Shopping at IKEA is a rite of passage. The crown jewel of my first postgrad apartment was a king-sized Hemnes bed, and as I write this my coffee mug sits on a Vejmon side table. It seems like everyone has something in their home with a name like Vittsjö, Rättviken, or Brimnes. But while the affordability of IKEA furniture is a major selling point, many pieces end up being tossed after a short life. The company wants to change this. IKEA is going to start renting out furniture in an effort to make the brand more environmentally friendly, and it's a step in the right direction.
Don't head to your local IKEA just yet. Currently, the company is only testing out the idea in Switzerland, renting office furniture to various business customers. However, they already have plans for the future, and hope to eventually make kitchen rentals a reality. Speaking with The Financial Times, Inter IKEA chief executive Torbjorn Loof said, "You could say leasing is another way of financing a kitchen. When this circular model is up and running, we have a much bigger interest in not just selling a product but seeing what happens with it and that the consumer takes care of it." Specific details for the rental process are still hard to come by, but hopefully – if the Swiss trial run goes well – it's only a matter of time.
The ultimate goal of IKEA's rental process is to extend the life of their products and ultimately minimize waste. "We will work together with partners so you can actually lease your furniture. When that leasing period is over, you hand it back and you might lease something else,” Loof explained to The Financial Times. “And instead of throwing those away, we refurbish them a little and we could sell them, prolonging the lifecycle of the products." No more feeling guilty for lugging that almost-new coffee table or bookshelf to the dumpster on moving day, when it's cheaper to get rid of it than transport it. With this program, if it eventually makes its way to the states and works on a residential scale, your items will get a little TLC and find a brand new home.
In my humble opinion (and considering my unique experience of moving from Indiana to Tennessee to Illinois to California to New Mexico in the span of five years) furniture rental is brilliant. Aside from the environmental benefits of extending a product's lifespan, it has several others. For one, it helps eliminate many of the upfront costs that come with furnishing a new home, which fall at the same delightful time as security deposits and moving expenses. Second, renters will be more inclined to make their home feel like home-sweet-home, rather than half-furnish a place just because they know it's temporary. Finally, and this one is the most fun, furniture rental allows people to play with different styles and reinvent their space as their tastes change without committing to an investment piece and feeling like they're forever stuck with a couch that isn't as comfortable as they thought it would be. Sick of that kitchen table you were so in love with a year ago? Just swap it out with a new one when your rental term ends, no big deal.
As hopeful as I am that IKEA's new program could drastically cut back furniture waste, I still have my share of reservations. If you've ever tried to return something at IKEA, you know that those stores can be a bit... chaotic. Will returning rented furniture be a logistical nightmare? Most popular furniture rental companies currently offer delivery, assembly, and pick-up – if IKEA doesn't offer this, they likely won't be competitive. Additionally, as much as I love the instant gratification of furnishing a room quickly and cheaply with IKEA furniture, I haven't always been impressed with the workmanship or durability of certain pieces. In fact, that's why I've viewed so many of my IKEA purchases as temporary, transitional pieces in the first place. If I'm going to be renting something secondhand (or third-hand or fourth-hand), IKEA better ensure it's truly good as new; I'm talkin' spotless, sturdy, and dependable. Will that be the case? It remains to be seen.
IKEA's furniture rental trial isn't their only environmental initiative. The IKEA website states, "We’re also working towards 100% renewable energy — producing as much as we consume in our operations — and sourcing all of our wood from more sustainable sources by 2020." Considering frequent moves has apparently become part of my family's lifestyle, I love knowing that I'm at least supporting a company that is aiming to make a difference. As IKEA conducts its furniture rental trial run in Switzerland, we'll be not-so-patiently playing the waiting game.