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Adventures in Selling Used Furniture: It’s a Raw Deal

A bunch of used furniture and home decorations on display.

I concluded after living on my own for half my life that buying furniture is like buying a car: the good shit is expensive, but it all depreciates and loses value regardless, unless it’s something that was super rare and antique to begin with. So come with me on this journey in making plans to get rid of my furniture! Here’s why furniture feels like an even bigger scam than health insurance!

Actually, I should correct that title. Furniture in and of itself is a raw deal.

Think about it. It’s one of the most expensive components of buying or even just renting a new home, probably tertiary to the actual purchase process itself (or the security deposit) and any redecorating or renovations needed. But even if you get furniture for free, like a hand-me-down from your parents or foisted off onto you from friends who are moving, you still have to get it home somehow: which depending on the size, your physical ability, and the location and transportation, can end up costing as much in gas or Uber fare as buying something new and just getting it delivered. Or if not the fares alone, the inevitable hospital bill from breaking your leg or back trying to get an old armoire into a third floor studio in a shitty old walk-up. Why does this city tear down vaunted institutions to build hideous fishbowls that foreign investors use as banks, yet insist on keeping these ableist monuments to barbarism?!

Now turn the tables: you want to move. Hopefully it’s a happy circumstance like wanting a change of pace, or moving to be near the love of your life. Or your move could be one of the millions of COVID-related moves, of which at least 3% are said to be permanent. You’re presented with this new conundrum as you assess your moving plans and timeline, particularly if you’re planning a cross-country move like I am: do you take some or all of your old furniture, or just dump everything and buy all new stuff when you get to your destination?

A stack of used and broken furniture placed on the side of a building by the sidewalk.
Dumping is always, always an option.

I’ve been using my quarantine time to carefully plan this move, and gotten a move on selling possessions I don’t plan on taking. But as I look at my various pieces of furniture accumulated over 10 years in the same apartment, then five in this particular joint, the executive dysfunction starts to creep in alongside the quotes from moving services. Executive dysfunction is a really shitty friend as it is, but especially for something as massive to contemplate as a cross-country move.

That’s when I threw my hands up and said “Fuck it. I’LL SEE WHAT MY BRAIN DOES WHEN THE DATE DRAWS CLOSER.” Because I concluded after living on my own for half my life that buying furniture is like buying a car: the good shit is expensive, but it all depreciates and loses value regardless, unless it’s something that was super rare and antique to begin with.

The only difference is that at least it’s easier to sell a used car than used furniture. Even if that car dates back to the Reagan administration and moves less than a veal calf? Places like damagedcars.com will take it, and there’s those charities that’ll even come in a pandemic to get it off your hands to sell for parts. Furniture though? You’re on your own, buddy. There’s a reason why cairns of furniture in various degrees of bustedness form on every curb if you have to move.

Come with me on this journey in making plans to get rid of my furniture! Here’s why furniture feels like an even bigger scam than health insurance!

 

How Much Does the Average American Spend on Furniture in a Lifetime, Anyway?

An aerial view of a furniture store showcasing different furniture for the various areas of the house.
Can I just take one of the displays home in one piece, like a mobile home?

There’s no real definitive data on this. Why? Because no one actually knows how much they spend on furniture per home lived in, let alone over a lifetime. It’s one of those things we don’t track, because we don’t think about it.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018 Consumer Expenditures Survey, the mean spending on furniture per American adult is $518 per year. Which is waaaay off from the $8,176 figure shown in this infographic at ForRent.com: I’m side-eyeing that $1,024 figure for a sofa. Who the hell is spending that on a sofa?! Yeah, a seven-piece sectional from Crate & Barrel will run you more than a run of the mill three-seater from IKEA. But I wager most people are not dropping that much on sofas, and I died laughing at $290 for an area rug. Mine was $5 at IKEA. $32 for a shower curtain? Is it made from dupioni silk? Come on, it’s gonna get moldy in a few months.

With that said, neither of these figures are actually conclusive despite the BLS being a more authoritative source of data. As a former tax professional who was certified by the IRS, and constantly dove through the agency’s statistics collected from tax returns? I can tell you there’s always stories behind both numbers and data collection regardless of who is collecting that data.

And the story that BLS stat has to tell us is that most people probably don’t know what they actually spend on furniture. Opposed to home furnishings which that apartment service’s infographic lumped together but the BLS demarcated. 

A white modern chair placed against a yellow wall with a blue question mark painted on it.
This chair doesn’t know how much it costs, and why someone would pay that price.

Why? It’s one of those things you just don’t think about unless you just moved and thus recently went furniture shopping and got those numbers fresh in your mind. Or maybe you’ve been settled in your current home for a while and something broke, and you had to replace it. The Census Bureau says that the average American moves 11.4 times in their lifetime. At the age of 35, I’ve moved a total of five times since legal adulthood began and Toad willing, my sixth time will come post-pandemic. I anticipate at minimum another 2-4 moves before I kick the bucket. And I’ve moved less compared to many people in my age bracket and career type. So, using 11 moves over an average lifespan of about 78 years as our rule of thumb, it’s safe to say that some furniture survives those moves, some pieces don’t.

The particular BLS table I linked a few paragraphs ago extrapolated the data by age reference, claiming that people under 25 spend $235 on average per year on furniture. That makes sense, Zoomers are largely unable to afford to move away from home. Student housing likely already provides some furnishings and whatever they need is either bought very cheaply, handed down from one broke student to another on moving day, or in the case of how I furnished my first apartment– curb shopping. 

Older people over 75 spend even less, just $174 per year, likely because of possessions accumulated in their prime earning years and/or moving to rest homes or assisted living. Which, like college dorms, are likely to be already furnished to some degree except this time, they’re adaptive pieces designed for older people. God, I’d love to have a furnished apartment and get to be around other people in my age and profession and not have to be at the book-ends of life. Just not like THIS.

Compare this to the stat pulled for household furnishings and equipment, which is $2,025 across all age groups with the Zoomers and Silent Generation still holding up the shorter tails. But actual pieces of furniture? Low average spend, despite how expensive it can get. Well, it tends to be all in one shot rather than something you’d buy more frequently, like food.

When extrapolated for income though? It’s pretty much as expected: the higher one’s annual income, the more they’ll spend on furniture every year. People who make less than $30,000 a year spend $221 on furniture per year, compared to $532 per year for those make more than $70,000 but less than $100,000, while those who make over $150,000 per year have an average annual furniture spend of $1,109. 

So, no matter how much you make, you’re going to have massive sunk costs in buying furniture throughout your life– but even if you managed to score it for free? There’s hidden costs too.

 

Why Getting Rid of Your Used Furniture Becomes This Frustrating Raw Deal

A dumped used black sofa with a large hole on it.
Rustic vintage couch in a cozy studio just outside of Berkeley! Only $4,000 a month!

It’s like I said before: buying furniture is a lot like buying a car in that in most cases, it doesn’t appreciate in value and you want to get rid of it ASAP once it’s not feasible to take it with you because your lifestyle (or in this case, living arrangements) changes. But while buying new may be preferable in terms of hygiene and overall longevity? You could pay so much more just to wind up having to cut your losses if you move.

Given the average number of moves a person makes in their life, chances are you’ve got a hodgepodge of newer furniture, stuff from past dwellings, hand-me-downs, and if you’re poorer and/or more transient– gifts from the curb.

So in some cases, it’s just easier to give things right back to the curb, assuming you’re able to get them out of the house. But if you’ve got a long journey to make for your move, the more it’s going to cost you in terms of truck rental or hiring a driver or moving service. So when you’re a planning a cross-country move like I am, you start to ponder your options for dumping your furniture vs. hiring a service.

Upon asking the peanut gallery on Twitter, the consensus is “Box up the things you absolutely want to take, just dump all your furniture, and get new stuff out there!” Which honestly sounds pretty great. I like the idea of just packing up a few big boxes and spending only about $400-700 on taking a couple 24×24 moving cartons to UPS, opposed to the quotes I received that ranged from $2,000-$5,000 even if I dumped the bed and just waited til I got to Los Angeles to get a new one.

But here lies the rub: that new furniture won’t be waiting in my new apartment. I need to get there first and make sure the delivery even arrives, then find someone to build it unless it’s a small and simple piece, because my assembly skills are on par with asking an alligator not to eat that pile of meat you left on the floor. And this time? This bitch is gonna get FANCY. No more IKEA tables that develop those weird pimples in the tops after a year or two of continued use. I’ll still go there to get new chairs and a computer desk, but I’m going to Crate & Barrel and getting one of those 1980s cocaine magnate king size beds.

So if you need help with this stuff like I do, you have to factor those labor costs into your purchase. Which even with the coupons in those mover packets the post office gives you when you change addresses, it can still be easily a few thousand bucks siphoned straight out of your pockets. Even if you’re not going to be that fancy, and are still taking some pieces with you.

The alternative is to be able to skip all that and just cave in, hire movers, and have them bring all or most of them over. Which is still a few thousand dollars unless I want to make like that weirdo from r/Relationships and live in a clothes nest. 

So unless you want a George Costanza-esque present and future, this is an expensive process that just gets repeated every single time, unless your moves have been doable with a truck.

But let’s get into the actual selling of your furniture that’s already been used.

A close look at a garage sale.

When you want to get rid of these things because you’re moving, you’ll take whatever you can get. If you’re familiar with selling on ebay and other online platforms to get rid of your stuff, you might be wondering if there’s any for furniture. More furniture is being dumped than ever now because the pandemic makes it harder to just come and get things and yard sales are a hard sell, and it’s a less appealing prospect knowing your textiles and other items could potentially be carrying the coronavirus.

So, Craigslist is a dependable old standby though I never had luck with it. You’ll get a ton of questions and unless it’s a very hot item that’s like new, probably not many buyers. You can also try Facebook and Nextdoor local classified ads.

Me personally, I’m going to give eBay a go based on prior good experience selling bulky items that required local pick-up. I also did a completed item search and found there was a huge niche for IKEA pieces in the metro NYC area, likely because a lot of people don’t want to venture to those labyrinthine stores in Paramus and Brooklyn. Look up your model and see how comparable pieces sold in your area, it’s probably the best option for IKEA pieces in general. You’ll lose about 10% of your sale price and still have to arrange pick-up, which can be risky in the current environment, so tell your buyer to mask up and make sure your home is well-ventilated.

It’s going to be my only option, given that when I looked up AptDeco which is strictly for the New York City area, it said they don’t take IKEA wardrobes. Guess who’s got two of them?! They take a hefty cut too compared to eBay, though the plus is that they orchestrate pick-up and delivery for you. I concluded my couch is probably the only thing I could sell through them.

I had a really cool shoji screen I got off Amazon a while back, and was looking for another furniture app to try in lieu of eBay. Wound up going back to eBay after I came across a sentient Frasier episode called Chairish. If you have handmade or vintage furniture that fits their incredibly selective bill, you should give them a go. All I got is mass-produced garbage and hand-me-downs, so it’s not for me.

It’s all so much harder than just leaving it at the curb. Even if I wanted to just get rid of all this stuff, there’s some pieces I literally can’t do that with like my bed, which I have no idea how to safely disassemble. Calling a junk removal service would be at least $300. If I’m going to pay that much to get rid of shit, I might as well take that perfectly usable bed that just as one ding from getting too zealous with that IKEA hand tool! THIS IS WHAT I MEAN. This is how furniture is such a fucking scam!

But think about it from a buyer point of view: you’re not going to bother unless that piece is free or incredibly cheap, given that you can get a brand new one shipped directly from the warehouse for the same price as the gas or fare you’d have to spend, AND the delivery guy will bring it inside your home. I mean, that couch contains years of someone else’s farts and why pay $50 for a used computer desk that’s got more rings than a jewelry store (coffee rings, that is) when you can get a new one at IKEA for less than $200?

But remember, Homebodies: the curb has more shoppers than Amazon. Don’t worry about re-homing all this shit. Think of your next move as an opportunity to hit the reset button. Get rid of that ugly-ass chair your now-divorced spouse loved, and you always hated! Save the space in the moving truck that would go to your mattress you’ve had since grad school, get a new one.

Furniture’s a raw deal, but hopefully your next move won’t be.

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