When my husband and I moved into our condo in Brooklyn, the 266-unit building had everything we were looking for: a balcony, a washer-dryer, and a small gym (but don’t ask me how many times I went there). The building’s most valuable resource, however, came to light a little later: an online bulletin board brimming with neighborhood tips, dog walker recommendations and quality second-hand furniture up for grabs.
The first piece we acquired was an office chair. Then came a desk, then another desk, a round mirror, a rustic wooden chest of drawers, a paper shade floor lamp, a 50-inch television, and my most prized acquisition – and only real purchase – a digital piano. right for just $300. And lest you consider us profiteers, know that in return we parted with a smaller dresser, a giant ottoman, another desk and several dog toys.
Neighborhood exchanges like Nextdoor have been around for years, as have grassroots movements like Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project. But bulletin boards like the one in my building might just be one of the most underrated and longest-lived second-hand furniture platforms. Just as heirlooms were passed down from generation to generation, I found this crystallized the importance of sourcing furniture as close to home as possible.
Americans throw away more than 12 million tons of furniture every year. This is perpetuated by the fast-paced furniture industry, which continues to produce cheap, shoddy products that don’t last long and end up in landfills. Many of these pieces also travel thousands of miles before landing on your doorstep: in 2020 alone, Vietnam shipped over $7.4 billion worth of furniture to the United States.
Creating forums could help alleviate some of this pressure. My building’s forum is run by a property management software company called BuildingLink. It was founded in 1999 and introduced the bulletin board feature about a year later as a way to foster community and facilitate communication, says Zachary Kestenbaum, CEO of BuildingLink.
Today, Kestenbaum sees over 2,500 posts a week related to furniture and furnishings, and an additional 2,000 posts for other items like exercise equipment, bikes, electronics and clothing, and the trend extends far beyond New York. He says residents of some 3,000 buildings use the bulletin board to post furniture information, from San Diego and Pittsburgh to Toronto and Sydney.
For a while, Craigslist was the only big player in the used furniture market, but over the past few years many furniture startups, from Chairish to Apartment Therapy to Kaiyo, have jumped on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, a growing number of companies, from Ikea to Sabai, have launched buy-back programs for customers looking to sell their old Billy bookcase or buy a refurbished sofa. The company is so successful that by 2025, the furniture resale market is expected to reach $16.6 billion, a 70% increase from 2018.
By offering an alternative to cheap disposables, these companies are removing furniture from the waste stream, but the conundrum of shipping remains. In 2019, carbon emissions from transporting furniture accounted for 3% of total greenhouse gas emissions that year. By comparison, when I saw my upstairs neighbor offering his office chair, all I had to do was take the elevator to get it. It saved me up to 72 kilograms of CO2 from making and shipping a chair, or the equivalent of 179 miles driven by a gas-powered car.
And no, I can’t know if every piece of furniture I acquired in my building is made of sustainably sourced wood. But I know I can choose what happens at home, and you really don’t have to travel 30,000 miles to get here.