How to Furnish Your First Apartment

            One of the most difficult aspects of moving out on your own or upsizing from a college dorm or shared house to a more “adult” apartment is furnishing that space. After all, your childhood bedroom can only provide so much. Additionally, as we mature, our tastes, needs, and wants for a living environment also change – not to say anything about the trends and fads in home décor itself. What a lot of us discover, though, is that furniture can be expensive.

            As with a lot of products there’s trade-off. You can spend less but that doesn’t guarantee quality; likewise, paying more doesn’t always promise longevity. With minimum wage budgets, housing crisis crunch, and more than a few other economic worries, how best can we furnish our living spaces without breaking the break?

            Over the past seven years, I’ve moved three times into various living situations of different sizes. When I moved into the Bramford in 2018, I had some furniture to my name, but not all of the more necessary pieces (like a bed). Luckily, I’ve had plenty of experience in finding furniture of all kinds and qualities throughout the years. With time, patience, and the right budgeting skills, you can find the furniture that works for your aesthetic and needs.

            Search department or furniture stores (especially clearance). We’ll start with the most obvious place to look. Most department stores like Walmart or Target have furniture sections, in store and online, with a lot of your basics. There’s usually a chance for some measure of style or trendy look here on a budget, but it’s usually a good bet to get some of the staples. That said, it’s best to pay attention to online reviews or the material they’re made of because—unless you care about longevity—the furniture tends to be cheap for a reason. I’ve had $25 bookshelves literally break in half while I was moving them. Furniture stores, on the other hand, can be a bit more of an investment, but you know what you’re in for. Usually these are established name brands like Restoration Hardware, La-Z-Boy, or IKEA. There’s usually something for every budget and they’ll have some version of what you’re looking for.

            Don’t be afraid of consignment furniture. In between department stores and thrift stores, we have consignment. This is a nice medium where someone else has done the hunting for you and gathered all of them in one place at a—usually—discounted price. In my experience, these pieces can have a lot of personality and if you love vintage or retro this is a great place to check. However, if you’re looking for basics or contemporary looks this will be harder to search through. It’s possible to find entire bedroom or living room sets in a consignment store which can help when you’re trying to design cohesively. The price tag can vary depending on quality, the seller, and the age of the piece. I spent a couple months bed-hunting across various stores but I ended up finding the best one for me and my budget at a consignment store. It is so 90s, but it was cheaper than an IKEA bed and feels sturdier too. And has more personality and color.

            Go thrift shopping. This one requires a bit more effort because it really is the luck of the draw. There’s no guarantee on quality, quantity, or if they’ll even have what you’re looking for. That said, I’ve seen and found some gorgeous or cool pieces throughout my years in thrift stores at various price points. With the recent trends in DIY and upcycling, you can often take a piece that looks outdated or a little worse for wear and ‘hack’ it into something that looks trendy or more chic. My coffee table/linen chest was probably used originally as a toy box. It was priced around $10 and I used a coupon so it was less than that. I repainted it from yellow to a light gray and it’s great since my apartment doesn’t have space for all my linens. Depending on your location, the possibilities for thrift shopping can vary but I’ve seen dining tables, chairs, couches, stools, hutches, and more. Patience can pay off.

            Search secondhand online. Similar to thrift shopping, you need a bit of patience for this one, but it can pay off more often (and bigger). Sometimes people who don’t want to take their items to the thrift shop will post ads online and you can score as long as you pick-up the item. I recommend doing a bit of research, if possible, because sometimes people will overvalue their item. However, if you know it’s a decent deal and the pictures are good then it’s usually worth contacting the seller. I’ve made two absolute steals through this method: my dining table which was bought through Craigslist for about $150 and was easily worth three times that, and my (almost new) couch which was bought through Facebook marketplace for about $120 and sells for $400 retail. So if you’re in love with designer furniture but not in love with the price just wait for someone to get rid of it.

            Use what you have or who you know. If my previous advice all relied on buying furniture, this one does the opposite. Look around at what you already own and see what could be spruced up with a hack or a restoration. I had a nightstand from high school that was cute but needed a more mature paint job – bam, fixed. What can you paint? What can you change the hardware on? Additionally, if you know people (family/friends) with extra furniture they might be willing to part with or they’re redecorating or downsizing then you may be able to negotiate. Both of the chairs in my apartment weren’t originally mine and were handed down to me from other households that no longer needed them. You can always promise to invite them over to your new place in exchange for the furniture.

            Where Did My Furniture Come From?

  • Dining Table – Craigslist
  • Couch – Facebook Marketplace
  • Armchair – hand-me-down
  • Coffee table/Linen chest – Thrift shop
  • Entertainment Center – Walmart
  • ALEX organizer – IKEA
  • BILLY bookcase – IKEA
  • File cabinet – Office Depot (on sale)
  • Side table – previously owned (repainted)
  • Hallway bookcase – handmade
  • Bed frame – consignment
  • Armchair – hand-me-down
  • TARVA dresser – IKEA/previously owned
  • Nightstand – previously owned
  • Bookcase – Target

            So, as you can see, most of my furniture was either bought at an affordable price, bought secondhand, or reused from someone previously. Thinking on price, other than my mattress, the dresser was the most expensive purchase and it has lasted 8 years so far so it was a good investment as far as IKEA goes. Additionally, since the TARVA is made of pine I can repaint it if I ever get tired of the bright blue color it is now. Overall, over the course of eight years, this is about $1,000 worth of furniture – which, yes, is a bargain. Rather than spending twice that on a single couch, sometimes it’s better to pick and choose your budgetary battles.

            The internet and Pinterest can be overwhelming when it comes to suggestions of furniture you need to have when you move out on your own. Some people are maximalists and love to fill their homes with furniture and décor. Some people are minimalists and only want the basics and little else. Wherever you fall in that spectrum, hopefully you can find furniture to enhance whatever space you create and maybe it won’t break the bank either.