Tips for Finding and Furnishing Your First Apartment

As many of you know, I moved into my very own studio apartment in Chicago a couple of months ago! I’d been itching to move out since I started commuting to my internship in December, and after both saving my paychecks and getting a full-time position, I knew it was time. And now, after two months of living here, it finally feels like home. (I promise, that apartment tour post is coming!)

The reason I think I’m most proud of my new little home is because I did almost everything myself. I’m a viciously independent person, and I really like to handle things on my own (even when I’m probably better off with some help). But in this case, I asked where I needed a little extra help, but managed it all alone. It’s definitely not easy, but a few tips and tricks really helped me keep everything in order.

first apartment tips

  • Ask for what you want in an apartment. When I first started researching apartments, I kept saying I “wasn’t picky” about things like location, floor space, building features, etc. All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be “too pricey”, whatever that meant, and that I wanted to be near a train or bus line. Turns out that doesn’t narrow anything down – and narrowing down your choices is crucial. You can’t POSSIBLY see everything out there, so decide on your ideal neighborhood, a price limit, and some non-negotiables, even if they seem silly. Hardwood floors, a dishwasher, a shower with installed glass doors – anything you know you really want. You may not get absolutely everything on your list, but it gives you a good idea of where you might want to look and what the reality is.
  • Utilize your resources. If you know someone who’s recently moved, ask about their landlord or management group. Ask friends or family in neighborhoods you like if they’re happy (and if they’re willing to share, what their rent is). For me, my biggest resources for finding the apartment I chose was my stepmom – she’d helped my older sister find her apartment less than a year before, so she called the same leasing agent (hooray, referral bonus!) and went with me on a tour of a few buildings. While I ultimately chose the apartment I liked the most and not the one she liked, her guidance was crucial in helping me understand what I was getting for my money and how to make a decision I’d be happy
  • Understand your budget. I got a little lucky with some of my furniture – I loved how one of the apartments I saw was decorated, and the girl moving out was willing to sell me some of her big pieces for dirt-cheap. But that’s definitely not the norm, and buying furniture (even at a discount) can be pricey! I created a Google Sheet (like Excel) that listed all the basic items I needed – bed, desk, couch, etc – and then listed the ones I found that I liked and what they would cost. I added it all up at the bottom of the sheet, and that gave me an overall idea of what I’d be spending at a minimum for what I wanted. I definitely made changes as I went, and each time I made a purchase, I crossed the item out on the list and deleted the price so that I knew how much I had left to spend at the bottom of the sheet. I lived and breathed by this Google Sheet through my move and until two or three weeks after I’d settled in – I highly recommend it for staying organized!
  • Prioritize your buying. Sometimes it feels like you need a perfect apartment right when you move in – I know I wanted to be able to put finishing touches on it as soon as possible! But I was advised to prioritize, and I’m glad I did. I bought the things I needed – furniture, cleaning supplies, kitchen gear, etc. – right away, and have been decorating and buying other things slowly since my move-in. It’s been really easy to just budget out a certain amount from each paycheck towards the next few things I need, and honestly, I finally feel like I’m almost done! It takes patience, but your wallet (and you) will be happier for it. This is also a key tip because of space – apartments are almost always smaller than you think. You’ll be happier moving in and then purchasing things to fit rather than realizing you bought too much and have to get rid of things you like that there isn’t room for.
  • Anticipate everything you might need. Oh boy, this is something I didn’t do enough of. There’s a lot that I had at home with my parents that I didn’t have in my new apartment – cleaning supplies, Advil, cooking spices, even toilet paper! Try to think through everything that you use in a week at home (or that someone uses for you, if that’s the case) and decide if you’ll need it right away. I recommend being prepared with cleaning supplies – moving is messy, and the apartment may be dusty from when you walk in. For everything else, it’s a personal preference. Try walking through a store like Target or Walmart – go through every aisle, even if you don’t think you’ll need to, and see if you’re forgetting anything. (The day I moved, I sent my dad to Target for light bulbs, adhesive strips to hang art, a hammer, and garbage bags – definitely didn’t remember those!)
  • Don’t be afraid to change it up! Not happy with how you decorated? Regretting buying a grey couch cover instead of a green one? Wishing you’d splurged on that bookshelf? You’re free to make the changes you want if you feel that way! I’ve already changed my duvet cover (mine was unraveling anyway, but I totally changed the color) and rearranged my entire apartment layout, and it made such a huge difference in feeling like home. It’s not a game show, where a final answer is the only answer – make changes, add things here and there, and really make your apartment your new home.

What are your best tips for first-time apartment dwellers? Share in the comments!