Why do people put plastic wrap on their furniture?
November 1, 2006 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Why do people put plastic wrap on their furniture?
posted by bertrandom to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
To prevent it from being damaged, I imagine.
posted by box at 5:42 PM on November 1, 2006

So the furniture remains in pristine condition, free of stains and spills... or so I've always assumed.
posted by Phire at 5:43 PM on November 1, 2006

Response by poster: Okay, but I've seen plastic wrap on people's furniture for years. When are they actually going to take it off?
posted by bertrandom at 5:48 PM on November 1, 2006

Because they love the squeaky noises you make when you sit on it?
posted by caddis at 5:50 PM on November 1, 2006

Bottom line: because they buy furniture that they can't afford.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:52 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

They do it for the same reason my grandma covers up the carpeting she had put in 12 years ago with bath towels (which she occasionally washes). They want it to remain in "as new" condition as long as possible.
posted by pmbuko at 5:55 PM on November 1, 2006

The anal-retentive gene.

It's supposed to protect furniture from spills and dust. Too bad it looks bad and is squeaky.
posted by moonshine at 5:58 PM on November 1, 2006

Same exact reason they cover everything in plastic in the locker room of the winning team in the World Series.
posted by found missing at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2006

Because they get a job cleaning house for some rich people in Dover whose father is a clean freak with OCD and they live vicariously through them and decide that our little overcrowded cape with the single bathroom should look just like the rich folk's mansion and even though our living room is the only room in the house that isn't somebody's bedroom they think it should look just like the rich folk's formal living room that only gets used when the mayor or the pope comes to dinner so they put plastic runners on the rug and drape plastic over our $200.00 Jordan's Furniture hide-a-bed couch and don't allow us to remove it when we watch TV so for about four years we're forced to make our friends sit on plastic while they play Atari and when they ask why they have to sit on plastic we just sort of shrug and tell them it's a long story.

That's why my mom did it, anyway.
posted by bondcliff at 6:04 PM on November 1, 2006 [11 favorites]

So when you visit you know that you aren't important enough to be allowed to directly sit on their furniture.

Also, having a showplace living room where all the furniture is in unpleasant condoms is a very uninviting place. This keeps family members from using the room and as a side effect reduces wear and dirt on the carpet.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:04 PM on November 1, 2006

Because there is something wrong with them.

Buy what you can afford, get the most from it without it preying on your mind, then replace with similar when the time comes.
posted by fire&wings at 6:08 PM on November 1, 2006

What bondcliff said.

I have aunts and uncles who have done this for the same reason.
posted by vacapinta at 6:17 PM on November 1, 2006

The families I've known who were into plastics were working poor and the plastics were removable if, and pretty much only if, someone like their cleric or future in-laws was expected. It seems to me to be a practical expression of frugality and pride for some folks who can't afford a separate sitting room.
posted by taosbat at 6:21 PM on November 1, 2006

Just in case the Queen visits.
posted by empyrean at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2006

This phenomena doesn't only extend to furniture - my friend's father would cover the TV and VCR remote with saran wrap so the printed text/number for each button wouldn't rub off.
posted by youngergirl44 at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2006

Maybe because the don't know if they're supposed to remove it or not? Okay, this probably isn't true for everyone, but when my wife and I bought our nice dining room set about a decade ago, the cushions of the chairs were wrapped in plastic. We had no idea why, and no idea what to do. We just left them wrapped for a few weeks before we decided it was dumb. Then we cut the stuff off with a razor blade. Now, of course, I'd just unscrew the cushions, but I didn't know I could do that then...
posted by jdroth at 7:04 PM on November 1, 2006

I once asked my mother how my grandother could have absolutely pristine furniture that was obviously made in the 50's. She told me they always had plastic coverings on their furniture and showed me baby pics to prove it. I asked her when they finally decided to take it off and she said the day she (the youngest child) moved out and got married.

(I didn't know what to do with the plastic on the dining room chairs either.)
posted by Ugh at 7:29 PM on November 1, 2006

Perhaps it's a generational thing: my father grew up during the Great Depression and his living room furniture remains pristine in its factory wrappings and has done so since he purchased it in the early 60s. He's done well for himself financially but is frugal in the way only an East Coast Yankee of a certain age can be: washing and reusing what he refers to as "tin foil", the plastic bags vegetables come home in are patted dry and neatly folded away in drawers, margarine tubs comprise all of his Tupperware. One of the biggest arguments he and I had was over my profligate and apparently irresponsible use of ZipLock bags (the kind with the zipper tab! Too pricey!) which was an entry point to a long rant about kids these days and our money-wasting ways. At least he didn't tell me to get off his lawn.
posted by jamaro at 7:39 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Same reason why people put protective cases/plastic covers on their iPods, cellphones, etc. It makes them ugly, unwieldy, but people still do it.
posted by mphuie at 7:45 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Pets are a good reason to put covers on furniture.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:57 PM on November 1, 2006

#taosbat: The families I've known who were into plastics were working poor

When I lived on Long Island I had a friend whose parents had a plastic covered living room. The father was a higher up in the NYC FBI. Then again they were allways questioning him to see if he was involved with "the Big H" (a term they used to refer to heroin). No he wasn't, but they didn't know he was gay.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:58 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree there's an element of "we'll take the plastic off when someone Really Important visits".

Also there may be an element of preserving it for resale. My parents have this a bit, even with items that no longer have good resale value like old computers. They think of things they own as retaining their value over time, so they make a point of keeping them nice just in case they ever hit hard times and have to sell them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:02 PM on November 1, 2006

I think jamaro is onto something. Saving and reusing "tinfoil" is something that a lot of people from a certain generation used to commonly do but it is getting exceedingly rare now. I think the plastic covering is basically the same idea, and it will probably eventually disappear into history as well.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2006

Most of the people I've known who did this lived through the Great Depression, or are one generation away from being really poor (or OCD). Even president LBJ would rinse and reuse styrofoam cups.
posted by ernie at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2006

All I can say is that I really ENJOY buying used stuff from folks like this. I have a 1968 pickup whose interior was in mint condition when I bought it. I'm the first person in 40 years to enjoy it, apparently.

I do think it's a mixture of frugality and practicality. You may have floor mats in your car, for example...some of that is silly (why do you care whether your car's carpet is pristine?) and some is practical (I can just shake the dirt off outside the car when they're filthy).

As a former furniture afficianado turned dog owner, it was a challenge to let it go and for awhile I had towels over my couch...robbing me of the pleasure of looking at my (now formerly) cool couch.

I can see it making some sense if you're a parent who enjoys entertaining a lot and you have grubby little monsters crawling over the furniture five days a week but would like to offer real humans a place to sit the other two without worrying about what they might be sitting in.
posted by maxwelton at 9:07 PM on November 1, 2006

Maybe they're swingers.
posted by MegoSteve at 9:51 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Maybe they're swingers."
posted by MegoSteve at 12:51 AM EST on November 2

Or smokers, whose tastes run to light colored upholstrey, or brocade. And at one time, just after WWII, when demand for new things was terribly pent up from war shortages, and clear plastic was unbelievably cool, "see thru" slipcovers were the ne plus ultra of home decorating. The classy thick fitted ones cost about as much as the upholstrey they protected, and people ordered them on top-of-the-line stuff, to demonstrate that not only could they afford the genuine article, but that they could also afford the optional lifetime protection covers.

In 1966, I bought a 1960 Lincoln Continental with aftermarket vinyl covers over pink brocade upholstrey, and it was pretty sweet. Hot in midwestern summers, but that beautiful upholstrey was absolutely unblemished, and women liked the seats, 'cause they'd slide across them in skirts without any trouble.
posted by paulsc at 10:11 PM on November 1, 2006

As another data point, I grew up in a house with immigrant grandparents who survived the Depression, so I spent every summer of my childhood sitting in my own thigh sweat and making sucking noises upon standing. I thought that's how all furniture was supposed to be until I spent some time in other houses.

When my grandfather died they found half a dozen cans filled with deeply discounted, gently rotting coffee, shoeboxes filled with pennies, and a thousand dollars cash in an old boot. It was all part of the same thing jamaro notes, a mentality that's largely gone with the wind: you take care of what you have until you have squeezed out its last bit of use, you pinch a penny until it bleeds, and you never spend what you don't have. If that means that everytime you move on your own furniture you sound like a farting cow, so be it.

(One of the great triumph of my childhood was persuading them to take that plastic the hell off the couch one summer. That satiny couch cloth felt like heaven. Sweaty summer ass heaven.)
posted by melissa may at 10:21 PM on November 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here's why my family (working class Chicago) opted for the clear vinyl look (and I'm sure this is absolutely a generational thing): Most of the houses in our neighborhood had a 'front room/living room' that was the first space anyone coming to the front door (the one facing the street) would see upon entering the house. This room was usual off limits to family members, regardless of how little living space was actually available in the rest of the home. It was much more important to convince the visiting Pope, or more likely the Fuller Brush salesman, that our little domecile was a wonder of cleanliness than to admit to any signs of life-being-lived within.

In our case, my dad eventually moved a TV into the front room for lack of space elsewhere, and he found that having his ass glued to the La-Zee-Boy interferred with his Movie of the Week watching pleasure. So off went the plastic for good. There were stains everywhere within a month, but at least we finally got to live in our living room. But my poor mother still obsesses over what the Jehovah Witnesses are whispering to each other after they leave the front porch.
posted by maryh at 11:46 PM on November 1, 2006

It's low self-worth, a feeling of not deserving new things, an inability to use or enjoy them. I grew up working-class poor, and my mother would say, if she was given something new (we never bought anything new) that it was "too good to use" and so it would stay in its box/wrapping, unused, whilst the old, broken thing it was meant to replace carried on being used.

I'm sure if we'd had new furniture, it would have been "too good to use" too and been kept covered up.

My sister has inherited this attitude, and the beautiful, fat, fluffy towels I bought her ten years ago remain unopened (her first words on seeing them actually were "these are too nice to use"), whilst she dries herself on threadbare rags you can see the light through, and which in turn my mother gave to her 25 years earlier.
posted by essexjan at 1:43 AM on November 2, 2006

The only places I've seen this these days is in the homes of fairly new immigrants who are struggling like hell.

One of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen was the small apartment of a West Indian woman in Boston who had everything covered in plastic and lots of china figurines and gleaming things made of brass, everything spic and span and in absolutely pristine shape. I think she was going for the Dynasty look. The woman worked three jobs, at least one at a hospital, to maintain this home and raise her two sons - one of whom had gotten in with a bad element at school and had just killed someone. Even through her shock and pain and the utter destruction of her life, she was gracious to the stranger who showed up to ask her questions. And I thought about how hard she worked to make everything perfect, and how you can't put plastic on the world.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:43 AM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I thought it was an ethnic thing, from Italians. But that's because my first partner was Italian, and his mother kept her living room that way. I never saw this done elsewhere.
posted by Goofyy at 4:23 AM on November 2, 2006

I thought it had to do with renting-to-own furniture with no intention to buy.
posted by jasondigitized at 8:09 AM on November 2, 2006

Mom and Dad had their "Mister and Missus" chairs swathed in plastic back in the '60s. The Folks endured the depression, so I'd say that's a definite indicator. Also, I've had some friends of the Italian persuasion, and they seemed to be more enamored in the joys of plasticized furniture. But then they had the REALLY nice stuff.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:15 AM on November 2, 2006

a mentality that's largely gone with the wind: you take care of what you have until you have squeezed out its last bit of use

My mother's motto (a farmgirl from Depression-era Kansas, who hoards tin foil and margerine tubs to this day):
Use it up, wear it out
Make it do
Or do without.
Not bad words to live by (although we never had that plastic-covered furniture, nor the unused front parlor maryh describes, but I knew neighbors who did).
posted by Rash at 8:32 AM on November 2, 2006

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