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My First Apartment: How to Shop for a Future Space + What Items to Purchase in Advance

Moving into a new space is one of the most exciting things for someone who loves interiors. At the same time, though, it is overwhelming when there is so much you want to do but don't have the resources to do it all at once.


One way to alleviate this is to make strategic purchases for your future space in advance. That way, when you move in, you at least have some key pieces that make the space feel homey and give you a starting point for the overall design. This concept can work for you if you're living somewhere that you might consider "temporary." For instance, a college student in a dorm room, a young professional living in a first or second apartment, or a new homeowner in a starter home.


Coming out of college, I was so excited to decorate my first apartment. I had been purchasing and saving items for my future space for years before it was actually time to have a place of my own. I attribute it more to my impulsive interior shopping more than any strategic foresight but it really paid off. I also owe some credit to my mom, who never turned me down when I asked for weird things like butter dishes for Christmas while I was in college.

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Photography by Natalie Schram.

By the time I moved to Alabama for my fellowship program, I had collected a lot of random pieces for my apartment. I had also used some college graduation money to purchase some key items at a Bernhardt outlet store, which was a jackpot for quality pieces I still use today.


My first place was a two-bedroom apartment. After living there for two years, my roommate and I moved to another two-bedroom apartment in a different part of the city. Now, I live in a two-bedroom house with my husband that is much larger than either of my previous spaces. Nowhere I've lived has been perfectly furnished or decorated but each place has felt pretty "complete" in that there haven't been huge gaps in needed items. In other words, in every spot you would expect to find furniture or decor, there was furniture or decor. The items did not always perfectly coordinate with one another, but the fact that they were there created a sense of home. And the fact that they were there is because I prepared in advance.

first apartment, apartment decor, decorating, interior design, budget design, DIY design, birmingham alabama, blogger, decorating on a budget, hope chest, saving for decor, young designer, interior design tips, target decor, anthropologie decor, caroline mccroskey, caroline harding, contemporarie, contemporary blog, natalie schram photography, vintage finds, estate sale finds, thrifting
Photography by Thomas Coiner.

So, let's talk about how to do it! Keep reading for answers to the following:

  • Why would I purchase items in advance if I don't know where I'll be living in the future?

  • What items are generally good to purchase in advance?

  • Logistically, how can I save items for my future use?

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Why would I purchase items in advance if I don't know where I'll be living in the future?


This is not a post about "when to splurge and when to save," which will come later. This is a post about tools to decide when it can be a good idea to purchase something you love for a future space, even if you don't know what that space will be.


There are several scenarios where this concept makes sense, but let's start with a situation many twenty-somethings find themselves in:


Let's pretend I am living in a small one-bedroom apartment but have plans to move to a two-bedroom of my own in the next year. I have the basics I need for my current space but will have a totally new room to fill when I move. At this point, I don't know where I'll be moving or what my new space will look like but I do know that it will be bigger than where I currently am. I also know that I don't have any furniture or accessories for this new room. If I were to move right now, it would sit empty for a while and drive me crazy until I could get a few items in there to make it livable. I wouldn't really be able to use the space for a while but also couldn't afford to furnish it all at once.


If I were browsing Facebook marketplace and saw a 5x7 vintage Turkish rug for an incredible price, I could feel good about purchasing it for my future space because...

  1. It is a good deal and I am not feeling pressure to fill the room immediately, so I can make an informed, low-stakes decision about whether or not I want to purchase.

  2. It is a standard size that can be used in a living space, dining space or bedroom.

  3. I like the style of it and know that it will work with my current items or will set the tone for the new items I might want in my future guest room or office. It is not a "hot trend" that I will be tired of in a few months, rather it reflects my personal style and design aspirations.

  4. It can be rolled up and stored in a closet (either mine or someone else's), so it will not get in the way of my current space.

In short, it can be a good idea to purchase items in advance so you're not stuck with an empty, sad space and a large financial burden to try to make it livable all at once. Plus, if you make smart purchasing decisions, you should be able to move many of the items with you to future spaces.


Major caveat: This tactic might not work so well if you're moving across the country and don't want to take a lot with you. It also might not work if you're moving from a spacious apartment to a very small one. Take these tips with a grain of salt and apply them to your situation.

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What items are generally good to purchase in advance?


Items that usually make sense to purchase in advance:

  • Rugs in standard sizes (2x3, 5x7, 8x10) - Rugs of these common sizes will fit in a variety of spaces. A small rug will work in front of a kitchen sink, in a hall bathroom or in front of an entry door. 5x7 and 8x10 rugs will work in living rooms, bedrooms, entryways, offices, dining rooms... pretty much anywhere. For example, one of my 8x10 rugs has moved from an entryway to a living room to a guest bedroom. When purchasing a rug in advance, it makes the most sense to go with a neutral option, especially for a 5x7 or 8x10. If you know your style well enough to go with something bolder, go for it! My family's colorful, vintage rug has moved from a living room to bedroom to office and has worked in each spot as a result of my other coordinating decor.

  • Table lamps - Lamps are not cheap, especially nice ones. If you see a nice lamp in a semi-standard size and know you love it, you should be safe to purchase it in advance. You can use it in pretty much any room and will be very glad to have this expense out of the way when you're moving in.

  • Picture frames - This one is pretty obvious. Picture frames are great fillers for styling and making a space feel like home. Don't go too crazy, otherwise, you'll have several of them in storage until you live in a space with enough surfaces (shelves, bookcases, dressers, side tables) to display them.

  • Small artwork - It is easy to move around small pieces of artwork between rooms, especially neutral ones.

  • Pots for plants - Nice pots add a lot of character to a room. If you're going to invest in a pot in advance, go for a large stand for a tall tree, as these are normally kind of pricey and won't be something you want to spend your money on when you move in.

  • Reasonably-sized bar cart - Bar carts can be used in kitchens (mine used to house my espresso machine and coffee mugs), in dining rooms or living rooms if you're in a small space. They always add a touch of style to the room and are usually small enough to be moved around as needed.

  • Medium-sized mirrors - Every space needs a mirror. I would probably wait on this one unless you find one you can't pass up. In my case, I had my mom save an antique one from a storage unit and I bought another one at 50% off before moving into my apartment.

  • Throw blankets - I wouldn't get more than one or two of these, but a nice gray or cream throw blanket can go pretty much anywhere. People love to get throw blankets for one another so hopefully this will be an easy one to knock off the list.

  • Coffee table books - Always, always, always seek out coffee table books. They're very expensive but very necessary to styling! If you see a good one on sale, get it.

  • Nice candles - There is no need to purchase a lot of candles in advance of having your own space but if you're a few months out from a move, it would be nice to have some candles ready to make your future space feel like home. Candlesticks are another safe purchase to make in advance.

  • Small bookshelf - A narrow, low-profile bookshelf can work in a lot of places. This wouldn't be my first choice in a piece to buy in advance but it could be done if you found the right one at a good price.

  • Accent chair - This one is risky but can be done! Right when I graduated from college, I took some of my graduation money and drove to the Bernhardt outlet store in Asheville, NC. I bought two pink velvet chairs because I couldn't pass them up! Their size was perfect for a small living room and their shape was versatile enough to be used in a bedroom or office as well, which is where they ended up in my future apartments/homes.

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Items that usually do not make sense to purchase in advance:

  • Coffee table - At least in my experience, I've had to get a new coffee table everywhere I've moved to. The size, shape and material depends greatly on the size of the room, the height of the couch, etc.

  • Couch - Save this until you know where you'll be living. It is not worth it to make this large purchase in advance when there are tons of great options online and on secondhand marketplaces.

  • Dining room furniture - Especially when it comes to apartments, dining room furniture is a total gamble. My first two apartments barely had room for my Ikea table, which I sold once I moved into a house with an actual dining room.

  • Trendy or bold items unless you know yourself and your design style really well - Save these purchases until you're in your space and have a specific spot for them.

  • Large storage cabinets - As with any large piece, you never know if you'll have the room for it. Plus, it would be a hassle to store or transport.

  • Rugs of strange sizes or shapes - Stick to the sizes that are most common and save any specialty rugs for purchases once you know where you'll be.

  • Large pieces of artwork - It can be done but is risky. If you find a piece that is too good to pass up, just know that you might have to let it sit for a while if you don't have the specific spot for it.

  • Bed/headboard - You will probably be safe with a queen but it is usually best to wait and see what makes sense for your space.

  • Curtains/curtain rods - Always, always wait on this. Curtains are too important to get wrong!

first apartment, apartment decor, decorating, interior design, budget design, DIY design, birmingham alabama, blogger, decorating on a budget, hope chest, saving for decor, young designer, interior design tips, target decor, anthropologie decor, caroline mccroskey, caroline harding, contemporarie, contemporary blog, natalie schram photography, vintage finds, estate sale finds, thrifting
Photography by Thomas Coiner.
first apartment, apartment decor, decorating, interior design, budget design, DIY design, birmingham alabama, blogger, decorating on a budget, hope chest, saving for decor, young designer, interior design tips, target decor, anthropologie decor, caroline mccroskey, caroline harding, contemporarie, contemporary blog, natalie schram photography, vintage finds, estate sale finds, thrifting
Photography by Thomas Coiner.
first apartment, apartment decor, decorating, interior design, budget design, DIY design, birmingham alabama, blogger, decorating on a budget, hope chest, saving for decor, young designer, interior design tips, target decor, anthropologie decor, caroline mccroskey, caroline harding, contemporarie, contemporary blog, natalie schram photography, vintage finds, estate sale finds, thrifting
Photography by Thomas Coiner.

Logistically, how can I save items for my future use?


Here is what you need to make this happen:

  1. The space - A closet or storage space you can keep at someone else's house for a while. For most people, this will probably be a closet at a relative's house. If you happen to have an extra closet or storage space yourself, you can start a "future" pile there.

  2. The resources - A small amount of disposable income for your "future home" fund or friends/family who buy you birthday or holiday gifts and are open to suggestions.

  3. The mindset - A general understanding that trending items are not to be purchased years in advance. Awareness of the basic items that are needed for every home or space. Knowledge of one's own personal style to the extent that you know what you'll likely still find usable in 1-2 years.

first apartment, apartment decor, decorating, interior design, budget design, DIY design, birmingham alabama, blogger, decorating on a budget, hope chest, saving for decor, young designer, interior design tips, target decor, anthropologie decor, caroline mccroskey, caroline harding, contemporarie, contemporary blog, natalie schram photography, vintage finds, estate sale finds, thrifting
Photography by Natalie Schram.
first apartment, apartment decor, decorating, interior design, budget design, DIY design, birmingham alabama, blogger, decorating on a budget, hope chest, saving for decor, young designer, interior design tips, target decor, anthropologie decor, caroline mccroskey, caroline harding, contemporarie, contemporary blog, natalie schram photography, vintage finds, estate sale finds, thrifting
Photography by Natalie Schram.

Thanks for reading! Now tell me: Did you find this helpful? How has your saving and decorating experience been? Do you have any tips or tricks that have helped you?