The First Apartment Checklist: Things to Buy Now, Things to Buy Later

updated Nov 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

So you’ve just graduated from college and you have your own apartment, for the first time, or at least the first time on an adult budget, and it’s super exciting and you can’t wait to spend your first paycheck on all the things you’ve admired from design blogs for all these years but never been able to buy. Except that your first paycheck, which seemed so juicy and fat when you first got it, was barely enough to cover the rent, and now you’re starting to realize that maybe you won’t be buying a whole house full of furniture in one fell swoop (and really, where’s the fun in that anyway?). Take a gander at this list of things you can take your time buying — and other things you probably shouldn’t wait on.

Things to buy now:


I spent a month and a half this year sleeping on an air mattress, and it was terrible. Don’t do this to yourself. Buy a decent mattress as soon as you can, because if you aren’t sleeping well you probably won’t enjoy anything else in your apartment either.

(Image credit: Allswell)

Need help deciding? Take a look at Apartment Therapy’s favorite bed-in-a-box mattresses.


Second only to the mattress is the sofa, because sitting on the floor is also pretty awful. If the budget is tight a (non bedbuggy) used one could be a great option, or you could check out our roundup of sofas for under $800.

(Image credit: Amazon)

We love the look of this $500 Amazon option.

Bed frame

A bed frame costs like 50 dollars (if you can’t find one at Goodwill). Go ahead, buy it now. It will make you feel more like a real adult, and as an added bonus, you’ll avoid turning off potential dates.

(Image credit: Amazon)

Zinus on Amazon has many affordable options you can get shipped to you in two days (or less).

Cooking accoutrements

If you spend the first year post-college surviving on bagel bites, as I did, this may not be as important to you. But for those who aren’t complete imbeciles in the kitchen and who value healthy cooking, a few pots and pans are a valuable investment — and one you’ll probably want to make pretty soon. If your parents are inclined to be generous, this might be a good thing to badger them into buying for you. (Here are all

the favorite essentials

Glasses and plates

Nothing is more demoralizing than living in your dream apartment and eating all your meals off paper plates and drinking from stadium cups. Dishes don’t usually cost a lot of money, so go ahead and get some. Pick something simple and high quality, and you may have it for years.

Window treatments

Compared to some things on the ‘buy now’ list, window treatments may seem a bit ancillary — but they’re necessary for privacy, and will make your whole house look so much more finished, even if it isn’t. Here are some creative ideas for window coverings from our favorite Apartment Therapy contributors, as well as an affordable, editor-approved favorite.

A desk and comfortable chair (if you work from home)

Sitting on a sofa all day is bad for you. If you’re working from hone, you’ll need a real desk. (All the rest of you can hold off on buying a desk, because who even uses a desk anymore anyway? When? While catching up on your morning correspondence? (Actually, I sincerely hope you do this, because getting letters is awesome. Carry on.))


The overhead lighting in most apartments is pretty harsh and unfriendly. You may be able to live with this for a little while, but once the mattress and sofa and pots are knocked out, I’d recommend finding at least a couple of good lamps. The good news is that nice lighting doesn’t have to cost a lot of money (and there are a lot of nice options at second-hand stores, too).

(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

Things to buy later:

Side tables

It’s not that side tables are completely unnecessary — they are quite nice to have if you, say, like to drink beer while watching the television, and don’t want to put said beer on the floor and bend down every time you want to take a sip. But living without side tables isn’t quite as bad as living without a real mattress, so those guys can wait. Use cardboard boxes or suitcases or whatever in the meantime, and maybe while you’re waiting you’ll find something great at a garage sale or antique store. Slow decorating has its advantages.


A headboard will make your bed, and your bedroom by extension, look great, but you don’t really need one. This is a good thing to wait on.


I would never undervalue a rug — they can make such a huge difference in the look (and feel) of a room. But that said, rugs aren’t really necessary, strictly speaking. And nice ones can cost quite a bit of money, so a rug is a good candidate for buy-laterness. This way, you can save up for a nice one, and make that it fits in with the rest of your decor, too. When you’re ready, this list of affordable rug online shops is always helpful.


The arguments for waiting on a rug apply to waiting on art, too. I think the exception would be anything that you’re really, really passionate about that you want to build your whole look around.

Serving dishes

You don’t need pitchers and platters and shrimp forks (I don’t even know what a shrimp fork is and I might have just made this up) when you first move in. Fight the Martha Stewart-y urges and spend your money on a nice mattress before you stock up on things for the Perfect Dinner Party.

Dining table and chairs

Unless you are some kind of dinner party throwing maniac, you can probably get away with eating meals on the sofa for a little while. And even if you are, honestly, one dinner party sitting on the floor could be kind of fun.


If you don’t mind having a few things stashed in boxes for a while, you can hold off on buying dressers and media centers and stuff. I find, at least, when decorating for myself, that I don’t get really excited about storage, so it makes sense to buy these things later and fit them around things you already have.

Have anything to add? Do you disagree with me vehemently? Sound off in the comments!

Re-edited from a post originally published 5.20.2015 – TW