa on the curb and attach a “free” sign to it. The trends around fast furniture change as preferences shift to conscious consumerism. We need to be aware of the long term impacts. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.