Fast furniture: what’s wrong with it and 7 ways to make better choices (for you and the planet)

Heidi Bischof
10 min readMar 6, 2019

It wasn’t so long ago (certainly within my lifetime) that we bought furniture to last. Dining tables and sofas would have a place in our homes for decades, many handed down through generations. They were a part of our lives and embedded in our fondest memories. It was a time when we used to place value on our furniture, because it HAD value. And the reason it had value was because the people who made it placed value on the materials and workmanship. And because we valued it we looked after it. And if our furniture broke we fixed it, whether it was a new coat of varnish or new upholstery. And we did this again and again until we couldn’t squeeze any more life out of it. But things were much slower then, and people cared more.

Sadly, today most of the furniture available to us is cheap, mass-produced and low quality, designed to be disposable, because that’s the kind of society we live in now — one that consumes a lot and throws away a lot, all under the label of ‘convenience’. Everything has to be convenient because we’re so busy. It can’t possibly be any other way.

Life in the fast lane seems to be the modus operandi for most people. We always seem to be rushing around, and usually going for the cheaper and more convenient option. Fast furniture is yet another element of our modern life. It makes sense to buy cheap and fashionable furniture because if we change our minds or see something we like better next week then it’s no biggie (it seems we’ve become as flimsy as our furniture).

What’s so bad about fast furniture?

It doesn’t last

A lot of fast furniture is made from particle board covered in laminate or veneer. If the surface gets damaged it can’t be sanded back and re-painted like solid timber, and if exposed to moisture the particle board swells and rots. The laminate is also prone to splitting at the seams and peeling away. Furniture made from particle board is unlikely to last more than a few years, especially if it is subject to any wear & tear (including disassembly and reassembly during a move). So while it might seem like a good deal at the time, if we need to buy a new bookshelf or dining table every five years, it adds up (probably to WAY more than…

Heidi Bischof

Sustainability educator & activist, founder @ Earth Ethic