By Laura Madden
How we style our lives says a lot about who we are and what we believe in, from our wardrobes to how we furnish our homes. Just like what we put in and on our bodies, what we put in our homes can have a significant impact on the environment, and says a lot about our personal ethics too. For instance, someone who cares a lot about the environment and reducing waste might opt for secondhand furniture as a more sustainable option than buying brand new. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 9.69 million tons of furniture went to landfill 2015.*
As a sustainable fashion advocate, I regularly report on sustainable fashion for Green Living Magazine (oftentimes said fashion is secondhand). I feel the same about home furnishings as I do about fashion—and I’ve got a home (and a closet) to prove it. If you have to buy something, there is no question that buying secondhand is the most sustainable choice. Whether it’s clothing, art or home furnishings, repurposing what already exists conserves resources and reduces waste from the normal cycle of manufacturing brand new things.
Dreaming of Décor
When my husband and I moved to Arizona last year, after having sold most of our furniture in California, we had a newly renovated home to fill. We were basically starting from scratch. With already a few years behind me as a secondhand fashion advocate, I thought why not explore the secondhand furniture market, too. I was committed to sourcing as much of our déco from the secondhand market as possible. I had no idea what I was in for! Similar to my experience with secondhand fashion, I simply found the best stuff!
Shopping the secondhand market, such as estate sales, consignment stores and Craigslist, I found the greatest variety and the most unique finds. I am not sure if I’ll ever find shopping at a traditional furniture store that appealing ever again!
The Benefits of Secondhand
Repurposing, recycling and restyling what already exists is smart, sustainable, and can be very stylish. Again, just like fashion, choosing secondhand slows down the demand on the home furnishings market to produce faster and cheaper items. There are numerous benefits to choosing secondhand furniture actually, such as:
-reduces waste from entering landfill;
-better for your health (no off-gassing)*.
The good news is that living here in Phoenix, we are very lucky to have numerous secondhand furniture shopping sources.
Airpark Consignment Owner Shellie Wilcox shares that in the Scottsdale Airpark alone there are eight consignment furniture stores.
“What’s crazy is that there’s enough furniture for all of us. Our stores are all full! This is recycling at it’s finest. There’s so much furniture in this town and I love that we can recycle it out to another home instead of having it end up in the trash,” she says.
In Scottsdale there is a tendency to cycle out furnishings more frequently, which then becomes the high-quality inventory consigned at these stores.
Wilcox also shares that Airpark Consignment, which has been in business for 19 years, takes in 300 hundred items per week, and “like a conveyor belt,” 300 hundred items go right back out.
Just like with secondhand clothing, there’s a stigma with secondhand furnishings. Some people look at them like someone else’s discards. But according to Wilcox, thanks to the popularity of today’s treasure-hunting and home renovation reality shows, secondhand furniture no longer has the same stigma that it used to. Wilcox prides her business on the variety of unique finds, and having sourced items from this very retailer myself, I can attest that there are in fact many treasures to be found.
Newly transplanted in Arizona also got me practicing sustainability in a whole new way I didn’t even see coming: upcycled art. In my new home I have vast white walls that I eagerly wanted filled. Always having been a painter (hobbyist), I decided to just fill the walls myself. As I was frequenting so many thrift stores already, I thought “why not remake something that already exists?” I am always looking for ways to reduce waste, and instead of purchasing brand new art supplies, such as canvases and paint, why not just use what already exists?
Today, my home is filled with my upcyled art, much of which I created using leftover house paints from our home remodel. I loved the entire process of upcyling materials that would otherwise be headed for landfill so much so that I’ll even be selling my art at this month’s Conscious Collective PopUp Shop at WAYLA in Phoenix.
Local framer Framin’ Works even offers a sustainable option for our artwork, the jewelry of the home. The store showcases an entire section of discarded framing materials to choose from that can then be customized for your special piece of art.
Again, this is saving unnecessary waste from ending up in a landfill and conserving the resources otherwise used to produce materials from scratch.
*Off gassing is the release of harmful chemicals (such as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) from new products, especially new furniture.
Laura Madden is a sustainable fashion advocate, influencer, stylist and model who reports on the intersection of style, sustainability and self-esteem on both her blog, the ReFashion Report, and various conscious style publications. Laura also serves as a global ambassador for non-profit Remake, a board member with San Francisco Fashion Community Week, and is co-founder of AZ Sustainable Fashion. For more sustainable style and shopping tips, check out www.iamlauramadden.com and follow her on Instagram @iamlauramadden.