My Move - Purchasing Used Furniture
I recently moved to New Jersey (a tough decision for an almost life-long New Yorker…) and my immediate thought was, “how can I NOT at least TRY to buy used furniture when I have spent this much time and energy promoting reuse”?
So that’s what I did. The first thing I focused on was my bedframe. To start with, I listed out some criteria:
Disassemble-able so that I can move it without the help of professional movers
Tall enough that I could have under-bed drawers if I ever want them
Black and simple aesthetic
And of course, used as opposed to new.
I did some googling and asked friends for advice on what online used-furniture marketplaces to dig into. The first platform that I looked at was Kaiyo because Kaiyo is well-advertised and has great online reviews. When I started picking out potential pieces, I found that Kaiyo’s website was user-friendly, that the photos on it were helpfully taken at consistent angles, and that the customer support team was super responsive. From the start, I was pretty set on buying from them. But they didn’t have too many options at my budget, so I decided to bookmark the page and circle back.
I next looked at AptDeco. This platform had some decent options, but the stock photos and the “3 units available” stated on pretty much every listing gave me the impression that this was more a resellers site than anything. I couldn’t tell if I would be reducing furniture waste by buying from this site, so I moved on.
OfferUp simply didn’t have too many postings in my area.
Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and FloorFound all have the feeling of random people posting about random things they don’t want or need anymore – sloppy photos and a hodgepodge of listings with varying degrees of helpful information – which make sense because this is exactly what those sites are. Like OfferUp, FloorFound didn’t have too many options in my area, but Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace did so I decided to come back to those sites too.
A friend of mine told me about Feather, which is a company that is known for leasing some furniture and selling others. Cost-wise, I figured it would actually end up making more sense for me to buy than to lease. Of the “selling” options, I realized that some pieces on Feather were new and some were used, and that the website didn’t clearly state which was which. I moved on.
I tried downloading the BuyNothing app on my phone, but a glitch occurred so that I couldn’t get past the email verification step. At that point I got impatient and moved on.
And so it went – opening and closing tabs, scrutinizing photos, asking questions to sellers. In the end I bought my full size, disassemble-able, high-enough-for-drawers, simple black bedframe for under $150 and was quite happy. What’s more, I had it in hand less than a week after move-in (and when I got to the seller’s apartment for pickup, I realized I was buying from someone I already knew from my sustainability network!! But that is a different story…).
Other things my housemate and I ended up buying from Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Goodwill – the living room lamp, my desk, my bedroom lamp, my office chair, my dresser, the electric kettle, the kitchen stepstool, plates, bowls, and wine glasses. And hopefully, more to come since we don't have dining room chairs yet.
Dresser that I found on Craigslist!
Throughout this, I realized that several things are unique to the processing of buying used as opposed to new:
Transportation. The online marketplaces I looked at often did not offer transportation or shipping services. Because I don’t have a car, it was pretty much non-negotiable to buy from people in or close to my neighborhood. I also had to make sure a friend or two was available for almost every pickup to help me carry things.
Flexibility with aesthetics. As you'd expect, there’s (usually) no option to select a specific color or pattern or material when it comes to used furniture. What you see is what you get.
Quality. Even when listings included the name of the manufacturer and product, sometimes the pieces were old enough that they had been discontinued and no longer had any reviews posted online. It’s difficult to gauge quality from photos and descriptions alone, so part of the process was trusting the seller, hoping for the best, and holding off on payment until seeing the piece in person. And since there is no warranty on these used items, first impressions end up mattering a lot.
Time. It can take a lot of time doing all the necessary research. It takes even more time (for me it was evenings, weekends, and even some flexible workday hours) handling all the trips to pick up items from all over (in my case, this was done through a combination of walking and manual carrying, public transportation, and some strategic Uber/Lyft-ing).
Timing. With all these criteria and with the availability of individual items being a big factor in what I could buy at a given point in time, patience was key. In the case of my bedframe, I accepted from the start that I would likely be sleeping on an air mattress the first week after move-in.
Intention. As I mentioned earlier, because my intention in buying used was to reduce waste, I avoided buying what looked to be re-sale items.
Other unknowns. I’d recently heard a bedbugs horror story, and I wanted to avoid anything with fabric.
I will say that I really wanted to buy from Kaiyo because I believe companies like it – well-branded and reputable services that offer transportation – are key to making the reuse of furniture more common. The more people hear about reuse as a viable option, the more people consider it; the more people consider it, the more options there are for buyers; and the more used furniture there is available, (hopefully) the lower the costs of logistics. Unfortunately, at least as of now the lower-cost items posted on Kaiyo are more expensive than the same items bought new, likely due to labor, storage, and transportation costs.
Overall, I’ve been surprised with how many things are being sold at a bargain in my neighborhood at any given moment. And of course, it’s made me reflect on the parallels with the process of reuse in the building sector:
Circularity of both furniture and building materials require assurance on quality, convenience, timeliness, and budget. Both require coordination between seller, person transporting, and buyer. And in both cases, ideally there is a range of styles and aesthetic options to choose from.
Obviously, with buying furniture for one’s own apartment the stakes (and purchased quantities) are much lower than they would be for a construction project. With apartment-furnishing, it’s also nice that there is a single person overseeing the process because it greatly speeds up any decision-making.
Features that I came across in the various used-furniture online marketplaces that I reviewed, and that would also be useful in services promoting the reuse of building materials:
Filters to help the buyer quickly sort through key characteristics like cost, size, color, and whether a piece can be disassembled
Good photos, honest descriptions of any defects, and some written context (how long the seller has had a piece for, why they are selling it)
The warehousing entity’s help with transportation within a certain radius of the storage location to encourage local purchases
And again, all of this will likely be easier the more people and the more furniture is in the market for reuse!
Special thanks to those who recommended the many online marketplaces to me, those who helped with the selection of furniture and other household goods, and those who helped with the carrying!! You know who you are ;)