Home Decor,Post-Grad

Post-Grad Series: The Do’s & Don’ts of Furnishing Your First Apartment

One of the most amusing things to me when I first graduated (and really the months leading up to it) was how insanely fascinated I became with home decor, picking out mundane details like bedding & shower curtains, and furniture shopping.

I could spend an entire weekend doing nothing but decorating and it would be one of the best weekends I’ve had in a while. I can totally see why my mom ended up becoming an interior decorator – it’s fun!

A lot can be said on the topic about decorating your first apartment (especially the fun parts!) but one thing that I see time and time again is people regretting how they spent their money, rushing into things, and investing in the wrong sorts of items.

That’s what I want to help you avoid today! I know you’re probably in an awkward place of “I finally have a real income for the first time!” and “I still feel exceptionally poor – why does the real world cost so much?!” and I totally get it. There are certain items you should take your time, save up money, and invest in a long-lasting piece…and others that might seem like a great purchase, but in reality you will end up regretting later.

I’m breaking things down, room by room, for what is worth a “solid investment” and what items are okay to head to Ikea and HomeGoods for to help you avoid those very costly mistakes ahead of time!

Living Room

Couch | If you’re going to buy a couch, do it right the first time. Understanding that not everyone can afford to shell out $1000 for a couch right off the bat, heading to Ikea and dropping $250 on a pretty low quality one that won’t last more than 1-2 moves in its lifetime tends to be a wasted investment.

If you’re going to invest in a big ticket item, take your time. Yes, you may be without a couch for a few weeks or even months, but that’s all just part of post-grad life. Save up, find a really incredible deal, and then purchase something you know will last you for many years to come. Repeatedly replacing a $300 couch every 2-3 years is not saving money…don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is.

Decor & Smaller Comforts | This is where you can really get creative on a budget. Stores like HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, World Market, and Ikea have amazing finds for such affordable prices. You don’t need to drop $100 on throw pillows from Pottery Barn. Candles, throw pillows, soft blankets, and some coasters are really all you need to help pull a space together.

Media | Everyone seems to have a different situation when it comes to a TV and Media setup after college, but for the most part this seems to be where hand-me-downs come into play. If your parents have any old TV’s or speakers they no longer use, grab them! If you’re feeling the urge to splurge, wait for a major sale like Cyber Monday to snag one from Costco or Best Buy and score a major discount.

About a month ago, I did a huge post rounding up all of the major kitchen and cooking essentials you need in your first apartment, including a breakdown of which pieces are best to invest in, and which ones are fine to go cheap on. You likely have the basics covered, and all of the incredible time-saving gadgets can gradually find their way into your kitchen over time. There’s no rush!

Start with the basics and work your way to the big stuff. Christmas is a great time to lock in some of those “invest” pieces. (Yes, we are now at the stage of life where Christmas means home decor and kitchenware. You’ll be excited, trust me!) You can find that roundup of kitchen items here in this post

For items non-cooking related, like tables and chairs, you can scoop up amazing finds on Craigslist, at garage or yard sales, antique stores, etc. You just have to be willing to hunt, and maybe slap on a fresh coat of paint!


Mattress/Bed | The only other item I’m going to swear up and down that you need to invest in from the beginning is a good, solid mattress. Not only is this so important for your body and overall comfort, but there isn’t really such thing as a “great” cheap mattress. You don’t need to buy the top of the line, $2000 Tempur-Pedic option, but you should find one that works for you that will last you for a long time…like, a decade.

My parents emphasized this so much that it became a graduation gift for me, and I know I’m going to have it with me well into my 30s. Your mattress might be the biggest commitment you’ve made in life thus far. Like car dealerships, mattress stores have a never-ending stream of huge sales and deals. Wait until the next random holiday (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, President’s Day…all big mattress sales!) and head over to get a big discount. These holiday sales generally mean you get a box spring and bed frame including at no extra cost, too.

One option you can look into is to set up a monthly payment plan. I know that doesn’t sound ideal, but one of my friends set this up and had paid for a really high quality mattress within four or five months of living here in Chicago.

Bedding | This category is one where I’ll say that preference is priority. If you’re on a major budget, you can find perfectly soft and comfortable bedding for cheap at Target, Wal-Mart, or TJ Maxx. If you are feeling a little more spendy, feel free to go nuts and find a really nice sheet set you love – but be warned…bedding tends to be something that you’ll replace sooner than later. You might spill wine on it during a late night Bachelorette viewing party, or just get tired of the colors you chose.

Where did I put my dollars in when it came to bedding? The non-cosmetic aspects…like an awesome foam topper, a feather bed insert, and a comfortable mattress topper. My bed is seriously a cloud, and I am obsessed. I personally care a lot more about what I’m lying on top of than the color of my sheets that year, but like I said – it is all about your personal preference!

*Skipping over the
bathroom because, seriously, what are you trying to invest in there?! Buy
towels that keep you dry and a bath mat that keeps you from falling down. The

I know this doesn’t cover every single apartment purchase you’re going to make, but hopefully it makes a big dent in all of those big-ticket items. If you have any questions or aren’t sure about something, comment below or shoot me an email at prepessentials@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!


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  • Reply
    Evelina Snell
    July 31, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    I work for an estate sale company and I wish more young people knew about estate sales! You can furnish an entire apartment for what you might pay for one piece of furniture retail! First day is usually full price, but second day is at least 1/3 or 1/2 off the asking price. Sign up at estatesales.net, type in how many miles you'll travel from your zip code and you'll get weekly emails with upcoming sales – and the best part is that most companies will post photos of what is being offered at their sale so you can decide if its worth your time to go. Amazing brands of furniture, kitchen everything, books, cleaning supplies, clothing, shoes, purses – all for less than you will find at antique/retail stores. You'll even spend less on upholstered furniture that you have recovered! Another great place to look for bargains are Virtual Yard sale sites through Facebook groups in your area – a great place to buy and sell your unused stuff! If you have any questions, please LMK – happy to answer 🙂 FYI – most of our sales are on the Northshore of Chicago – Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, etc – so you know you'll find great and amazing finds 🙂

  • Reply
    Paige Ladisic
    August 2, 2017 at 3:23 am

    I just moved into my first long-term apartment post-grad and I can't say enough amazing things about AMAZON. I mean, of course, we all know Amazon is amazing… but it has been extra special through this home decorating phase of mine. (Partially because of the 2-day shipping, partially because of the selection.) They have a new brand of bedding that is actually really great – Pinzon, I think it's called? – and I spent $20 on shams that would've cost me $50+ elsewhere and got some great throw pillow covers and throw blankets, too. I also found a desk and a chair that are EXACTLY what I want, for less than what just a desk would've cost me at Target or Wayfair – and the reviews on Amazon are better/Amazon's customer service is way better, if something goes wrong!

    So, I cannot recommend that enough if you are need of something and you have little to no patience to wait for it to arrive 🙂


    • Reply
      Olivia Tennant
      August 2, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      That's such a good tip! I love using my parents' Amazon prime account anytime I'm missing an essential – the same-day shipping feature in Chicago is amazing! You can get so many great finds on there!

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