Kids desks are selling out. Where to find alternatives

With so many kids doing distance learning, desks are selling out almost as quickly as they are restocked.
(Steven Banks / Los Angeles Times; Getty)

First came the rush on toilet paper, then hand sanitizer, flour and even bicycles. Now, as we cycle through the seasons of the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest race at retail is snapping up workstation furniture and organizational products for students learning remotely from home.

Many of the go-to retail resources are out of stock in the desk department or facing weeks and sometimes months-long wait times for delivery. The Container Store reports that its popular three-tier rolling carts and Elfa stand-alone desks sell out almost as quickly as they are restocked. Ikea is waiting to replenish desks nationwide and apologizes on its site for delays associated with COVID-19. Online retailer Wayfair reports sales of student desks (one of the site’s top sellers since March), small tables, chairs, and organizational furniture are up 120% compared with the same summer period last year.

Fernish, a Los Angeles-based resource for contemporary rental furniture, reports a 325% spike in desk rentals and a 315% increase in home office demand overall.

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Online classified ads for desks and related workstation furniture on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist have also become more competitive.

Kat Steck, a Los Angeles-based former elementary school teacher turned Instagram influencer and conscious consumer advocate, said she has been shopping and selling on Facebook Marketplace since it launched four years ago and has noticed things selling faster. “I think children’s items in general have been flying on Marketplace since March,” said Steck. “Now the second I put stuff online it’s gone. ... There’s definitely more of a demand for school-type items.”

For a competitive edge on the site, Steck suggests using alternative keywords when searching. “Think about things that could be used in your home classroom that aren’t necessarily like desks,” said Steck. “Look for small tables or TV trays, not specifically school related; think about the product that you want and what other names it could go by.”

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Steck bought a small table on Facebook Marketplace that she sawed in half to fit her daughter’s at-home preschool space and scored two small chairs, picture books and a vintage chalkboard.

“There are people selling liquidated school desks and vintage stuff,” said Steck. “People who would normally be selling at the Rose Bowl (Flea Market) are selling online.”

The savvy secondhand shopper recommends joining online buy-sell-trade groups and Buy Nothing Project, hyper-local communities hosted on Facebook that list available items in your neighborhood. “You can post ‘in search of’ listings,” said Steck, who advises setting alerts on the sites to notify you when a specific item becomes available.

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On the flip side, Steck said, this would be a great time to declutter, sell or give away those extra items, old tables, desks, shelves, bins and art supplies to families that may need them. She praised the idea of intentional sharing, “pooling all of our resources together supports parents right now,” said Steck, “because no one is having an easy time.”

Danielle Van Divort, Long Beach middle school teacher and a parent of teens, said she has seen firsthand the disparity of the spaces and tools available, or not available, to students.

For students without desks, Van Divort said, she has seen tri-fold cardboard presentation boards cleverly used to create privacy and divided workspaces on tables shared with siblings. Some have repurposed the boards as backdrops to screen the rest of the room from the web camera. “You can buy those at the 99 cent store,” said Van Divort. Decorating the boards is optional.

“Just remember,” said Steck, “your home isn’t going to look like a classroom, and it doesn’t have to. You don’t need that for your kids to learn and thrive at home. We’re all just trying our best.”