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Decorating Your First Apartment On a Shoestring Budget

Updated on May 2, 2013

If there's one thing that college kids or freshly graduated 20-somethings don't have much of, it's money. But there's something a little magical about moving into your first apartment out of college. Finally, you're an adult. Finally, you can do whatever you want all day and all night, and you have this living space that's all your own and no one besides your roommates (if you have them) can tell you how to decorate it. For the first time in your life, you don't live in a too-small dorm with a random stranger as your roommate (well, at least, hopefully you don't). Your possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, your budget is anything but. Even doing something like painting can be too cost-prohibitive, even if your landlord lets you—a lot don't. Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can personalize your home without breaking the bank.

Start Small

Naturally, when you first move in, you'll probably have a ton of ideas of what you want the apartment to look like. This is great, but it's generally not feasible to implement all the décor work upfront. Instead, make a list of the various things you want to do with the place, then tackle each thing on the list in order of importance. This way, you can choose to do a lot of little things at once, save up to purchase more expensive décor items less frequently, or a mixture of both, which is what most people decide to do.

Use Large Tapestries

Painting is not only costly, but you lose all the money you invested when you move. You'll likely have to paint the walls back to white when you leave, too, which means you'll spend twice the money and have nothing to show for it when you move to another apartment. Instead, using large tapestries to cover big empty walls is a quick and easy way to change the way the apartment looks without losing a lot of money—gallons of paint can be as much as $40 each, and you'll need at least two gallons per room, generally speaking. With tapestries, not only are they often less expensive to purchase and take less time to put up than paint, but you can also take them down if they fall out of favor, change them, and bring them with you to multiple apartments. It's a way of covering a large amount of blank wall without spending a lot of money or having to invest a weekend to paint.

Choose Nonpermanent Décor

Another great way to express your taste when you're on a really limited budget is by adding color to the boring beige theme of your apartment by choosing sheets and table linens with either unique patterns or colors you like. One benefit of this is that again, like tapestries, sheets and table cloths aren't permanent. You can pick a pattern or a set of colors and get linens in a variety of shades from the same color family. This is great for when seasons change, since it's easy to get sick of, say, icy blue-gray linens when it's 70 and sunny outside. Likewise, bright springtime colors feel out of place in autumn months. You can easily and quickly change things like linens without breaking the bank, simply by storing and rotating your other set while using the seasonal-appropriate ones.

Get Creative

If you're really having trouble finding ways to decorate your apartment without dropping a lot of money, there are a couple of things you can do. If you have any sort of artistic inclination, you could make paintings to hang on the wall—they'll always be significantly less expensive than posters are. You can also buy a few plants and place them around the apartment. Live plants make the house look a bit fresher, and take very little maintenance. You can also use accent linens if you go this route. For example, instead of using a full tablecloth, you can pick your favorite color and use a table runner underneath a few potted plants across your kitchen table. Websites like Pinterest have plenty of ideas for ways to creatively and inexpensively decorate your apartment, too. I know I've found plenty of great ideas on there—perhaps too many for my house!

Once you've spent the time getting your apartment to look just right, keep it looking great by regularly cleaning the place, especially if you live in a small space. Smaller apartments—like nearly everyone's first apartments—have a tendency to look cluttered even when just a few things are out of place. You don't want to have wasted your time getting everything to look great only to have it ruined by leaving laundry out or having unwashed dishes in the sink.


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      My first dwelling was as a newlywed to a soldier. Our lamp tables were empty ammo boxes. Now I have so much stuff I've furnished all three of my kids first apartments. You seem to go from famine to feast overnight! Interesting and UP!

      NOTE: My sister just did the cutest thing: she made a bookcase out of a folding ladder by balancing boards on each one of the steps. How easy is that?

    • idigwebsites profile image

      idigwebsites 4 years ago from United States

      Wow! Nice ideas.. I'm gonna share it to my few friends who will be moving out on their own for the first time. This hub will help them tremendously so that they won't grope much on how spruce up their new space. Up and useful. :)