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Decorating Your First Apartment on a Budget

Everybody has a “first apartment” story. For many people, that first apartment comes in your early twenties, after a year or two in college dorms. For some people, it comes earlier or later. But there are some things about the experience that are universal no matter what.

For instance, there are more boxes and more paperwork than most people realize. It’s also inevitable that you’ll want to decorate your space and make it your own, only to run up against budget constraints. Here’s how you can decorate your first apartment without losing either your mind or your meager savings account.

Use photos liberally

Maybe your parents had photos of the family scattered throughout the house in nice wooden frames. But most people born in the 90s or later have all their photos stored on their phones, tablets, or laptops. Digital storage takes up a lot less space and is a lot more convenient.

But on the other hand, you look at your phone enough already. When you bring guests over, you’ll want to do more than just say, “Here’s some pics of my family and friends on my phone.” Hanging up photos can still be a comforting way to remind yourself where, exactly, you came from. You may not want to move back to your hometown, and that’s fine, but you still have people there who love you.

Photos are also a great way to document some of your college adventures. Memories of things like sorority formals and your band’s first gig will fade, but high-quality photos won’t. But if framed photos like your parents had feels a little boring (not to mention expensive), you’ve got options. Take a look at cheap canvas printing. It’s easier than going to the local craft shop with your photos, as you can order rolled canvas prints from your apartment’s Wi-Fi connection.

If you want frames, you can snag them online for much cheaper than you might think. You can even upload the photos from your Facebook and Instagram accounts. And since these are high-quality photos, you’ll be able to take them with you after you graduate college and pack up your small apartment for something bigger.

Hit the thrift shops

Thrift shops have always done pretty well for themselves, but right now, they’re doing even better. For that you can thank the Marie Kondo effect. People are looking at books, clothes, appliances, furniture, and other items that don’t “spark joy”, and they’re deciding to take them to the local Goodwill or Value Village. But just because they don’t spark joy for them doesn’t mean they won’t spark joy for some lucky college students who are trying to decorate and furnish their first apartment.

It’s best not to visit the thrift shops alone. Find a friend who has a pickup truck or SUV and bribe them to take you. Chances are, you’re going to find a lot of stuff to haul back. Some thrift stores will pick up donations, but it’s rare that they’ll deliver furniture to your house. They just want someone to take it off their hands with as little fuss as possible.

You can find artwork, sculptures, knick knacks, and just about everything else imaginable. If you need a corner lamp for those late night study sessions, you can probably find it at a thrift shop. If you’re lucky, you might also find a sturdy desk for your bedroom as well. Some of the stuff you’ll buy at a thrift store is durable and could last for years, while other items might not make it through the duration of your lease. But there’s no denying the price is right.