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Your Essential Guide for Decorating your First Apartment on a Budget

Updated: Jun 25, 2022

Moving into your first apartment is one of the many steps in young adulthood. It’s not just a bedroom you rent or a house you share with four other people, but your first apartment is your own special space. No roommates, no partners, just you and however many square feet your paycheck can afford.

I’ll admit it myself, I’ve been there. Even though I’m an Interior Designer, when I moved into my first apartment, I wasn’t able to afford everything at once, and had to piece-meal my space slowly overtime.

Back in college, I lived by myself as well, which meant I didn’t have the luxury of splitting items with roommates. IKEA, thrift stores, and my parents hand me-downs all helped in saving me a little money, but when I graduated and moved to Seattle, I found that a lot of these items screamed ‘cheap college crap’ or just didn’t match. I’m a young adult, and I didn’t want my first place to be a tribute to teenage bedspread and memento of my mother’s tupperware from the 70s.

I was able to sell and donate my plastic measuring cups, purple plastic waste bin, IKEA coffee table, and other house items, but it does speak to the over-consumption problems we have in our society. Granted these items (like the horribly uncomfortable yet cheap futon sofa) served a purpose, but as I became more educated on design and sustainability, I realized that these items that are cheap in price are typically cheap in quality, and they only live for a short while in homes (due to the item breaking or people upgrading for something of better quality). Those unwanted items then end up in landfills, and oceans, and add to the ever increasing waste problem our society has.

So a series of events led me to my first apartment in Seattle with an assortment of things missing to live in said space. Knowing the error of my ways from college, I wanted to have a space that was well-designed but also would be consciously created to reduce my environmental impact. Oh and still be something my paycheck could manage…

So instead of playing the constant upgrade game, I found that you can create a well-designed space on a budget and then slowly add to your decor as you’re able to afford more. It extends the lifespan of your items, knowing you’re investing in something of good quality that will last for years.

Here’s my random yet essential item list of things to invest in when first moving into your own space.


Good Quality Mattress & Bedding

A major transformation for a bedroom is simply investing in a good quality mattress and bedding. Holistically, sleep is a cornerstone of good health, improving our moods and restoring our physical bodies, so not only is this item important for design, but your overall well-being.

I’d suggest a memory foam mattress. While mattresses can be pretty pricey, remember that you do spend 8+ hours of your day on it, so make sure it’s a quality investment. Memory foam toppers can work as a substitute while you save up for this item, but I’d say it’s worth the $$.

Along with a good bed, bedding is also important. Those Target sheet sets with the cutesy arrows may have done the job in college, but as a working professional, they just say kitschy…..actually they always did, but hey when you’re 18 and you’re transitioning from living at home to being more independent, some printed shams just blend that line.

A solid sheet set really sets your bedroom apart from those college dorm days. I prefer white, because it acts as a neutral base for the rest of my decor in my bedroom. It also means I won’t get tired of it, so it extends the life of this item.

Invest in a good quality one, with high-thread counts and made from organic and natural materials. Even if you get a solid sheet set from a department store like Target, you can really feel the different in the quality, especially the materials.

Seattle Holistic Designer
You can still make no bed frame cute!

Tip: Spent all your money on a good mattress and can’t afford a bed frame? No worries. Floor beds are super trendy right now and help create a boho vibe with minimal effort. Use pallets as a makeshift bed platform and a wine crate or step ladder for a boho chic nightstand.

A Statement Arm Chair

Before even getting a good sofa, I’d say get a good arm chair. Why? Because if you’re living in your first place by yourself, you probably won’t have super strong need for a sofa. Yes, they are good for having company over, but if it’s just you, why not get a seat that’s just for you?

An arm chair acts like your own personal throne. It’s where you can sit in the mornings and sip coffee, or lounge about in the evenings reading a book. It’s your own special seat when you do have guests over (so have them cram on the couch).

Plus if this is your first place, you don’t know how long you’ll be living in it. Sofas are a PAIN to move, plus they may not work in your new space (especially sectionals), so instead of investing in one that you might end up selling a year or two later, get an arm chair that is easier to move and arrange in multiple spaces.

Holistic Interior Designer Seattle
You got to treat yourself first!

Tip: Since this is your personal chair, go for something that makes a statement. A wingback chair or mid century lounger adds some pizzazz to a drab space. Don’t forget a fun pillow for that extra pop.

A Set of White Dishes

Just like a set of white sheets, white dishes say ‘Hey, I’m an adult now. I can’t have dinner parties on a set of my grandma’s corolla dishes with the baby blue floral border‘. White dishes are great because they turn everyday meals into beautiful creations, and in a world where we Instagram our food, it’s a nice backdrop for the main dish.

But actually, more than just turning every meal into a photo upload, white dishes a must. They work with any tabletop decor, so if you’re someone that wants to host dinner parties, brunches, and holiday meals, white dishes work in all scenarios. Even better is that you don’t need to break the bank. IKEA and thrift store shopping is a great way to go about this route.

Holistic Designer Seattle
White Dishes make food styling a breeze

Tip: Compliment those white dishes with some simple glasses and drink ware. Mason jars are practical for drinks and storing bulk dry goods. Hit up your local thrift store and mix and match for a funky yet stylish look.

White Towels

Just like a white set of dishes (and linens), a white set of towels is a timeless and classic addition to any bathroom, making the space feel fresh, clean, and bright. Invest for some nice turkish towels or 100% cotton. Do the same for your shower curtain too. Remember, most bathrooms are tiny so a lot of color or pattern will make the space even smaller and busier.

Holistic Interior Designer Seattle
Keep this clean in your bathroom decor

Tip: Tassels, fringe, and bands help to add personal touches to this solid and standard bathroom staple.

Wooden Utensils

I’m a sucker for bamboo spoons and spatulas. They don’t burn, can be put in the dishwasher, and are eco-friendly as opposed to cheap plastic or silicone. You can hit up you local thrift store. Typically you can find some good wooden utensils for a couple of bucks.

Seattle Holistic Designer
Wooden spools are eco friendly decor

Tip: Don’t bother to hunt down matching woods. A mixture of different colors and spices creates a beautiful utensil bouquet.

Plants + Candles

Instead of filling your space with decor that is just a filler and doesn’t spark joy or serve a purpose, a potted house plant and a soy candle will do wonders in occupying a side table.   These are practical pieces that help to give those shelves and tabletops some life when you first get a place and don’t have any decor yet.

Holistic Interior Designer Seattle
Plants offer great health benefits too

Tip: Fill a space by scattering your plants in groupings or create a feature DIY plant display by clustering your plants all in one area. For good quality and sustainable candles, check out my post on the best places for eco-friendly candles.

So there you go. Starting off with those basic items, you’re able to tailor your space to your own personal design. First you gotta have a strong foundation, and overtime your space will morph into your own personal style.

For more tips and tricks, check out my Interior page, where I talk about space saving solutions, DIY projects, and other apartment related topics.


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