The unexpected essentials for moving into your first apartment

Guest post by Tori
First Apartment Doormat from Etsy seller LilahGraceDesigns
I’m moving from my very first home (that I’ve lived in with my parents for years and years) into a new, shared apartment with my fiancé. Neither of us are moving experts.

What are the things we need to have or buy to be prepared for the first few weeks of moving into your first apartment? -Kay

Most of that is my experience as a young (and broke) kid, freshly moved out of my parents place (with generally only the clothes on my back, and a couple of books I had brought with me). So I’m going to list a few “essentials” (some of them may seem weird) for the first few weeks. You will probably need these asap, and everything else can come afterwards…

A can opener
Because if you move and you don’t have a fridge you may indeed be having a lot of canned food at first.)

A toaster oven
I would say microwave but some places have them built in and others don’t. But a toaster oven is always a surefire thing that you can use for a number of different things — perfect for PB&J, toast, and you can make hash browns and warm soup, etc.)

Plastic/paper cups, plates, and utensils
Honestly you can buy these right when you move in. If your place needs work or you haven’t figured out a theme, if you want one, then this is what I recommend.

A bag or box for garbage
Okay, I just used a leftover box from unpacking stuff for the first… eh, maybe three months. You don’t need a trash can right off usually and why use bags when you have PLENTY of boxes available right? Right.

Something to sleep on and blankets
It can be a mattress, a blow up bed, a futon that your friends lend you till you buy a bed, a stack of pillows… Whatever it is that means you can sleep and feel somewhat comfortable. Buying a bed beforehand is a baaaaaad idea because you never know the parameters of a room (weird notches, low ceilings, etc) until you’re inside of it.

Bug/critter traps
I recommend this for ANY house. You don’t usually know what it does or doesn’t have crawling around inside of it, and NOTHING is more freakout inspiring than waking up to roaches, ants, spiders, mice, rats, snakes, whatever. Get a few traps as a precaution, and set them up right away in out-of-the-way places, and check regularly. If you don’t have anything — GOOD. If you do, well now you KNOW and you already have precautions set up and you can start with a solution.

Board games
Assuming that you have no internet, tv, table, seats, or whatever you are going to want entertainment! Right? Well sure, there are books, but if you want to interact with your loved ones, awesome memories are formed on the floor — eating toaster-oven-steamed veggies with cheese melted over them in a plastic bowl, and playing Clue. I kid you not — floor picnics and board games are the shizzaz. Oh, and you can totally make your own too. We got chalk and some dice from the dollar store and played a homemade Twister in our parking space.)

Temporary bathroom stuff
Okay, until you have the time to start going, “hey, I need that shower curtain” — themed or not — you will need to go out and right away get the basics — toilet paper, at least one towel, maybe shampoo, hand-soap, deodorant, and at least a raggedy towel to use as a rug when you get out of wherever you bathe.

Cleaning supplies
While you move, things get dirty. If repairs are made or there ARE pests then you’ll need to clean.

Shelf liners
If you move into a place, like I did that has NASTY shelves even after they are cleaned, you probably will want to line them. Never put it off, because if you do you probably will never take everything out of your drawers to do it later. I actually used newspapers because I had a TON for cleaning the windows. Whatever works is good!

Something scented
A scent that you find comforting or you want to associate with home is super important to start making you feel at home/cover up any weird smells you can’t identify.

Some tips for buying furniture once you have moved

Measure your friggin’ doorways before you shop
OMG this has caused so much grief. We had to lift our couch in through the window, and I’m not sure how we can get it out now that the landlord changed our windows. (Oops.) This might not be a problem if you own, but make sure you have a window/door that can fit a couch/desk/whatever into the room you want.

When you buy large pieces of furniture
Remember that you will probably have that FOREVER. (I learned this one from my mother. When she and my father first moved — they bought a pale walnut (or something) bed-set that she now thinks looks hideous. She has had to put up with the set for over 20 years, and honestly that set isn’t going anywhere. Yes, you could probably change the colors but… will you? I know for crafty folks this isn’t too much of an issue, but keep it in mind.

Ok that’s all the wisdom I could think of. You can survive without a lot — but those are definitely some of the things you will probably want to get until you get your feet under you. Remember: take it slow. You don’t need EVERYTHING all at once.

Goooooood luck!

Comments on The unexpected essentials for moving into your first apartment

  1. I’d be hesitant to use boxes for trash in a first apartment because there’s a good chance you’ll be moving again and good moving boxes can be hard to come by. Better to use carrier bags or bug some cheap bin bags than use all your boxes and then have to scramble to find more.

    Also if you don’t already have them I’d add posters to the list of things to get. There’s a very high probability that wherever you’re moving has all white walls and if you’re anything like me that will bother you, especially if you don’t have much stuff and the place looks empty. When I was a student and then going through my first few apartments I loved my posters because wherever I was I could put them up and it became mine and felt a bit more familiar and homey.

    But if you’re renting check what you’re allowed to use to fix stuff to the walls. And make sure anyone who wants to contribute decorations is also aware – I’ve still got a box of (really nice) stuff I was given and have never been able to use because it needs “just a few screws in the wall” or a shelf or a bracket or whatever else my rental agreement explicitly prohibits me doing. I’ve always been ok with Blu Tack, it can stain but you can usually clean that off or paint over it when you move out.

  2. Great list! I’d also suggest a bottle of cheap vinegar for general cleaning and disinfecting, especially in sinks etc. Also, if your new home has a washing machine, put about a cup of vinegar into the drum then run the machine on a hot wash to clean it before you use it for the first time – it helps to clear out any soap residue and limescale that might be lingering from the previous tenants, so your laundry won’t smell like them! Plus this is a job that takes about 30 seconds and can just be running in the background while you get on with unpacking.

    It’s also a good idea to keep a box of ‘moving essentials’ that you will need in the first few hours in your new home – snacks and drinks, a roll of kitchen towel, toilet paper, dish soap, a sponge and a tea towel and a hand towel for the bathroom, maybe a spare light bulb too – some friends of mine moved into a new house one morning and when it came to the evening they tried to switch on the lights and found that the previous tenants had removed *every single lightbulb* when they moved out!

    • THIS! Yes, an “essentials bag” that one of you keeps in your car or very handy. You don’t want to get to your new place, and need to use the restroom, only to realize you packed the toilet paper in one of the 15 boxes you have scattered about.

  3. I would add to the essentials: a pot to cook in and a spaghetti strainer. Because anyone who’s ever been young and broke knows you can survive a long time on rice and pasta. I actually still have the plastic spaghetti strainer I bought at a going out of business sale in 1998. I was 18 and it was the first thing I ever bought for my first apartment.

  4. One thing I’d suggest is something for all the paperwork and documents about to come your way to do with your new home (and may have already begun come your way) and that you may need to lay your hands on quickly admist the chaos of unpacking etc. I’m thinking about when you suddenly need the rental agreement or mortgage statement in order to prove you live there to get your power switched on, or you suddenly need that number of the internet provider because it’s not working yet, etc etc.

    Wether it’s a ringbinder, a large box or multi file wallet, just something portable that you have with you along with your personal bag on move day and which stays handy and on view for the first few weeks. Try and be really good about both putting stuff back in it after use as well. You’ll spend the first few weeks having endless discussions about where things to should go, how you should do things, even if you try and plan it all beforehand because once in the space things you missed become apparent etc etc, so I’d say do yourselves a favour and decide ahead of time what your shared interim plan is for storage of really important stuff so you make sure you don’t loose anything important. My wife and I had an “important shit box” the contents of which later got transferred to a cheap file cabinet we got from IKEA but in those first few weeks it was really helpful to always know exactly where our documents where even if I wasn’t sure where the cereal bowls were! I did however know EXACTLY where the bottle opener was…….

  5. A first aid kit! After I moved into my first solo apartment, I ordered a nice knife set from Amazon (love to cook!) I was putting those bad boys to work coping some carrots and nearly sliced my fingerprint off, and uh-huh: no first aid kit. I had to wrap my bleeding finger in paper towel and electrical tape while I ran to the store down the road. Don’t be like me 🙂

    • Yes! Not to mention that moving always results in at least some sort of cuts and bruises.

      I’d add basic medications, too, like for upset stomachs and colds. I got a really bad cold my freshman year of college and it was my first time living away from home. I felt so lonely (I just wanted my mom to take care of me!) and THEN I had to ride a bus for half an hour each way feeling miserable just to get some stupid decongestant and cough drops. Stress lowers your immunity, so I’d have it on hand before you need it.

    • I think it was less than a week after we moved to our first apartment that I snapped the fingernail off my thumb. It was bad. There was much blood. We had nothing with which to clean and patch up this situation so I sat on the toilet with my hand in the sink running it under warm water while my then boyfriend (now husband) ran to the CVS up the road for necessary items.

  6. I’d bring in a really basic tool kit. A good screwdriver, hammer and pair of pliers will get you pretty far, especially if you end up building any of your furniture in your new place (I’m looking at you, Ikea).

    Also, SCISSORS AND PENS. They will 100% be needed within the first 24 hours. I’d toss them into a bag you are carrying personally, rather than a box, so you know where they are immediately.

  7. A fire extinguisher! That was one of the essentials my parents gave me when I moved into my house. I’ve been there for over four years now and haven’t had to use it, but the peace of mind is great. I feel like it is especially important when you move into a new place and don’t necessarily know the quirks of the appliances.

  8. CLEANING SUPPLIES is the top of my list. My boyfriend and I moved apartments in Toronto last summer. We couldn’t tell from our quick tour of the apartment how filthy it actually was. We needed to clean the bathroom and kitchen IMMEDIATELY before we even felt comfortable bringing our stuff inside.

    I’d recommend:

    Sponges, scrubbies, rags, paper towels
    Vinegar and baking soda are natural deodorizers (mix vinegar and warm water for a liquid cleaner, use baking soda to absorb odors in cabinets, closets, refrigerators, carpets, etc)
    Something strong like Pine-Sol, bleach, Lysol
    A more gentle, all-purpose cleaning liquid like Green Clean
    Comet or Vim for bathrooms
    Toilet bowl cleaner and scrubber

    Ugh. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers.

  9. I moved into my first (non-dorm) apartment and didn’t realize that the electricity had been turned off and I had to wait the whole weekend before I could call and make arrangements with the power company. My immediate list reflects that experience.

    Portable charger, charging cable, flashlight, food you can eat without heating or cooling. Masking tape, post-its, at least one sharpie marker, scissors. A shower curtain liner, which is like $1.99 at the drugstore. Maybe camp chairs so you have somewhere to sit until furniture is unpacked.

  10. The two things that surprised me most when I first moved out were:

    1) You have to arrange with companies for your trash to be picked up, your lights to turn on, and your water to flow through the correct pipes. If you’re renting, your landlord may take care of some or all of this for you. But it’s good to know in advance which ones are on your plate.

    2) Spices cost a LOT when you buy them all at once. All those kitchen staples that are just there in your parents’ kitchen because you only use like one pinch every month? You have to buy all of those.

  11. If you have the time before you move, start being very aware of what you use at home.
    Wake up (pillow, blanket, bed)
    Make coffee (coffee, coffee filters, water, coffee maker, cups, sugar, creamer)
    Shower (shower curtain, trash can, soap, washcloth, towel, floor rug, shampoo, conditioner, razor, Qtips, etc)
    Feed cats (cat food bowls, cat food, container for cat food, scoop for cat food, wet food lids, cat water bowls, water)
    Eat breakfast (stove, fridge, milk, bowls, cereal, eggs, plate, pan, Pam, spatula, spoon, fork)

    Go through your whole day and list literally everything you use. This is what you need to have. Figure out what you’re bringing with you and figure out what you must have right away at your new place. For example, maybe you can live without a bathroom trash can for a few weeks, but you know that going without coffee will destroy you. (Looking at you, self!) Then make sure you have coffee stuff right off the bat and skip the cute Frozen trash can. But listing everything out will help you make sure you don’t forget to grab filters or the right kind of creamer.

  12. I just want to highlight the bit in this post about the toilet paper. For some unexplained reason, most apartments do not have a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom when you move in! Bring a couple rolls – whoever you have helping you move will need to use the bathroom too. Also, a shower curtain. It didn’t cross my mind when I moved into my current apartment, and I had to improvise using some trash bags cut and taped together for my first shower in the new place.

  13. A few things I’ve learned from my past 6 moves:
    – It usually takes time to get wifi set up, so check your phone plan to see if you can use your phone as a hotspot or where the nearest free wifi is (coffeshop, McDonald’s, public place…).
    – New toilet seat! It’s the first thing I buy. They cost $10 at Family Dollar or a home improvement store, and there’s nothing like sitting your bum on a brand new toilet, no matter how dirty the rest of the place is.
    – Before moving, research your new neighborhood on google maps for a few businesses you’ll need to use right away: grocery store, pharmacy, coffee, big-box store or thrift store for bedroom/cleaning/kitchen stuff, take-out food options… You’ll discover more places when you actually live there, but it’s good to have a visual map of the basics.
    – If you rent a one-way moving van like UHaul, use the extra days included in your rental to snag some big furniture on Craigslist in your new city. I’ve always found really nice used beds and couches everywhere I lived. I know some people are grossed out by used mattresses, but to me, it’s no different than sleeping at a hotel or friend’s house. Just get a really nice new mattress cover and you’ll save hundreds of $$.
    – Speaking of Craigslist, anytime you realize you need a new appliance like a vacuum cleaner or microwave or crockpot, check there first before going to Walmart. A person 2 blocks away might be selling exactly what you need. It’s better for your wallet, the planet, and the community.
    – Finally, don’t buy moving boxes, it’s such a rip-off. Politely ask your local grocery store and they should help you out. Clothing on hangers can simply be put in garbage bags tied around the hanger hooks.
    Good luck!!!

  14. Just a little more advice on step two (buying furniture), particularly when young and broke:
    1) You can totally buy it in waves, essential to non essential. It’s just fine to live without a couch for a few months. Throw some cushions on the floor. Sit on them instead. It’s kind of fun and novel for a while.
    2) Thrift shops are your best friends. I use places like Goodwill for the non-upholstered/cushioned items only, as those places have bedbug factor. For beds, couches, and upholstered chairs try looking for slightly higher end thrift shops. Here in Chicago, Brown Elephant is amazing and their profits go to the Howard Brown Center (a sliding scale LGBTQ health clinic). Target is also not bad at both pricing and quality.
    3) I don’t know about others, but Walmart and I have had bad experiences. You spend 20 bucks less than Target and your stuff lasts for six months instead of six years. Wait until you have the next 20 bucks and hit Target.
    4) Sometimes there are weirdly awesome things in the trash. As long as they are bed-bug free, go for it. I got a piano this way. No shame. It’s an awesome piano and only needed minor tuning.
    5) Contrary to what some wealthier friends or family say, you do not need: a headboard or even a bedframe if you can’t afford it, really nice dishes, brand new furniture, fancy curtains (honestly, they’re not awesome but there’s no shame in standard rental blinds). You’re in your first new apartment. This is a huge accomplishment. You don’t need to sweat all the little stuff, if you are comfortable.

  15. When I moved off to college my aunt put together a tool kit with all the basic tools in it as well as scissors, a hanging kit with hooks, nails, pushpins, screws, and tacks, and several different kinds of tape- duct, electrical, masking, scotch, shipping. Better yet, the tools were all purple which meant that when my wrench inevitably walked away to go disassemble one of the many dorm beds on my floor, it was much easier to identify and have it returned. Being the only one on my floor with a hammer and nails made me quite a few friends on my first week of school. I would also recommend bringing thank you notes. Inevitably, someone in your life has done something or given you something that, like my toolbox, will make your move and your new life easier and better. If you aren’t in the habit of writing thank you notes already, now is the perfect time to start. Sit down with your new fiancé and get those cards in the mail within two months of receiving the gift or help.

  16. My step-father taught me to locate the circuit breaker box, and test them out so you know which one goes with each room and label them. Obviously, this may or may not be doable depending on the apartment. I’ve never lived in a place where it was a problem though—just make sure if there are any common areas, other tenants know what you’re doing. And, while it is an issue that rarely comes up, I’ve found it to be helpful, even if the worst thing that happens is the breaker can’t handle two hair dryers plugged in a the same time.

  17. I’m not a moving expert, but I’ve done a fair amount of moving in the past seven years, and this is a brief list of the (barebones) things I like to make sure I have, no matter what:

    Can opener. Seriously, I didn’t pack one when I moved across the country and it was a big mistake.

    Spices. If you or your partner were cooking for yourselves at all, I highly recommend taking some of your personal stash of spices with you. If you really have a ton this may seem frivolous and unnecessary, but when you’re just getting up your first home and don’t have a lot of fancy cookware yet or your bank account is dry from buying a bed, having the ability to spice up simple food and make it yummy will incredible. Bonus: cooking and the smells of cooking in your new home will make it feel like home. Plus, these add up quick to replace once you move.

    A lamp. You never realize just how shit apartment lighting is until you’re forced to live with it full time.

    Blankets and pillows. For aforementioned comfy-ness.

    A few glasses, plates, pieces of cutlery, etc. When I first moved out, I owned exactly two plates, one bowl, a fork, a knife, a spoon, a pot, and a frying pan. I lived like that for a year. Bonus: If you don’t have a kettle yet, you can boil water in the pot for tea/etc. Double bonus: a pot filled with boiling water can iron your clothes if you don’t have an iron yet.

    Some kind of surface (coffee table, bedside table, shelf…). If you’re low on furniture, eating off the floor is going to get old (and painful on your back) real quick.

    Transitional objects. For me, this is arguably the most important thing. You can always beg, borrow, and save for better cookware or a kettle. You can find creative solutions to not having a desk or vanity, but I find that a new house doesn’t truly feel like home unless I bring home with me. I moved across the country last August, and I brought exactly three pieces of furniture (bed, bed side table, mirror) and the bare bones of kitchen essentials. The rest of what I shipped where things I knew would ground me in my new space until I was truly settled: a set of string lights, a handful of books, my favourite bedding, framed photos and art, handmade gifts from loves ones, my record player. Being surrounded by even small pieces of the familiar and friendly helps me claim a space and make do with what I have until I’m more settled.

  18. Invest in a couple of big rubbermaid tubs and milk crates. You can pack stuff in them for moving, and they can be temporary furniture once you get there. I’ve moved a LOT, and have often had to deal with having no furniture for days, and occasionally months! A couple of tubs stacked up can be a table, a milk crate can be a nightstand. And then you have them for the next time you move! If you have an inflatable mattress, a camp chair, some plastic tubs and milk crates – you can get by surprisingly well until you have time/money/opportunity for furniture shopping.

  19. People eat PB&J on *toast*? I have never heard of this. I like PB&J, I like peanut butter toast, I like jam on toast… but something about toasted PB&J seems crazy! I might have to try this now…

    • When I had a toaster oven, I used to do that all the time!!! I would make the PB&J sandwich, then put the whole thing in the toaster oven – the peanut butter and jam would get all hot and melty…
      Dude, now I’m sad. I just have a regular toaster now, and it’s not anywhere near as good if you toast the bread first and then add the PB&J.

    • It is so much better on toast. Maybe because I eat gluten free bread and it is better toasted, but the warmth and crunch together with the sweet and salty is so nice.

  20. I’ve lived in my new house for a month, and we still don’t have a garlic crusher. I use garlic all the time and am having to finely chop it with a knife! It has taken us a long time to get sorted, and get all the gadgets and furniture we need.

    There’s still a lot we do need (we currently have curtains taped to the window because we can’t afford made-to-measure yet) but it’s coming along slowly.

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