ecorating your first apartment is a lot different from choosing a paint color for your childhood bedroom or putting up the perfect posters in your dorm room--you need furniture, kitchen supplies, and a way to make yourself feel at home throughout. 

For some people decorating an apartment is a dream come true and for others it’s a daunting task. Whether you’re dreading decorating or have been spending your whole life watching HGTV for open concept inspiration, here are some tips for making your experience a good one. 

  • Lists, lists, lists
  • Design yourself a happy place
  • Furniture buying 101
A decorative ceiling light making an apartment room feel bigger and brighter.
Using strategic lighting while decorating can make your apartment feel bigger and brighter.

Lists, Lists, Lists

Figure Out What You Need in Your First Apartment

It’s hard to think of everything you need for your apartment off the top of your head--if you buy furniture, supplies, and decorations for your apartment by walking around the store and grabbing anything that seems good you’ll end up without things you need and probably spend a lot more than you would have otherwise.

A quick search gives you lots of premade lists like this one to get you started figuring out what you need. Using a premade list as a starting point helps remember important stuff that you may not think of right away, like a toilet plunger or a dish rack. 


From there make a list that works for you. Putting things you already have on the list is good for keeping track of everything you need to move and getting yourself as organized as possible. You can also sort your list based on where or when you’re going to buy the different items on it. 

If you’re sharing your apartment with roommates, consider making your list on a shareable document so everyone can contribute. Collaboration is key so you don’t end up with 3 keurigs and no kitchen table. 

A bright, cozy bedroom with a plant in the window.
You might not know what style you want for your apartment yet. Look around and see what you like so you end up with an apartment you enjoy living in. 

Make Your First Apartment a Happy Place

Find Inspiration

You can get decorating inspiration from plenty of amazing bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms, but make sure you’re using your own style too. You want to make a living space you and your roommates will truly enjoy. 


Light is key for bringing happiness into your apartment. Depending on how many windows you have and where your apartment is located, your apartment could end up being pretty dark. Adding just the right lighting can make your living space feel brighter, bigger, and happier.

Your lighting options might feel limited in a small apartment but there are tips for getting the best lighting in your apartment:

  • Ceiling fixtures - Use an eye catching ceiling fixture to decorate and make a room feel bigger. Keep in mind that ceiling fixtures only brighten up a room with the help of other lighting and if you’re renting you need to check with your landlord about what you’re allowed to do.
  • Lampshades - A lighter lampshade, or no lampshade at all, brings much more light into the room than a dark one. 
  • Incandescent bulbs - These bulbs emit a soft yellow light which is good for relaxation. You can control not only how much light but also what kind of light you have in your apartment.
  • Task lighting - Make sure you have adequate lighting in the places you’ll be reading, cooking, working, or doing anything else that needs light. 
  • Floor lamps - Vertical floor lamps are great for adding light in rooms without much space. Stick a floor lamp in the corner or behind the sofa to add light and not take up room. 
  • Mirrors - Placing mirrors on your walls tricks the eye into thinking the room is bigger and putting them strategically opposite windows can make it feel as though you have way more windows and increase the brightness in a room. 

Bring in Some Life

It’s a great idea to have some plants in your apartment because houseplants are good for your health. Having plants in a living space has been proven to make people calmer and happier. How? It’s science! 

While we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, plants do the opposite--plants literally give you fresh air to breath. They also remove toxins from the air and regulate humidity, improving your air quality and overall environment.

Indoor plants tend to make people more relaxed, more productive, and happier. No green thumb? Better Homes and Gardens lists and describes 23 of the easiest houseplants to grow. If you want to bring even more green in your living space, check out Apartment Gardening 101.

Repurpose Old Decorations

If you really love the picture by your bed at home or the souvenirs that you’ve had on your desk for years, keep them! Your first apartment is a big step but it doesn’t mean you need to leave behind everything else. 

The point is to include the things that make you smile in your living space. Don’t feel pressure to redefine your style or replace everything you own--keep what makes you happy and help guarantee your first apartment will make you happy too.

A woman surrounded by plants works on her laptop in her apartment.
Having plants in your apartment improves the air quality and can make your living space a calm and happy one.  

Furniture Buying 101

Choose the Right Furniture for Your First Apartment

Unless your apartment is already furnished, you’re probably buying an apartment’s worth of furniture for the first time. With the right preparation, you’ll be able to invest in furniture that works for your first apartment and goes with you through your future apartments. 

Think About Your Next Apartment

Your first apartment is probably not the apartment you’ll be in for the rest of your life. With this in mind, try not to furnish your first apartment with the biggest and heaviest furniture you can find. Pretty much everything you move into your first apartment you will need to move out of there at some point. 

Although with some items weight will be unavoidable, you can do your research to limit how much of your furniture will be back breaking to move up stairs and squeeze through your doorway. If you’re buying online, check the weight and dimensions of everything you purchase. If you’re in the store it’s easy to see how much something ways and figure out how you’ll move it--see if it comes apart, folds up, or does anything else that will make it easier to move. 

Remember Style and Function

Liking how a piece of furniture looks is only part of the criteria in determining what to buy (or “borrow” from your parent’s garage). These are the chairs you’ll be sitting on everyday and the table you’ll use for working on your laptop--they need to serve their purpose well. 

Try stuff out before you buy it or try to find online retailers that allow returns. You want your apartment to look great and suit your style but you also need to live there comfortably. Some things you should check before committing to a piece of furniture:

  • Comfort - This is an obvious one. We’ve all experienced chairs at a restaurant or event that look great but you can’t sit in them for more than 5 minutes without your butt falling asleep or your back aching. That is not what you want from the furniture in your apartment.
  • Table and chair height - For items like tables and desks you need to make sure your chairs are the correct height. A little too short or a little too tall makes the combination at least frustrating and at worst unusable. Try these things together if you can and if not, measure the height at which you’re comfortable and go from there.  
  • Drawers and hinges - This is especially important if you’re buying used furniture. Try all the drawers, lids, and doors before you buy so you don’t get stuck with a sticky drawer that won’t budge or a broken latch. 
  • Cleaning - It’s better to know how to clean a piece of furniture before the first time there’s a spill. Do those cushions have removable covers? Can you use soap on that coffee table? Can that area rug go through the washing machine? Figure out how easy or difficult it will be to clean your furniture before you buy it. 

Look for Affordable Options

There’s no need to break the bank to furnish your first apartment, but at the same time you want and need quality furniture. Having furniture that will last you many years is ideal, but at the least you definitely don’t want to be replacing cheap broken furniture over and over.

Used furniture stores are a great place to start. You’ll have to shop around and try things before you buy them, just like when you’re thrift shopping for clothing, but you can find great functional pieces of furniture at much lower prices. Buying used is good for your budget and the planet--reduce, reuse, recycle!

Sometimes used stores don’t have what you need. There are also lots of new furniture stores that sell affordable apartment furniture both in person and online. 

A man and woman sit comfortably in chairs in their apartment.
Find furniture that fits your style and will be functional and comfortable in your first (and next) apartment. 

By figuring out ahead of time what you need, organizing, and communicating with roommates you can make decorating your first apartment a lot easier. Include lighting, plant life, the perfect furniture and things that make you smile to turn your first apartment into a happy, comfortable, and functional living space you won’t want to leave.  

Jun 24, 2020