I've had my own home for almost a decade, so while I can't quite say my advice is sage, it is backed up by some lessons learned. With a few moves and the experience of both buying and building a house as well as adding three children to the family, here's what I'd tell my younger self about setting up a home.
Don't buy "grownup" furniture right away.
We lived with hand-me-down furniture and Goodwill finds for the first several years of our marriage and I'm so glad we did. By the time we ended up in the home we're in now, the one we see ourselves staying in indefinitely, we knew our style — aesthetically and philosophically, too. Being together and going through some life experience together, we knew our day-to-day lifestyle, the way we want to teach lessons to our children, and even our hospitality style. This all informed our decision about the couch we purchased: a large, strong, butter-soft leather sectional with curves and nail head trim, built to last with expert craftsmanship (8-way hand-tied springs, foam core, down, the whole bit).
Save up to buy quality pieces you love.
In case it wasn't obvious above, we loooove our couch and so does everyone who sits in it. We found it, kept an eye on it, bought it at rock bottom price, and even managed to get the floor sample so we could get a couch that was top quality and expensive at a price that fit our budget — our budget that grew as we saved and saved for our furniture purchases when we moved into our new construction. Buying pieces you love — within your means — helps ensure that you won't be itching to replace or having to stare at something that deteriorated in your taste from acceptable to barely tolerable.
Your taste will change.
Another reason I'm glad we waited to purchase more expensive items is that my taste has changed pretty drastically. Since we couldn't afford new quality furniture at first anyway, we didn't feel compelled to keep our original items, and we sure didn't feel guilty replacing them.
Invest in quality kitchenware.
The kitchen appliances and tools that I still have and use are the ones that came from well-known brands like KitchenAid, Cuisinart, Le Creuset, Lodge. These brands are trusted for a reason, and their products should stand up to decades of regular use. I would also say to check America's Test Kitchen product reviews as I've always found them to be quite accurate. And you might be surprised by what you find there, as well. When my new-fangled hard adonized cookware (that I babied) started to blister, I decided to go for stainless steel. While I do believe in purchasing the best quality you can afford, an All-Clad set just was not in our budget. I was extremely happy to find that America's Test Kitchen recommended the Tramontina brand of stainless steel, found at Walmart of all places, as a very close second. Research, consider, then buy the best you can. (Oh, and choose glass and stainless over plastic for the little things like measuring cups and spoons. And when in doubt, go with Oxo.)
Form housekeeping habits before your life gets more complicated.
I made myself a cleaning schedule that makes the housework machine hum — but I did it of necessity when I had three kids and work to juggle. Forming the habit sooner would have saved me the period of struggling to make willy-nilly cleaning jive with what I really wanted to focus my attention on: my family.
You don't need tablecloths, placemats, or that fondue pot.
I have shed the extra things that aren't easy to wipe clean. The last thing I want to do is add more laundry to my life!!! While it's a nice idea and definitely pretty, those placemats won't get much use past your first few months, probably, of marriage. And the fondue pot — nice idea, but it's just not going to happen. As Marie Kondo would say, thank the wedding gifts you won't use for expressing the giver's care and pass them on. Or they'll be collecting dust for years and hitching around from move to move.
You do need excellent linens.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again: buy the best quality you can afford. You'll spend the same replacing lesser quality items, trust me. This goes for towels and sheets. And, get white towels for guests, or you'll be replacing those too — okay, 26-year-old self? Even if you start out with more affordable items because you have to, make a plan to replace them with the good stuff when they get worn out.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?