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I’m moving to my first grown-up apartment without roommates. I finally make enough money to buy myself some nice things. What do I need to buy?
First of all, forget everything you learned about home decor from living in a dorm or in that shitty house you shared with three other dudes for two years after college. Also, go ahead and toss those Led Zeppelin posters everyone had on their dorm wall. You may have also spent the last few years using hand-me-down plates, but now’s a good time to throw all the kid stuff in the garbage and upgrade.
The basics aren’t hard, so we’ll leave them out of this. If you’re grown enough to live on your own, you don’t need me to tell you to get a bed to sleep on, a couch to sit on, or a dining table to eat your adult meals on. Yes, you need to be able to sit somewhere to eat that isn’t the couch. C’mon. (Yes, I understand money doesn’t grow on trees, and you might be living on your couch for a while, but eventually, a dinner table is a necessity.) What I’m here for is everything else: It’s always the things you don’t think immediately think of that might throw you.
You have to have plates and silverware and glasses. (Paper plates and red Solo cups should only come out for house parties and barbecues.) Make sure to have enough settings of dinnerware for at least four people. Additionally, if you ever plan to cook—or invite a lady over and pretend you can cook—you have to have a few essentials. As far as kitchen basics are concerned, you need at least one good pot (I recommend All Clad or Le Crueset if you have money to spend, or Lodge Logic if you’re going cheap), and a good skillet. Go with a 4- or 5-quart pot, and around a 10-inch skillet. If you have a budget for more than just the basics, I’d recommend adding a smaller 1- or 2-quart pot, a wok, and a larger dutch oven (a big pot, not the thing where you fart and trap someone under the covers) that’s also oven-safe and is good for roasting a chicken or making a casserole, and a lot of things in the middle of that spectrum. While you’re at it, get a cookie sheet, because you can use that for a lot of different things you’re gonna cook in your oven (ie. like pizzas or chicken or whatever).
The other thing that’s absolutely essential for your kitchen is a good knife. A 7- or 8-inch chef’s knife should put you in business, for now. (You can always specialize further if you plan to cook more.) As far as other must-have essentials, get a wooden spoon and a spatula, and beyond that, there are some miscellaneous cook’s tools that are good to have on hand: a wisk, a colander, a garlic press, and a cheese grater. After that, you’re pretty much set for making yourself full meals of food.
By the way: If you are absolutely clueless when it comes to kitchen stuff, go in person to a Crate and Barrel or Sur Le Table store and ask questions, just so long as you’re not the type to let a salesperson con you into buying an ice-cream maker or one-off appliance you really don’t need. I personally hate IKEA because going there gives me hives, but I’ll mention it anyway because you can get most of what you need in one fell swoop. There’s also Amazon, which I frequently use to buy everything from cast-iron skillets to toilet paper.
A note on linens (these are your sheets and towels): If you’ve been using the same ones for a few years, moving is a good opportunity to get new ones. Get a comforter for that bed of yours, too, so people aren’t just looking at the sheets you slept on when they come over. I like down comforters, but get whatever suits your sleeping habits and will last a long time. If you have no idea what you’re doing, get online and check out consumer reviews and so forth. Sometimes something looks like a comforter, but it’s just a duvet. Read the fine print. It’s not a big deal, but the duvet is just a cover for the comforter, kind of like a glorified pillowcase. (Having these things will force you to make your bed, too, which you should be doing regularly now that you’re not an insolent teen.) Oh, and you need hand towels, unless you want your guests to dry their hands on the same thing you dry your naked body with. You should also grab a couple of other things: kitchen towels for drying your dishes, another set of dish towels for cleaning the counter, and if you think you’re going to be having house guests at some point, an extra set of bath towels.
With decor, the devil is really in the details. Your home is a reflection of who you are as a person once you live alone. This is not your mom’s house, so you don’t need the kinds of pillows with tassels on them that she doesn’t let you put your head on. Get things you like: little things that show off your personality, or something that someone will want to ask you about. Rugs, pillows, and other such accents add personality to your place—ideally, they add your personality.
Speaking of rugs, if you have wooden floors, an area rug will make your place a little cozier. Pillows! They aren’t just for your bed, friend. Get some throw pillows for that new couch of yours, and if the phrase “throw pillow” scares you, just type it into Amazon and go from there. Actually, that is a good tip for a lot of this stuff: If you don’t know what an area rug is, type in “area rug” into your favorite online retailer, and you’ll see all kinds of results. (Reminder: It’s important to measure the room you’re putting this stuff in, so the rug you buy isn’t too big or small. I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to forget.)
The art you put on your walls is the simplest way to show your personality in your living space. For me, I don’t really buy souvenirs when I travel, but I do like to buy art. And I don’t mean the expensive stuff, necessarily. You could get a print or something if you’re in New York visiting the Met or whatever, frame it, and put it on the wall, and there you go. Conversation piece!
I’m also a big fan of photos. You can order prints on sites like Shutterfly, and put them in frames, so people know you have friends and a family and aren’t a serial killer. Really though, it’s nice to have those things around. Don’t skimp on the presentation of the art you’ve selected, by the way: Framing is important. It’s one of those details that make your place look finished. If you buy an inexpensive poster and put it in a frame, it’s going to look much nicer.
You may be wondering where you get all this stuff. Besides the places I mentioned before, here’s a quick rundown of what to get where:
- World Market: Inexpensive furniture, throws, pillows
- Target: Random household items, cheap furniture, appliances
- West Elm: Lamps, linens, accents, expensive furniture, more expensive decor
- IKEA: Cook’s tools, cheap furniture, bookcases with names you can’t pronounce, wall decor
- Amazon: Everything from cast-iron skillets to toilet paper
Pay attention to sales. All of this stuff will go on sale at some point. Sales are cyclical, too, so you’re best served after Christmas and during the “Back to School” season. I rarely buy something full price unless I’m in a bind, or if I really think the item is going to sell out and not actually make it to sale. Otherwise, sales are usually full of great things you will actually use. (My sheets and towels, for example, came from a West Elm clearance sale.)
This stuff takes planning. Make yourself a list! If you’re worried about budgeting, prioritize what you need to buy. You don’t have to furnish and decorate your brand new place all at once; it’s okay to do it over time! If you’re scared to walk into a West Elm because you didn’t even know existed until now, that’s cool, too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Salespeople are there to help. Your apartment isn’t going to come together all at once. But if you take care to make your place look good, even if it happens over a few months, it’ll be worth it in the end. Hey, no self-respecting adult wants to take a nice lady back to a glorified dorm room.
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Illustration by Tara Jacoby.