The Biggest Mistake People Make When Decorating Their First Apartment

published Feb 28, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Are you moving into your first-ever apartment and wondering how to even begin to fill it with furniture and decor you love (and won’t regret a few months from now)? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

When you move into your very first apartment, you have a to-do list approximately 1,000 feet long that covers everything from inspecting the place for issues to familiarizing yourself with the local area. Crossing items off that list feels phe-nom-en-al

But when it comes to one task on that list — decorating said apartment — the best thing you can do just might be holding off. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes that first-time apartment decorators make is rushing the process. “People rightfully get very excited about moving into their first place,” says home blogger Kate Pearce, who runs Kate Pearce Vintage. “But slow design that takes time not only [helps] ease the financial burden of furnishing and decorating your home, it will also ensure that you truly love where you live.”

Essentially, decorating your first apartment should be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s better for both your wallet and your apartment to first invest in a few pieces that you absolutely adore, and then add to your apartment slowly over time. 

Reham Fagiri, co-founder and CEO of secondhand furniture marketplace AptDeco, recommends living in your space for a while before committing to decorative or non-urgent items, since the rhythm of day-to-day life can reveal your patterns and preferences. “For instance, where in the apartment is your favorite place to curl up with a good book? Which room do you find yourself in the most?” Fagiri elaborates. “When you design over time, you allow yourself to discover the potential of your space. Opening yourself up to this design journey always yields a home that’s furnished intentionally and joyfully.”

Not sure where to even begin? Start with the must-haves — particularly, functional pieces like a bed, couch, and desk, says Renee Eurdolian, interior design expert and buyer at rentable furniture site Fernish. “Mattresses and sofas are two items that are almost always better to buy new, anyway,” adds Pearce, “so I’d tell people to hold off on almost everything else, and put their budget towards [that].” 

Then, you can leisurely pick accents that fit your style and add a bit more you to the space. Don’t settle for the first thing you see, and take time to browse the market. “Focus on one item and just research all the possibilities out there to see what catches your eye,” Fagiri suggests.

Once you find something you really love, it can serve as a building block for the remaining decor. “It can be great to pick a statement piece, such as a rug, and then draw colors from it to match your art, decorative pillows, etcetera,” Eurdolian says.

And whatever you decide on, be open to swapping it out or experimenting with placement. “Allow yourself time to change your mind — maybe you will use that dining space with the lovely window as your office for work-from-home,” Eurdolian offers as an example. 

If it’s taking longer than you anticipated to find the perfect pieces, buying and reselling used furniture might be an option. “Sometimes you need to purchase a piece to try it out: Live with it for a little bit, move it around, and then maybe switch it out,” Fagiri says. 

Rental furniture can also help bridge the gap. “It will allow you the flexibility to try out different pieces in your space, as well as not commit tons of cash upfront,” Eurdolian says.

Additionally, consider embracing the thrift life, which is not only fun, but encourages you to take things slow. “Thrifting is all about the journey and the hunt, and decorating this way isn’t something that can be done overnight,” says Pearce. “Most people I know end up loving hitting up the thrift store, and they quickly learn that it’s going to take many trips and many months to find the right pieces for their space.”

Ultimately, while it can be difficult to not have your dream apartment right away, the slow-burn approach is definitely worth it to ensure you are happy with the finished product. To keep yourself motivated and enjoy the process, “Take a first photo and subsequent photos each time you hit a decorating milestone,” Fagiri advises. “It’ll be rewarding to see your apartment evolve from new home to your home.” (You can even submit your before and after to potentially be featured in Apartment Therapy!)