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Disposable furniture

The Girlfriend and I are worried that our apartment is going to be pretty empty at first, as I am leaving most of my stuff in Kalamazoo for now and we only have so much room in our budget for new furniture. We looked at a second-hand shop last weekend and found that many of the pieces seemed quite expensive. Talking about it afterward, though, we drifted toward the conclusion that the reason IKEA and other particle-board self-assemble furniture is cheaper is because it’s basically cheap crap — disposable furniture.

Often no thought seems to be given to moving the piece (particularly with desks), because the expectation is basically that you won’t move it. In a stationary position, they’re basically solid, but any shift of orientation is risky. Taking it apart with the intention of putting it back together again is either impossible or causes permanent damage, particularly with those weird connectors where you have a round piece in one board that connects with a rod in another board (what are those called?) — they’re not meant to be reversible.

I wonder how much one really saves in the long run with such stuff. In my case, I think of the Bose Wave Radio that I got in college — ten years later, it’s still going strong, and I probably would’ve bought several cheaper units during that period. And that was a factory refurbished model!

The need to pay for quality can be overdone — for instance, it’s unclear to me that a household could possibly need the old Kirby vacuum or a Dyson rather than a “disposable” brand — but as I think about the fact that most of us spend our time in homes and businesses full of crappy particle-board furniture and that the average piece from a second-hand store will likely outlast something you buy new from Target or IKEA, it makes me kind of sad.


May 26, 2010 - Posted by | squalor


  1. The Dyson is all that it is cracked up to be, though. Holy hell, that thing is amazing. My mother-in-law got us one last summer, in preparation for my sister-in-law’s visit. She has major league allergies, and we have carpet & a Siberian husky. That combination was set to make for a very nasty three weeks. The Dyson pulls out such an amazing amount of dog hair, from the carpet and the dog’s bed (which we’d long ago given up on as a lost cause) that I can’t imagine my life w/out it. Granted … I probably still would never have bought it, had I not been wired the funds and ordered to get the best thing available.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | May 26, 2010

  2. I’ve been thinking about disposable furniture as I’ll be moving downtown in August. I’ve spent a good bit of time on Ikea’s website this week, and browsed at Target, etc. Part of me wants to try to move and slowly accumulate furniture, but I’m only guaranteed to be in Pittsburgh for two years, so sadly, I think I’m just going to go with the cheapest decent stuff I can get.

    My biggest worry is bookshelves. I have a five shelf and a three shelf that I bought from a discount store, but neither travels well at all, and I think I have too many books (I’m not sure, as various stuff is in stacks everywhere and a shelf or two is somewhat open).

    I’ve entertained the idea of just doing something really simple for a desk, like getting a big piece of wood and finding a way to prop it up. I’m not confident enough in my DIY skills to make this work.

    Comment by Dave Mesing | May 26, 2010

  3. I’m fortunate that my grandpa was quite a carpenter in his day, so I have a handful of basic pieces that are “permanent” — though the bed of his I’ve had since high school is on its last legs at this point. Sadly, that stuff needs to stay here unless I want to either move it back in September or live in squalor next year.

    The uncertainty thing is definitely something that I understand, and I’ve actually shed furniture over time since reaching a peak a couple years after college. It does feel good to be unencumbered by “stuff,” too — so I do understand the impulse behind disposable furniture. That doesn’t make the whole affair less depressing, though. Why aren’t there just more furnished apartments if there’s such a need for people to be able to move around constantly?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | May 26, 2010

  4. It’s funny, in the UK nearly all flats are furnished (my student days were full of massive 1920s walnutty things), and they’re nearly all unfurnished ‘on the continent’.

    My problem with ‘non-disposable’ furniture is that if it’s old it’s often sort of massive and gloomy, and if it’s new it’s often really over-priced for its functional purpose. Also IKEA is a great way to express your democratic values, I basically think of it as the Mao suit of home furnishing. No-one will ever feel awkward at your place if it’s full of IKEA stuff. And my mother in law is still using the stuff she bought from IKEA in the 70s, so it’s not all disposable.

    Comment by Gabe | May 26, 2010

  5. My IKEA desk has been disassembled and reassembled twice, but I think any third attempt will fail, at least in the reassembly stage.

    Comment by ben | May 26, 2010

  6. I’ve generally tried to be as unencumbered by stuff as possible, shedding as many ancillary items as I can over the past two or three years. The only thing I have a whole lot of is books, which don’t travel well, of course. The main things I need are bed, desk, and another bookshelf, and probably a TV stand. I was able to score one for free this past year at college, but had no way to get it home and nowhere to keep it, so I junked it.

    Furnished apartments would be ideal. One of the nice things about college is having these essentials provided for you, without having to worry about transporting them. (Even if they are shitty).

    I’m probably just going to end up getting a bunch of stuff at Ikea. I need some cooking stuff, too, and they have some solid prices. Anyone ever use their utensils, etc?

    Paying for quality is sometimes very nice, but as a transient student, my biggest concerns are value and ease of transport. In college, I was lucky enough to have a community service scholarship that provided money for summer items, depending on where you did service. I did two summers of outdoors type work, so I was able to get a lot of really quality outdoors gear for free.

    Comment by Dave Mesing | May 26, 2010

  7. I have six items from ikea which are doing okay for these 3-4 yrs, a tv stand and a sofabed are not ikea though, and I picked up two chairs from the basement when someone was moving
    that’s a lot of stuff, I should buy some foldable futon, the absence of light futons is pretty inconvenient or they are from foam which I imagine that thermoaccumulating, it’s b/c people don ‘t use felt inside futons, those are really not cold not hot, comfy
    yesterday I was browsing some sites with interior design cz my sister is doing some renovation at her place and it’s scary how people live so modern design, all zen and bare, and bold colours, i thought wouldn’t one feel not calm and at home but always as if in some public space or lab

    Comment by read | May 27, 2010

  8. Starting with my impending move, I am only buying wooden (or similarly durable/quality) furniture, upholstered with dead animal skin where appropriate. I also would like to own a Dyson, and after reading Brad’s endorsement, now fully intend to buy one.

    Comment by Hill | May 27, 2010

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