Why We Love Second-Hand Furniture

CC BY 2.0. Michael Coghlan

The benefits go beyond the joy of the hunt.

My favorite piece of furniture in my home is a wide Montauk sofa with six enormous feather-filled cushions on a solid pine frame covered in white canvas. Sitting on it feels like sinking into a duvet. The best part of all? I found it on a local swap site for $100; the original sofa would have cost thousands.

There's really something to be said for buying furniture second-hand. As Lindsay Miles writes on her zero-waste lifestyle blog, Treading My Own Path, the benefits go well beyond the joy of the hunt. Here's why you should consider go the thrifty route when you need something, rather than hitting up a new furniture store.

1. It can be high quality stuff.

Because a piece of furniture is second-hand, it has already survived the test of time. Really good furniture should last for decades, even a century or more. If the frame is solid, it may only need some basic restoration to look amazing. And all of that comes (usually) at a fraction of the price you'd pay for new.

2. It saves resources and reduces waste.

The furniture industry is an enormously wasteful one. From textiles and woods to plastics and resins, it takes a lot to create the items in your home, especially if they're built to last only a few years before breaking or looking out of date. Buying second-hand reduces demand for new resources, and it comes without packaging.

3. You won't be so attached.

Miles describes this as 'guilty attachment,' and I suspect we can all relate to the feeling. When you've spent too much money on something, you feel you cannot let it go. She writes:

"It is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price."

4. It is more community-oriented.

Some people might protest that buying second-hand disadvantages local business owners, but I think that buying second-hand is simply another way to support a local economy. The folks selling their stuff online are ordinary individuals hoping to make some money or declutter their homes. Many second-hand stores are privately owned or run by charitable organizations that give back to the community. Any refinishing or reupholstering work that needs to be done will likely be done by a local craftsperson.

5. It creates stories.

Second-hand furniture has more personality than new, whether it's the story of how you got it or the seller's account of that piece's history. For example, when my husband and I purchased our home, it came with a heavy old wooden bookshelf that the seller told us was bought in Pakistan by a diplomat brother in the 1960s and shipped overseas to Canada -- not a story I could buy anywhere.

6. It is healthier.

Second-hand furniture doesn't off-gas and fill your home with noxious fumes. Cheap new furniture is often made of particle board, which is held together by formaldehyde, a recognized carcinogen that causes eye and nose irritation. As Lloyd wrote on TreeHugger a few years back:

"The best way to avoid formaldehyde is to buy used, whether it is an older home where it has had the time to off-gas, or furniture that has stood the test of time. Or, buy solid wood furniture instead of particle board."

Furnishing your home with second-hand pieces will certainly take more time than if you made a single shopping trip to a big box store, but your home will end up having more character, warmth, and interest -- and you'll have more money in your bank account, which is always a good thing.

Read Miles' article here.