The Broke Person’s Guide to Making Your First Place Feel More Adult

published May 14, 2019
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Credit: Minette Hand

Moving apartments is often bittersweet, no matter the occasion—adjusting to a new neighborhood, routine, and floor plan can be both inspiring and challenging. Relocating to your first adult place—whether it’s post-college, post-gap year, post-high school, or just when you feel ready—comes with its own level of excitement and ambiguity, and often, no two newly-minted adults are exactly the same. Maybe you’re transitioning from a campus apartment to a downtown high-rise with brand new roommates. Perhaps you’ve decided to share a space with a college bestie or significant other. Or maybe you’re reclaiming your bedroom back at mom and dad’s while saving up some cash. But the one thing that’s constant no matter where you’re moving: You’re likely strapped for cash.

Regardless of who you live with or where you settle, it’s still important to make your first grown-up space feel like home—#adulting can be difficult, and coming home after a long, hectic day to a place that feels warm and welcoming makes all the difference. We’re here to help you make the most of your surroundings in any living situation so that your place truly feels like you, whether you’re sharing walls with a group of strangers or find yourself flying solo.

Moving in with roommates? Whether you’ve known them for ages or are meeting for the first time, here’s your best approach.

For most grads, roommates are nothing new, and many of the same rules and realities from college apply in the real world. A “roommate wanted” posting could either yield an amazing match or a less than stellar situation. And for some, it may result in a lifelong friendship—or more! Right before graduation, a college friend of mine wrote a Craigslist posting and ended up connecting with a young man and woman who were each moving to her city. Fast forward six years later, and her two former roommates are now engaged. So, you truly never know what a living situation will bring!

Credit: Walmart

When sharing an apartment with others, understand that it may take awhile for each of you to get into a groove decorating-wise, particularly if you’re living with fellow post-grads who are navigating the same set of challenges as you! Think of your space as a work in progress—you’ll want to communicate beforehand regarding basic items, like living room furniture and kitchen appliances—but know that it may take awhile to furnish an entire space when there are multiple viewpoints, busy schedules, and limited budgets involved.

Eager to feel right at home? Focus on making your room into your own private oasis full of the things you love. Frame and hang a special art print, pick out a new bedspread, and print out photos. And don’t be afraid to make some extra tweaks, assuming this is cool with building management. “Review your lease and discuss with your landlord the changes that you are legally allowed to make to your new apartment,” advises Jewel Marlowe of Jeweled Interiors, who has moved an impressive 13 times within the last 19 years. “You may be surprised to learn that you have more options than you realize, as long as you are willing to take something down or repaint prior to moving out.”

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Cheetah & Tropical Leaves Wallpaper, starts at $5 per foot from Spoonflower

So what’s the best way to add some personality to a space? “Bring the drama—no, not drama like the college roommate who made out with your boyfriend! Drama like something visually interesting in each of your spaces,” Marlowe says. “If you can paint, go for it! If you can’t, consider removable wallpaper. Even some wallpapers that aren’t advertised as ‘removable’ are still strippable and pretty easy to take down. Consider using Tempaper mini stripes or Spoonflower wallpaper. Another option is to create large scale art on plywood and prop it against your wall.”

Not feeling your teenage decorations? Here’s how to revamp your childhood space.

Moving back in with your family is often a go-to move for those looking to save up some hard earned cash or make a dent in those ruthless student loans. If your parents have left your childhood room pretty much in tact, you’re in luck—but it may also be time to make some major upgrades. Odds are, most of your teenage decor doesn’t spark the same joy it once did—and doesn’t make you feel like the young professional you’ve become—so it’s time for a bit of a refresh.

Now, don’t just plow ahead and throw away everything that you swear you’ll never use again—you’ll want to keep some items for nostalgia’s sake, after all—but take a close look at your space and your belongings. Come across furniture or decorative items you no longer need? Consult with your parents and consider posting these finds on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace (just keep in mind that if your parents paid for this stuff way back when, they have a right to some, if not all, of the proceeds). Donate other items to a thrift store to make room for all of the belongings you brought back from your dorm room.

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Throw Pillow Cover Set, $31.95 from Amazon

Not sure where to begin? Picture frames with cheesy sayings, posters of that band you loved eight years ago but couldn’t care less about now, and random t-shirts from high school sports leagues are likely all items that can go straight to the Goodwill pile. Things that can be purchased to make your space more adult-like? A few affordable throw pillow covers, some scented candles, and of course plants (real or fake will do). Marlowe also suggests downloading and printing free art from and framing it in thrift store or IKEA frames.

Living alone? Check out these tips.

Ahhh, freedom. As someone who lived alone for many years before moving in with a roommate, I can certainly speak to both the pros and cons of flying solo. While it can feel amazing to have free decorating reign over an entire apartment, keep in mind that your paycheck may not go as far as it would if you shared a space with others. Since you’re the only one signing that rent check, you’ll need to be mindful about where your money is going.

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Rattan Mirror, $49.99 from Target

However, it’s super easy to make a space look cute on a budget. Thrift stores, for one, are a great option for finding everything from light fixtures to furniture. Other retailers, like Target, Wayfair, and Urban Outfitters, have plenty of pieces that frequently go on sale. Make sure you’re signed up to receive emails from your fave stores so that you don’t miss the next big discount!

Additionally, furnishing your space one step at a time is another tactic that can help you stick to a budget—and it will result in a more collected, thoughtful look, which is why most decorating gurus will suggest this strategy anyway! Start out with a couch, rug, and coffee table, and you can go from there. (One of the best parts of living alone is that you can eat many a meal right at the coffee table and literally no one else has to know).

Mini Capri Blue Volcano Jar Candle, $12 from Anthropologie

If you’re living on your own but are only planning on staying in your space a year or two, don’t be afraid to still personalize it to your liking. “Home definitely doesn’t have to be a permanent place or even a big space for that matter,” says Chrissy McDonald, the blogger behind Harlowe James. “You can make a shared living situation or even a small bedroom feel more like home with a few simple components. Even if you won’t be in your place forever, don’t skimp on the details. Adding window treatments and cozy layers, such as a pretty area rug and nice lighting will make your space feel more comfortable and tailored to your personality.” Feeling a bit homesick? Believe it or not, a candle may provide a quick fix! “I strongly believe in the comfort of smell, so a great candle can go a long way in a new environment and instantly make it smell like home,” McDonald says.

Credit: West Elm

Jute Rug, starts at $29 from West Elm

If you’re not someone who plans to decorate and redecorate through the years, think long-term when making purchases. “Invest in things that can move with you,” Marlowe says. “Consider accessories like rugs, art, and pillows that add pops of personality, but can easily be moved onto the next rental when it’s time to leave.” And on that note—”There are some pieces worth splurging on,” Marlowe adds. “If you come across something that you seriously can’t live without, ask yourself, ‘Will I still like this in 10 years,’ and, ‘If not, will I be able to sell it for close to what I bought it for?’ If it passes this litmus test, it may be worth the extra money.”