Decorating Your New Apartment? Here’s How to Be Kind to Your Wallet (and the Planet)

Livable, aesthetically pleasing spaces are important to me. Yes, I used to be able to function in a 10’x10’ college dorm room where decorations consisted of an obligatory tapestry and Christmas lights, but as a “real adult” with a real job living in a real city, I wanted to give my new apartment a bit more character. I wanted to make it into a place that my friends, roommates, and I would actually want to spend time in.

I was so excited to have a blank canvas of a giant (by New York City standards) living room, long hallway, and spacious bedroom to paint a little, fill with artwork and plants, and curate into a real home. Upon actually moving to my new space, however, I was faced with a few challenges: My budget was tight, I wanted to be environmentally conscious, and I have roommates who have their own opinions on space-making.

The beauty of shopping secondhand

I’ve had friends refer to me as a “Goodwill Queen” (a title I proudly accept), but when it came to creating an aesthetic for my new apartment it wasn’t always easy to find pieces in thrift stores that I both needed and were available at the time. Keeping a few secondhand shops in my post-work perusing rotation helped me gather some truly amazing finds (like floating shelves for $10 and a giant, cozy chair that matched my rug for $30). Thrifting is all about patience and checking out multiple locales until you find the piece that you’re really looking for.

My roommates and I also never underestimate the power of our parents’ basements. Some of the best treasures can be found in the places where we started, and I have no shame putting my living room plants on my mom’s retro coffee table from the 70s. Not only is shopping secondhand cost-effective, but also it’s a proactive way to reduce waste and consumption.

Recycling furniture instead of buying it new reduces our environmental footprints and makes us more conscious consumers. Not to mention, used or recycled items are often easier on your wallet. Through Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, I was able to find quality furniture and apartment decorations for minimal cost and saved things from going to the dumpster as their original owners moved out. With the limitless opportunity of the internet, it’s certainly easier to find items you want secondhand than it may be in person.

Making it a community process

I, like many college-debt-ridden millennials, cannot afford to live without roommates at this time in my life. Therefore, when envisioning my ideal living space, I had to consider how they might feel about my obsessive late-night Craigslisting and begging them to come across town with me on the subway to pick up lamps. Lucky for me, my gusto for space-making wasn’t met with opposition (they later told me they didn’t care what their space looked like at all) and they were happy to come along for the ride. I acknowledge that this isn’t always the case, but involving my roommates in my “vision” and calling on them for key missions like furniture recon and accent wall painting allowed us to become closer and feel part of creating the home that we wanted in the end.

Creating your dream apartment isn’t impossible if you don’t have much to work with and, like me, want to live as sustainably as possible. It just requires a bit of creativity, community input, and curiosity.

Originally published April 24, 2019

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