Just Starting Out? 5 Strategies for Outfitting Your First Apartment

updated Oct 4, 2023
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(Image credit: Meg Lewis)

Homes are made up of so many pieces from furniture basics to personal touches so how do you make a place feel like home when you’re starting from scratch and with little scratch to spend? Here are five strategies to help furnish your home when you’re just starting out…

(Image credit: Jessica Watson)

1. Spread the word and tell people you need furniture and housewares.

You’ll be surprised what people will offer you. It may not be just your style, but it can be a placeholder until you can afford something better. If you live near your parents, tell them to spread the word among their friends, some of whom may be downsizing or clearing out.

(Image credit: The Twiggies)

2. Buy Secondhand

This is a no-brainer. For the most part, secondhand goods will be less expensive than what you buy new in stores and in many cases the quality will actually be nicer (real wood vs. particle board, for instance). If you’re shopping locally, you’ll also save a lot of money on shipping costs compared to buying online. Be discerning, especially about upholstered goods (smells, bed bugs, stains) and be safe if buying from an individual.

  • Make the rounds at your local thrift shops (ask them if there are particular days when they put out larger items like furniture)
  • Make Craigslist searches part of your daily or weekly routine
  • Check out the classifieds like Apartment Therapy classifieds or eBay classifieds
  • Team up with a friend and hit garage and yard sales early on the weekends
  • Become part of your local Freecycle community
  • Be particularly picky about upholstered furniture
  • Find out which day your city sanitation department picks up large items and take a walk or drive around the night before to see if there’s anything worth taking from the curbside

Helpful Reading on Buying Secondhand:
A Craigslist Pro Shares His Buying and Selling Secrets
→ Don’t Buy This Stuff at a Thrift Store
→ 10 Common Thrift Store Finds (And Ways to Use Them for DIY Projects)

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

3. Be Savvy About Sales and Sale Sections

Sometimes items end up in the sale section of stores because, frankly, no one wanted them. But there are many treasures to be found, often at steep discounts, in the sales section.

If you really have your eye on something at a bricks and mortar store, stalk it by checking in frequently and asking staff if they know if and when it may go on sale. For online goods, start your searches in the “sale” section and, when available sort by “newest” so you’ll be more likely to see things that weren’t there on your last virtual visit.

If there’s an item you love that is out of your budget, set up a Nifti account, track the item and be alerted when it drops below a certain price or sale percentage (which you set). If you use Pinterest, you’ll automatically get notified when the price of products from certain retailers drops.

At the risk of cluttering up your inbox, consider signing up for your favorite stores email newsletters so you always know when a sale is going on.

(Image credit: Kim Rinehimer)

4. Shop these Wallet-Friendly Stores

You don’t have a big box personality and don’t want a big box home? You could sit on cardboard boxes for a few years until you can afford what you really want or you could try out these stores for affordable finds:

Here’s one example I put together of a fictional living room on a budget to give you an idea of what you can find at stores like these: Just Starting Out: A Smart, Stylish $1200 Living Room

(Image credit: Submitted by Sarah Stachelski)

5. DIY your Decor

Never before have there been so many easy-to-access resources and inspiration for diy how-tos and projects. Think about which skills are already in your arsenal (sewing? painting?) and start there and then try something new to you.

Helpful Reading on DIY’ing on a Budget: