Why You Should Say No to “Fast Furniture”

by Liam McGill

As we enter an era with more big box retailers than ever offering products for all sorts of needs and niches, it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘buyers remorse’ that you may get from purchasing from these types of retailers. This problem comes tenfold when purchasing furniture from one of these locations, what may seem a great deal of a TV unit could become a disappointing headache as it quickly disintegrates into the parts it’s made from. This is what we would like to call fast furniture, similar to fast fashion, fast furniture is simply a wasteful means to an end to providing quick and cheap solutions for problems that may require more research.

Where does fast furniture come from?

Fast furniture - Mainland Furniture NZ

For the most part, fast furniture comes from sources similar to where fast food comes from, big name locations that pay a lot for advertising and multiple stores within an area. For New Zealand readers, think The Warehouse and Kmart, locations that sell a variety of items outside of just furniture and will always have plenty of stock on hand. It makes sense that people buy furniture from these locations because for the most part, it’s cheap, readily available and often comes in a variety of styles. Thus, this type of furniture is often very common with those who live in rental properties or university dorms and is fine for this purpose. However, the issue comes when these people move into their first homes and need furniture that will last them for years to come.

What is the problem with fast furniture?

Broken Chair - Mainland Furniture

The issue with fast furniture is the same as any product that is cheap and mass-produced, the overall quality isn’t great. While that TV cabinet might look great now, in two years time, the poor build quality will mean the cabinet doors may stop closing properly and the finish of the unit may start peeling because, surprise surprise, it’s actually a sticker covering the true material underneath. Most furniture from stores such as these is made from MDF, a mix of true hard and softwood fibers to create panels that essentially act as a wood casserole.

 

Because of this, MDF is cheap to purchase and can easily be made to fit for purpose since its artificial creation means that workers don’t have to worry about knots and gnarls in the wood. However, as a user of MDF, the shortcomings outnumber the benefits as MDF’s design means it’s incredibly absorbent, something which is not ideal for furniture. What this means is that if your house gets humid or damp, then the MDF is going to absorb this and over time lose its integrity, causing it to puff up and flake like paper (which is essentially what it is, really hard and thick paper.)

So why is this an issue?

Landfill - Mainland Furniture NZ

As mentioned, MDF furniture is great for short-term use such as in flats and dorms due to its cheap availability and ability to be cycled through multiple people in its lifespan. But for long term use, this can cause issues as once MDF starts to fail, it’s hard to fix and often isn’t worth the cost. This means that a lot of MDF is destined for the bin once it reaches this point and herein lies the issue.

 

Say an MDF TV unit lasts 5 years before failing, Consumer.org.nz says that on average a TV should last 7-8 years, even rounding that to 10 years that’s still two TV units before you need to upgrade your TV. MDF is very hard to recycle, so that means that every time you purchase a TV, you need to accommodate for 2 TV units that will go straight to the landfill.

 

MDF furniture also has no resell value because of this, so even if you have a perfectly fine MDF bookcase, you’re better to try run it into the ground than to try to sell it off when the time comes. Increase this issue tenfold for all the sales of these products that these big-box retailers make and you can see why this causes massive issues for the environment.

So how can I avoid this?

The most important way to avoid purchasing fast furniture is to not buy from big-box retailers. Obviously, it’s easier to say this than to put it into action, but the best way to avoid a problem is to start from the root. When it comes to purchasing furniture for your home though, we do have some answers!

Buy good furniture from good stores

If you’re looking for new furniture and have a good budget, then obviously going to a store that specializes in furniture is your best bet. We have a full guide that goes through what to look for, however, the main detail to look for is if the store either specializes or sells furniture with nameable materials. If the website or person in the showroom can clearly tell you that a bedside cabinet is made from oak, then you’re in the right place. The main drawback to this method is cost as quality furniture costs as much as the material it’s made from. However, you should also view this furniture as an investment.

 

Using the example above, rather than expecting two MDF tv units per TV, a quality oak cabinet can outlast 2 or 3 tables with proper care. Even if you need to upgrade your TV unit, quality furniture holds its value more, so you can easily sell that oak cabinet for a significant amount extra than if it was MDF. Speaking of reselling, this then leads onto our next point.

Buy good furniture second-hand!

If you’re in a position where buying new furniture is out of reach, buying secondhand is your next best bet. With services such as Facebook Marketplace, it’s now easier than ever to find the items you want secondhand at great prices. Again, following our guide linked above, if you know what to look for; you can easily get an absolute bargain on a piece that should last you far longer than an MDF piece.

Restore old furniture!

In your search for secondhand furniture, you might stumble across a piece that may fit your needs but looks a bit worse for wear. Well, don’t write it off just from this first impression! If the piece just needs a lil TLC and some know-how, you can quickly save another piece of furniture from ending up as landfill! It also pays to give old furniture like this some extra thought, as you can easily convert any old piece of furniture to fit your needs with the correct know-how. Here’s a guide we wrote on how you can reuse an old chest of drawers in a variety of ways.


Conclusion

As distressing news of the ever-impending climate change and the global push to be more green continues, making the right choice matters more than ever! As such, you should be thinking about your furniture in the same way, and that if you make the right choice now, you’ll be making a better future with less waste for future generations. It might be more inconvenient, or more expensive, but rest assured that your purchase should last for generations and not weeks. We’ve only got one floating rock in space to live on, so it's for the better that we respect our living space by respecting our living space with quality wood furniture!


FAQ

What type of furniture is the most eco-friendly?

While it’s agreed that MDF is not friendly for the environment, there are also other materials, that while long-lasting, also have negative effects on the environment. The main two culprits are metal and plastic furniture, as the production of the furniture requires more harsh processes to be used, alongside the fact that both materials are not renewable. As such, wooden furniture is considered to have the least impact on the environment due to its relatively simple production, alongside wood being a renewable resource.

I own MDF furniture, should I get rid of it?

All this talk about the negative effects of MDF furniture may have you wanting to clear your hands of your dirty purchase, and to that we’d say no. Part of trying to reduce our environmental footprint is minimizing waste, if your first thought is to dump that perfectly fine chest of drawers simply because they’re made from a “dirty” material is only adding to this problem. If you use your MDF drawers to the end of their life, then that’s one less unnecessary chest of drawers that needed to be produced 


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