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Traditional Vs. Fast Furniture: What’s The Difference?

Flag of Russia and Sweden near the Ikea store in Moscow
If you’re a little bit older or not too up to date on the latest trends, you may have missed the meteoric rise of “fast furniture” in America and across the globe.

Much like fast fashion, fat furniture has also become a convenient, cheap way to furnish your home instead of buying expensive, more traditional forms of furniture. It sounds like a millennial’s dream, but fast furniture is quickly becoming a nightmare for people and even the planet.

In the blog, we’ll dive into the world of fast furniture, how it differs from traditional furniture, and posit a better way forward.

What Is Fast Furniture?

Fast furniture is cheap, mass-produced, low-quality furniture that is typically packaged in a build-it-yourself format. Think IKEA, Wayfair, and other outlets similar to them.

Fast furniture is not designed to be long-lasting or durable at all. They’re made to be light, portable, and disposable for the next furniture trend. But furniture wasn’t like this in the past, instead being durable and long-lasting. When you bought a bed frame, bookshelf, or dresser, it was supposed to last for generations.

Now, if you get more than 5 years out of your Ikea bookshelf, you’ve done a pretty good job.

Man portrait and do it yourself furniture assembly

Digging even deeper, most fast furniture is made from particleboard, a type of low-density wood made from wood chips and resin. Particleboard, as you could guess, is extremely flimsy and cheap. Decades ago, furniture would be made from solid wood or plywood, which is much stronger.

This lack of durability means that any problems with your furniture are better off handled in the dumpster than with repair. Old furniture can be sanded and re-painted, particleboard cannot be. Particleboard is also more prone to being ruined by moisture as well, making it fickle and unsuitable to daily life.

One of the most important aspects of fast furniture (and other fast industries) is the reliance on cheap resources and labor. Companies will target countries with lax or non-existent protections on land and resources, and employ workers for a fraction of the typical U.S salary. Cheap material, labor, and craftsmanship all culminate into a furniture nightmare.

In the age of mass consumerism, this would simply be par for the course, in a way. Many industries are trending in this direction, so it was only a matter of time before furniture followed the fast bandwagon. But the ramifications of this trend have had tragic results for some families.

Fast Furniture Recalls and Deaths

In 2017, IKEA was in the national news for all of the wrong reasons. Their furniture was directly responsible for the deaths of several children, with them falling on top of the children.

The furniture in question was the Hemnes dresser, made of the same particleboard that we discussed earlier. Being such a light, flimsy material, children hanging on the drawers could easily knock the dresser over. Several kids were fatally injured, with many more sustaining major injuries.

IKEA responded with a massive recall, a dresser-anchoring campaign, and millions of dollars in PSAs and advertisements addressing the tragedies. But this wasn’t their only recall. IKEA has had to recall several products, most child-related, for safety reasons. But given how many products they sell, most of those products will never actually be recalled.

Furthermore, the incentive for companies to recall is rather slim. There isn’t much recourse to ensure that recalls are carried out in a proper manner, leading some companies to not recall at all and bet that the government won’t sue. They would rather risk a government lawsuit than actually carry out a recall, which is only bad for the consumer.

But it’s not just the consumer that’s feeling the effects. The environment, too, is feeling the weight of the fast furniture industry full force.

Fast Furniture & The Environment

Anyone who’s even somewhat paying attention to the news can tell you that climate change will be this century’s defining crisis. Unfortunately, fast furniture accelerates the effect of climate change in a number of ways.

According to the EPA, Americans toss out 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings every year, with fast furniture increasing this number by the year. The weaker the furniture, the more often it has to be tossed.

Some companies are introducing components for sale to help alleviate this. For example, a broken leg of a table could just be fixed as opposed to replacing the whole table. Repair programs are also becoming more common, though the utilization of these programs is still low.

Factoring in the cost of distribution and the raw material being foisted from local environments to produce furniture, fast furniture is having a major impact on the environment.

So…What Do We Do?

The fast furniture problem is one of incentive, with companies simply not caring about the consumer or environment enough to eschew their profit margins. That diagnosis, though, can offer some solutions.

The first and most obvious would be government regulation. Forcing companies to have standards for safety, materials, working conditions, and environmental impact could rein them in a bit. Voting in politicians who vow to hold these companies accountable is a key step.

Furthermore, buying furniture from a local source will also help. Local companies tend to get their products closer to where they are sold, reducing the pollution from distribution. The materials will likely be more sturdy as well, with build quality having to be top-notch to combat low prices from fast furniture.

Finally, simply getting the word out about fast fashion will help. Share this blog with family and friends to get the word out.

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