Simple, minimal furniture for those of us who move a lot

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Everyone loves a good floor pillow! Photo © by huronbikes, used under Creative Commons license.
I’m about to embark on a new career change which may frequently involve temporarily relocating to multiple places across the country. These temporary moves would likely be just me, my dog, no car, and likely without my partner. We’re still planning on keeping our current home as “home base” for the time being.

I am trying to think ahead, while keeping price and possible storage/shipping ability in mind. What kind of simple, minimal furniture options are out there for this kind of arrangement?

I’m thinking things like floor pillows for a bed and such, but can’t seem to find many good websites with much to choose from.


Homies, any furniture advice or resources for someone who’s going to be relocating a lot and wants to keep it super minimal, while still feeling comfortable?

Comments on Simple, minimal furniture for those of us who move a lot

  1. Ooh, those self inflating air mattresses, or a futon mattress that you can roll up into your car might be more supportive than a floor pillow. You can also get inflatable chairs, although lawn chairs work well too, and tv trays for workspace/dining. And a portable DVD player is a must on long trips from home – with your favourite DVDs of course.

    • Personally I hate the inflating air mattresses (I always feel stuck to it, even through a sheet, and inevitably there is a small leak or something and I end up lying on the floor) but I know lots of people like them. IKEA also has some foam mattresses that are small and can be rolled up to travel. I will vouch for those being fairly comfortable as I’ve spent a week sleeping on one before.

    • Inflatable mattresses are not designed for long term use and will not hold air as well if they are used every day for months. A foam mattress that rolls up as Little Red Lupine suggested would work better for the long term.

      • Foam mattresses are light weight, so they would be easy for one person to move alone.
        There are things like folding three section foam futons what would fold up for travel. And can also double as a chair, if you are working with limited space.

    • I actually slept on an Aerobed air mattress for about a year before buying a “big kid” bed. Not all air mattresses are created equal for long-term use. I’ve got a self-inflatable Coleman that we use for house guests. I guess it depends on the length of time you’ll be sleeping on it…weeks at a time? Or a week here and there?

      • I move more often than I like, and mattresses and bed frames get to be a hassle. The last time I moved, I did a bit of research and decided to buy a hammock and a hammock stand. I don’t miss a mattress at all; the hammock is quite comfortable. The hammock stand I bought disassembles easily and fits into a carrying bag; I’m pretty small, but I don’t have trouble with the weight or dimensions. (Vivere’s space-saving hammock stand is what I bought.)
        Check out the blog on TrekLightGear for tips about sleeping in hammocks, and if you’re moving somewhere cold (I live in the Rockies, so winter in a hammock can be quite chilly), I suggest hanging two hammocks on the stand: put blankets in the lower hammock for insulation (I have a feather mattress and an electric blanket on my lower hammock) and sleep in the top one. It’s worked quite well, and investing in a neck pillow made sleeping a lot more comfortable.

    • Or the not ridiculously expensive version, Ikea sells desks that are a top, and legs. You screw the piece that holds the legs onto the bottom of the desk, the the legs pop in and done. Really easy to unpack and pack.

  2. Inflatable sofa:

    Foldable desk:

    Foldable shelves:

    If you’re a big fan of books, I recommend milk crates or apple crates. Something that you can use as a bookshelf in your home by stacking them on top of each other, but can just flip up by the handles when it’s time to leave with out having to transfer the books to another home.

    Something like this:

    • I love the crates as shelves idea. And since they’re thinking about keeping a home base, this also helps since you can switch out which books are in the crates as necessary and take only as many as you need for the new home.

  3. I would also consider investing in luggage that can double as furniture. A foot locker makes a great bench or coffee table in addition to holding tons of clothes or linens. Try to get one with wheels, though, as they can be unwieldy to carry by hand.

  4. Don’t forget nearby thrift stores! ive gotten a entertainment center for $5 before and a beautiful dresser for $25! (oh and craigslist people that deliver)

  5. I’m pretty nomadic these days as well, and the roll up futon mattress is far superior to the air mattress, after a year spent on each. As far as floor seating is concerned, my best tip is to take those cheap chair pillows with the little ties on the backs and tie them togehter. That way you can either fold to stack them high, or spread them out and have a tufted, foldable seating. These were a huge hit for dinner parties, because everybody could spread out and get really loungey and comfy. Also, invest in body pillows for cheap, foldable comf.

    I stick to things that I can roll into into a pack that ties up like a large bed roll for backpacking… in fact, when I think about it, I approached the whole situation with the mindset “What can I carry out of here easily?” and came up with a shitload of pillows 🙂

    • Yup, futons are your friend, especially if you go for a double-sized mattress on a not-too-bulky frame. Looks like a sofa, acts like a bed, disassembles with a couple wrenches, fits through doors and up stairs that a regular love-seat may balk at.

      You can skip the frame if you’re feeling committed to being at floor level. Once you’re into having to do some sort of small truck to move items, though, it may be worthwhile to consider having the frame and then having folding chairs with tie-on cushions or some other form of inexpensive, stackable chair.

      Those molded plastic lawn chairs that are $10 each also sometimes come in cute designs and can be passed off as “modernist” if you’re determined about it.

      Also check out Craig’s List for rattan 3-drawer or 4-drawer units on wrought iron frames. Pier 1 used to sell them, and they now go for like $10 each. I love mine because I can hurl them around by myself and they fit in the back of a hatchback (which is not your situation but indicates that they’re small and modular).

  6. I live a lifestyle that requires me to move two or more times a year, and here is what I have found that works for me:

    steamer trunks make great coffee tables, and they double as luggage (just make sure it fits in the backseat of your car)

    Hammocks. Seriously. If you get one you can lie in diagonally they are very comfy (for one person) and amazingly portable, as long as you can drill into the wall. Just make sure you hang it well, as you do not want your bed collapsing while you get into it in the middle of the night

    Some people like paco pads for their bed. They are comfortable, sturdy, and easy to transport.

    collapsible bookshelves are good, but I would actually recommend against traveling with enough books to need one. Might be useful instead of a dresser though.

    medium sized plastic tubs from target are your friend. get the taller ones that fit in the footwell of the back seat of a sedan. they pack better into your car than cardboard, store small, can hold random stuff in your closet, are see through, and save you scrounging for boxes every time you move.
    Cloth wall decorations are better than other options, cause they are sturdier and pack smaller for moves.

    Check out the folding chairs and such that department stores sell for college students. my living room has three of these, plus a steamer trunk and a bookshelf, and though it does not look sophisticated, it also does look furnished, which floor pillows would not have acheived, unless there were enough of them to make them hard to move.

    Backpacking towels are great. they pack very small, and come in large sizes if you want them too. Some brands feel really weird though.

    • If you can’t drill into the wall where you are living, you can probably find a hammock stand that disassembles into easily transportable pieces.

      Also, not furniture, but moving related, banker boxes are fantastic. The sort that comes in a flat pack and which you assemble by folding them into shape and the pieces all lock into place without any tape. They are sturdy, small enough to be easy to carry and have handles. And, when you get where you’re going, you can fold them back flat and store them until the next move.

  7. So this is very dependent on where you’re going to be but what about not dealing with any of those options and just rent a furnished apartment or renting a furnished room. Its hard when you put a pet into the equation and will have more upfront cost but I’d bet in the long run it’d be much less stressful and more comfortable than trying to pack up and move furniture no matter how ‘portable’ it claims to be.

    • There are also companies that will rent you furniture for six months or a year or whatever. But you’d want to do a cost analysis on how much that would cost versus buying stuff used and reselling it when you move.

    • I bought a folding table at Walmart that I’ve been using for my laptop/writing desk and dinner table. It was under $20, about 3ftx18in, and has three different height options. I use it with a folding oversized club chair. The thing’s so comfortable that I can nap in it. I also have a storage ottoman that doubles as seating and folds flat. Milk crates are awesome for books, and you can also put those pull-out collapsable drawers in them. Plastic containers are also a must, and can double as side tables/coffee tables. Watch out for the inflatable furniture though, if you have a tendency to plop down on stuff, have pets, or accidently leave your keys clipped to a belt loop or in a back pocket you can pop them. I also love space bags for storing/transporting clothing and linens. They’re amazing.

  8. I use the IVAR shelving system from IKEA, which breaks down in minutes. It comes in different heights and widths, and I use it to build my closets, desk, bookshelves, bench, kitchen cupboards – easy to configure to new spaces.

    With beds – be careful about mattresses / cushions on the floor. People sweat more at night than people realize – if you don’t roll up the mattress every morning, you might end up with mildew.

  9. Since footlockers, trunks, and luggage have already been mentioned…check your local Craigslist for used road cases. Musicians pack their gear and lug it all over the world in these things, sizes vary, and larger pieces often have casters to facilitate moving and loading. They might cost you more than an Army surplus footlocker (though I’ve seen some cases in ugly colors sell for cheap), but are meant to take a serious beating. I have a small one that holds my vinyl and doubles as an end table.

    I also have two mahogany folding chairs (painted glossy black) that I bought at a flea market for very little. They take up almost no room.

  10. If you’re serious about being mobile, you’re going to have to be ruthless with your possessions—take 10 books, for example, and you won’t need a bookshelf. Make electronic copies of all your paperwork and store them in DropBox or Amazon Cloud Drive. Take only the clothes you can match, with only one outrageous outfit, and make sure you can fit everything into a limited number of duffles. I lived for a summer (traveling from NM to OR to N and S CA) out of a duffle and a rolling suitcase this way.

    You do need something to sleep on, and I cannot recommend this enough:
    Get a set of sheets and a good blanket, as well as a good pillow, and you’re in business. It elevates you just a touch to be off the floor, & it folds up to a neat rectangle to not take up space. It is also the most supportive & comfortable sleeping pad I have ever used!

    I would recommend a surge strip and possibly a folding desk lamp, since a lot of places have weird lighting (my current apartment has no overhead lights, why not).

    Consider if you want to pay a bit more for furnished places, particularly since you would have your dog. I would recommend leaving your dog at home if your partner is also staying, but it’s a tricky decision. Consider where your dog would sleep if you’re on the floor too! Not fun to wake up when something starts playing with your feet at 3am.

    • An e-reader can be a great investment if you are an avid reader and moving a lot and/or have limited space. It allows you to have a large book collection without taking up significant space.

      • My sister travels the world for months at a time for her job- she’s never in the same city for more than a few days and never actually home for more than a few weeks when she’s not working. She used to buy books in once city, read them on the tour bus, and then leave them in the next city. She resisted getting a kindle, but finally did and said it has been a huge comfort to have all her books with her, anywhere in the world. If you don’t mind reading on your phone or computer, you can get Kindle apps for that and not even have to buy a device.

    • Great points and ideas! Thanks!

      My dog is a Chihuahua, so I’m already used to her burrowing under the covers (I have concluded that Chihuahuas are part dog, part cat, and part mole). My partner doesn’t care for that so much, so it would likely be better for all involved if the dog came with me.

  11. Have you looked at not getting portable furniture and considered short term furnished rentals where you’d only be looking at bringing decorative or otherwise small items to make it feel like home? If you rent something that has all the basics you can jazz it up with a few kitchen items, a bedding set that coordinates with what you have at home, and some of the other odds and ends that aren’t quite “necessary” but make a space feel warm and inviting.

    Right after college I had a job that had me in a new city every few weeks, I started traveling with a tapestry that went over every hotel and sublet sofa, a mini french press, and a digital photo frame to keep each new space feeling homey. It eliminated the moving stress and feeling like I might forget something when I knew everything fit in a suitcase. Just a thought.

  12. Ikea’s Poang chairs are nice.
    They very lightweight for their size. I can pick one up and carry it up a flight of stairs and I am 5 foot 3 and have a bad back. And they can be disassembled into smaller pieces if need be.

    And they are pretty comfortable (Through they could be much improves by the addition of padding to the arms), I use one as my primary chair at home at the moment.

    • I came down here to say exactly this. My last apartment was on the third floor and was set up in such a way that I couldn’t get a sofa up there, so I used two Poang chairs instead. They easily disassemble flat so they’re super easy to transport, and I’m short (5’0″) with a bad back too, and I also have no problem carrying them.

      Heather, is your dog large or small? Because my cats absolutely LOVE the Poang chairs because the seat is a cozy little nest shape. If you have a small dog, be aware that he or she will probably want to lie in it all the time. So maybe get two. 😉

  13. Another idea is to use a building toy like Quadro as furniture. My husband uses a bedside table built out of my old Quadro set from when I was a kid (And for the Offbeat Mamas reading this, it is a FANTASTIC toy if you have the space for it.)

    It can then be disassembled for transport and reassembled upon arrival. With the added benefit that it would be customizable, so you could build new furniture to fit the different needs of different spaces each time you move.

  14. I moved every year for seven years straight and I used milk crates as book shelves and night stands. They come in pretty colors, are cheap, lightweight, no assembly required, stackable for creating all kinds of configurations, and when you move, everything is already packed! Just pick them up by the handles!

  15. When I moved a lot in and out of mainly furnished places, I kept my clothes in two sturdy wicker baskets with good handles that either stacked or went under the bed. This meant no unpacking!

    I also had a mini suitcase that I had set up as a mini command centre with all my sense of home in it – photos, journals, important things. I could put the photos up within the lid of the suitcase and everything else stayed in it. It made me feel less worried about leaving anything behind. I was travelling by plane and took this as hand luggage, but if you’re travelling by car this one “home”piece of furniture could be a small chest of drawers or anything.

    Take your own bedding even if it’s provided (or at least a favourite blanket and pillow). Your own lamps will make a huge different in a cookie cutter furnished place. A good portable filing system.

    Ack: just noticed “no car” but I’ll let everything stand in case it’s useful to someone else in the future.

  16. They do look a little, um, collegiate, but I love “bean bag chairs” whether they’re stuffed with foam or beans or whatever. makes some really deluxe ones, but I also like for little ones.

    With no car, these might be too large.. if you’re relocating a lot but don’t need your own bed, I think a really, really good pillow and 4-5 pillowcases might do the trick. Nothing like a fresh case (especially if you’ve been lugging the pillow around), and the familiarity of a pillow can help a lot when you’re changing beds often.

  17. If you get an inflatable mattress see if you can find a nice thick bed pad or feather thing to go on top… it gets rid of the sticky feeling and the radiating cold if you are living in a cold climate. Figure out where you spend most of your day… if you work in bed, on the floor, at a table, or on the couch then spend the most money or biggest amount of space making that area feel like home… I would have to have a couch or futon because I had to sit on the floor for long periods of time but I also like to curl up in a ball so kitchen chairs wouldn’t work for me

  18. Japanese Futon bed. Made to roll up every day and it’s infinatly more comfortable than an air bed.

    I also use light, material boxes (you know the kind you get from home decorator stores) to carry things around, clothes, kitchen goods, food, then they double as bedside tables, coffee table, stakable shelves etc when you move in somewhere. They pack well too and protect breakable things.
    Dog and cat bed suitcases (see pinterest) that way you tuck in the toys close the lid and they are good to go. The other thing I’d use is plastic crockery, you can get some really cute stuff and then you don’t have to worry about breakages when moving. Try to get multi use electronic cables etc (USB printer or mini usb so you can use one cable for printer, phone, camera etc) and a kindle!

    • If you’re worried about using plastics and breakable crockery, I’ve been pleased with using a lot of metal stuff. Best of both worlds, since even plastics can break sometimes. Metal may become unusably dented, but that’s pretty rare.

  19. My husband and I travel constantly for work and both now live like backpackers. We have an entire pot/pan/plate/mug/silverware set that packs into itself and barely weighs more than a pound. We have a collapsible camp table, the top rolls up and the legs accordion, with chairs that are similar. We have enough to live off of and it all fits into our backpacks that we use as carry-ons on the plane. After years of working and travelling like this we were spending a lot of money on hotels and tired of it not feeling like a home so we started renting furnished apartments. Then the lease break fees added up so we tried short term rental apartments and rented furniture locally but I have so many allergy issues that I kept having problems with it and short term rentals can be expensive in vacation-able locations. All of those options proved difficult when travelling with our two Australian Shepherds, too! So this year we bought an RV. It has made the time on the road amazingly more comfortable! We have our own tiny space that I can control and have all the basic necessities on the road with us. The dogs love it because regardless of what city or state we are in they still have a home with their familiar smells. Despite the cost of purchase, insurance, camp fees, and extra gas used in towing, it is actually saving us money each year.

  20. The Japanese have been doing this for years! Get a Japanese futon (not one of those college things with the metal frame you are thinking of).
    My parents lived in Japan in the 70’s and they came back with some, and my sister slept on them until they fell apart apparently (when they fell apart, I don’t think you could really buy them here to replace them). They are cheap, supposed to be good for your back, and you can even fold them up in the morning for more room.

    I’m having trouble finding them online, but The ones we had looked kind of similar to this:

    They have some thinner ones listed in the article, which is what they used in the guest house we stayed in while in Japan, but they also had a couple comforters underneath, if I remember right. And you might need something underneath (like a tatami mat) to make it not slide across the floor.

  21. Outdoor patio furniture is really high quality these days. You can get folding tables and chairs to use for your kitchen table. Bar carts meant for your patio will make amazing kitchen islands, or turn them around and use as storage in your bedroom. Folding plant stands when filled with those cloth bins (you can get those cheap at Walmart) equates to a dresser that can be moved easy. I know its been said before in the comments, but milk/fruit crates are key. They stack on their sides for amazing modular furniture and when you’re ready to move, flip them and you have crates for moving.

    For a couch/chair, I always just hit up the local thrift stores (Goodwill/Salvation Army) and can usually find a cheap used couch/chair set for under $70. When its time to move again, they just go right back to the Goodwill they came from.

    I don’t know much about your budget, but if you move frequently, it may be worth it to look for a tow-able camper that is also modular (look at the HC1, or the Cricket and Tiger Moth by TAXA Outdoors). You can fit all of your stuff inside, and when you’re not moving and have a semi-permanent home base, you can explore all the new areas you’ll be living with a bigger radius then just day trips would give you. Its a big lifestyle change, but if you’re going to be traveling all the time its well worth the investment. It also gives you a place to crash for those first few days you get to your new spot. Plus, your paying for your own camper instead of paying to rent a truck every time you move.

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