My husband has cystic fibrosis. Long story short: shit hit the fan, they don’t do lung transplants where we live in Albuquerque, and, with maybe one day’s notice, we were flown via air ambulance to Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California.
I was allowed a single carry-on bag for both of us. We lived out of that bag for two weeks. I was sleeping on a cot in his hospital room most of the time, until Eirik recovered enough to get discharged from the hospital to wait for his new pair of lungs.
Now the fun part. The average wait time for lungs is six months, and you can’t be more than a few hours away. So I needed to find us a place to live and wait, close to Stanford Hospital, on the cheap. And I mean cheap — we were already pinching pennies and fundraising to pay for his medical expenses.
In case you are not aware, the Bay Area is not a place to do anything on the cheap.
With some luck and some help, I found an apartment we could “afford” relatively quickly… but it was unfurnished. A furnished apartment was going to cost an additional $1500 a month, so, nope, that wasn’t an option. I thought about third-party furniture rental, but that was going to be about $500 a month on top of the rent. After two weeks of living in a hospital I was looking for the easiest option, but medical expenses and living expenses were adding up fast. Sensing my concern — or maybe just looking at our finances — the apartment leasing agent just looked me in the eye and said, “You know, you could furnish an apartment at IKEA for way cheaper than $500 a month.” And she was right.
The night before my husband was discharged, I spent four hours in an IKEA, and I got everything I needed. It was madness, but I’m still happy with the decision I made.
- Everything was delivered to my apartment for relatively cheap: $100.
- Putting together the furniture was oddly therapeutic.
- All of this furniture can be sold and/or taken home. More value than renting furniture!
- My intense bed bug paranoia and germ phobia were slightly abated that all this stuff was new.
- I had to go back to IKEA to pick up a missing piece and straighten out a mix-up with a back-ordered product.
- The first week I was completely overwhelmed by it all.
- Could it be done cheaper with garage finds and thrift stores and some hardcore cleaning? Maybe. But I wanted my husband “home” and comfortable as soon as possible.
What I bought and hacks around the obvious choices:
First, I suggest shopping online. Start making a list. Then, once you get to the store, try to find what’s most comfortable of the cheapest choices you made online. And save yourself some grief and go at an off-time — for example, on a Wednesday night like I did. Remember to eat at the IKEA cafeteria too! Four hours alone shopping in an IKEA can easily break you; you need to stay strong!
- Here’s a fantastically cheap living room table. And you know what else it works for? TV stand! Don’t spend an extra $20 on a table just because they call it a TV stand.
- I bought a futon so that we could have visitors crash in our apartment. This one turned out to be more comfortable than the original one I liked online, so it’s a testament to trying things out for yourself.
- I also bought this chair for the living room, because I love this chair.
- Ignore all the tables labeled “dining table.” They cost hundreds more. Go straight for these tables. I got a long one, so we use one end as a dining table and the other end as my desk for telecommuting.
- And pick out some cheap chairs. I picked these, but they took time and a wrench. I probably would have been better off getting folding chairs elsewhere.
- Lay on some mattresses and pick the one you’ll hate the least. I opted for a nicer frame, since this isn’t something we have at home, so I thought it would be nice to keep afterward.
- Cheapest dressers to use as nightstands and for storage are these guys.
- I got the cheapest desk I could find. My husband’s a writer — we couldn’t do without that!
- I upgraded his office chair a bit; he was going to spend a lot of time there and he was getting a damn lung transplant.
Other basic household things to remember:
When shopping for the little stuff, be ready to dig. IKEA tends to put the cheaper options out of view.
- A set of dishes
- A couple kitchen towels
- Kitchen knives and utensils
- A baking sheet
- Basic set of pans
- Glass baking pan
- Mixing bowl
- Kitchen trash can
- Basic floor lamp
- Broom and dustpan
- Pick up the sale towels. My suggestion: don’t pick red! Bleeding color is not a problem you want to deal with in your laundry trips.
- Don’t forget the sheets and pillows… like I did. Revel in the freedom of picking any color you so choose! (That was actually the most fun part. I didn’t care if anything matched. Just whatever was cheap.)
Remember to check out IKEA’s “As Is” section. $1 surge protectors and hammers? Yes, please. I have a lot of furniture to put together.
There are definitely a couple of odds and ends you may need to pick up after your first four-hour trip, but this is a solid start to feeling like you live in your apartment.