College students, meet “fast homeware”

Please check out these wonderful articles from UK-based media that go in-depth into this topic as well. 

Walk through any college town neighborhood on a balmy summer day at the end of term and you’ll likely spy a mattress leaning against a pole, a battered wooden desk, as well as miscellaneous drawers and chairs taking up space on the curb. 

What you’re seeing is a byproduct of the move-out flurry: college students who struggle to transport large, bulky items or have limited car space opt to throw their used homeware into the trash or on the street. 

There are a multitude of reasons for this. Many college students do not have access to cars, or cars large enough to transport a bulky bed frame even half a mile away to their new home or to a prospective buyer. Hiring movers or even renting a moving van is a costly process that makes moving even more stressful.

Other students are graduating seniors who may be moving across the country for a job, and find it easier to just buy a fresh set of homeware at their new location. Some individuals are moving back home, where there is simply not enough space in their childhood bedroom for a whole new bed, desk, shelves, and kitchen appliances. 

Homeware encompasses furniture, kitchen knick knacks, lighting, bedding, decorative pieces, and so much more. The freedom that young people, particularly college students, experience when moving into their own place includes the freedom to carve out a personalized space based on their lifestyle preferences.

Shopping for homeware, like shopping for clothes, is an essential activity and an important part of self-expression. Social media has introduced us to a range of curated living spaces that resemble certain aesthetics we should aspire to live by, and the rapid changes in trends can lead to the revamping of living spaces in shorter time spans. 

Logistics aside, perhaps one contributing factor to the increasing amount of homeware being thrown out is the ease at which we can just buy another one. You’ve heard of fast fashion, now, welcome to fast homeware. 

Fast homeware’s issues have similar roots to the issues of the fast fashion industry. For example, the labor that produces 22% of IKEA’s products is performed in China. Outsourcing labor may lower the cost of production for some companies while loading the environmental cost of transporting finished homeware to consumers around the world to ecosystems and future generations. 

In addition, rapid production of furniture, decorative pillows, mass-produced art pieces, and prints with each homeware season uses more resources. These resources can come in the form of wood, textiles, and even plastic. Some furniture can even contain toxic materials, such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in plywood, foam stuffing, and flame retardants. 

Fast homeware may be linked to poor labor practices, environmental degradation, and even negative health outcomes over time for consumers. As dire as these factors sound, there are also many reasons why people continue to engage in consuming fast homeware. In particular, trends in society, industry, and economy have created pressure for people to consume, renew, and dispose of fleeting “trendy” items. 

In 2018, Americans generated approximately two thousand tons of small appliance (toasters, hair dryers, coffee pots) and 12 thousand tons of furniture waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This does not include the waste that accumulates from throwing away carpets, batteries, sports equipment and clothing. While college students are only a slim fraction of the individuals moving homes, two million students graduating with bachelor’s degrees each year can still generate a hefty amount of trash when moving out. 

As someone who recently graduated and moved out of my college apartment, I know all too well how moving out can be difficult, especially when one has to juggle final exams, saying your last goodbyes, and applying to jobs. However, there are ways for us to reduce the amount of homeware that ends up in the landfill: 

  • Post furniture and appliances for sale in online groups, such as Facebook Marketplace or university buy/sell pages. Be clear about whether you are able to deliver the items or if you require the buyer to pick up, be transparent about homeware conditions, and make sure the items are sanitized before the hand-off! 
  • Coordinate with your landlord or the incoming tenants to see if they would like to keep some furniture, such as the bed, couches, television, etc.
  • If you have a car large enough to transport furniture, bring gently used homeware to reuse centers. Local reuse centers may even have services that can pick up bulkier items, if scheduled in advance
  • Consider the longevity of homeware before buying it! Identifying temporary trends in home decor can eliminate the urge to fill up the living space with items that will be disposed of by the end of the season
  • Purchase second-hand homeware when you move into a new space. Some students are so desperate to get rid of their belongings they will literally offer these items for free, which can save you money when moving in.

Sources: Reuters, National Center for Education Statistics, United States Environmental Protection Agency, My IKEA Bedroom, The Tab, Refinery29

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