5 Steps to Furnishing Your First Apartment

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I’ve spent the three weeks scouring different apartments in my college town, going to showing after showing and trading emails with tenant-hungry leasing agents. I have spreadsheets and pro/con lists and am spinning in a cyclone of paperwork. Earlier this week, however, I went to see an apartment that didn’t make me feel sad and claustrophobic walking in. I could almost see myself cooking in the little kitchen tucked away in the corner and playing with my kitten in the sunny living room. The price was reasonable for a studio and, after chatting with the agent for an hour, I got a lease agreement that I’m returning in a few days.

Now comes the fun part–furnishing it! The apartment comes with a few key basics (fridge, stove, bed, couch) but the list pretty much ends there. I’m on a part-time job, college student budget so scrimping is high on my list of priorities. Of course, the first thing I did was start looking at stoneware plate sets on Urban Outfitters ($89) but lucky my boyfriend talked me into waiting because a family member of mine has a ton of plates she’s getting rid of. That leads right into my first tip…

1. Ask Around. My nana is moving from her big, suburban house into a much smaller city apartment so she has years worth of things to give away. I asked her to keep me in mind as she sorts through her things and anything she doesn’t want to keep/store I would happily take off her hands. So far, she’s set aside seven bowls, four plates, three mugs, a cookie jar, a pitcher, a couple cutting boards, and an assortment of stemware.

2. Know where to invest. Yes, the $20 food processor sounds like a dream come true, but when it ends up breaking in six months it’ll be junk. Save up and invest in a few key appliances (food processor, non-stick pans, blender) instead of buying everything on the cheap. I know I am going to bake my own bread next year, so I’m saving up for a quality dutch oven that will help steam the bread while it bakes. This also goes for furniture–a cool, used dresser from Craigslist is a good deal but you’re definitely going to want to shell out the cash for a new mattress.

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3. Decorate with size in mind. A wall of funky mirrors thrifted from secondhand stores will open up small apartments and make an interesting focal point. Fabulous tapestries can be pinned up in a corner to add texture to space. Also, don’t forget everything you learned in dorm living–aka, use that vertical room! Shove out of season clothes in bins under beds and get a couple cheap shelves to paint and display your knick-knacks (storage and decoration rolled into one).

4. Take it slow. This isn’t going to happen overnight, and loading up on everything months in advance is going to make moving in a pain in the ass. There’s nothing wrong with getting some fun, decorative stuff now, but save the bulk of buying for once you’re moved in and can see how the space works out; that super cute coffee table you picked up at an antique shop might end up being shoved in the corner.By pacing out your purchases you’ll also stop yourself from emptying your wallet right away.

5. Don’t get stuck in your head. The things you buy now aren’t necessarily the things you’re going to be using for the rest of your life. Your tastes will change and your budget will grow, so don’t let analysis paralysis stop you from picking out what you like at the moment. Maybe this is just a “me” problem, but while I was looking around online I started worrying if I’d still like this same stuff in two, three, four years from now. When you outgrow your things, you’ll be able to pass them down to someone else that needs them (and complete the hand-me-down cycle that helped you get your start). This is a long process, but don’t forget to have fun!

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