We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

You signed a lease. You’re slowly starting to come to terms with having to pay first and last month’s rent (plus security!) up front—or at least, you’ve stopped profusely weeping at the thought of all your money going out the window. You have a trip to Ikea on the horizon to outfit your new home. You’ve bid adieu to the $20 desk lamp you bought for your freshman dorm. All this is a good start, but moving into your first apartment is an (understandably) overwhelming experience… which is why we’re here to demystify the process a bit.


Between figuring out logistics, like cable and internet providers, and taking care of the smaller things, like notifying the post office of your new address so you actually get your Domino magazine delivered (hint, hint), there is a whole slew of mundane tasks to tick off your to-do list. Consult the above checklist to ensure you aren’t leaving anything out; if you’re moving in with roommates, divide and conquer so you aren’t stuck doing everything alone.

The most important resource? Your landlord. You might feel bad inundating him or her with questions, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Go straight to the source, get whatever you can in writing to avoid potential charges in the future, and get every little question you have answered.

For example, what’s the policy on painting the walls or using wallpaper? How do you handle maintenance requests? What happens if you need to break your lease? What’s your late fee policy for rent? All these should be asked before you sign a lease in the first place, so you’re not moving in with any uncertainties hanging over your head.


The fun part! In other words, time to decorate.

What to get rid of

First thing’s first, purge your belongings to minimize clutter. This means getting rid of items like

liquor bottles

used as vases, cheap lighting, or posters… basically, things you loved in your dorm room that don’t exactly scream “responsible, mature adult who has their life together and occasionally ingests a vegetable.”e

According to interior designer and real estate expert Lauren Makk, “Your space should be a collection of found items that you love, so don’t waste your money on things you don’t love just to say you have it.” When asked about the worst design mistakes people in their 20s make, she cautioned against following trends, keeping too many childhood mementos, and rushing your decorating. Take a page from the expert and be intentional with your decor.

Where to shop

So where to start? Ikea, probably. One Domino editor pretty much outfitted her entire first apartment at the Swedish retailer. Opt for functional pieces that don’t sacrifice style, like the Malm Storage Bed ($499), the Norden Gateleg Table ($179), or the Jansö Floor Lamp ($19.99).

If your first apartment happens to be on the smaller side—we empathize—don’t worry. Several of our favorite big box retailers, available nationwide, have a wide variety of products perfect for tiny apartments: Zara Home, Target, CB2, and Bed Bath & Beyond, to name a few. Pottery Barn even has an entire brand dedicated to small spaces; shop our favorite picks here.

What to buy

Though you know better than anyone what you actually need for your apartment, there are a few basics everyone should have in their first home. We asked some of our favorite designers for their first apartment must-haves to get an expert-approved shopping list started; here’s what they had to say.

1. Statement lighting:

“You can take them with you to the next place and boy will they make a huge impact on elevating the space while you are there,” says

natalie myers

Shop these: Squirrel Cage Desk Lamp, Sturlesi, $70 Camila Resin Pendant Light, Urban Outfitters, $79

2. A quality sofa:

“Splurge on a good sofa and coffee table, because these will be the focal point of the main living space,” says Lindye Galloway.

Shop these: Loveseat (customizable), Campaign, $995 Forest Green Samara Sofa, World Market, $749.99

3. Rugs:

“Pick a rug that will create a pretty foundation for the room in the color palette you love. You can build the room and layer from there,” says

becki owens

Shop these: Summit Indoor/Outdoor Rug, West Elm, $239-$719 Suzanne Flat-Weave Rug, Aelfie, $89

4. Plants:

“Plants not only add a lot of beauty to spaces, but also keep us company and teach us to be in tune with our spaces in a way that nothing else can. I find them to be fantastic for young people to start with, and one of the best feelings is seeing a plant grow with you,” says Susana Simonpietri.

Shop these companies: The Sill, $5-$120 Bloomscape, $35-$195

5. Art:

“I would have started acquiring art from upcoming artists and flea markets, so I could start growing a meaningful collection,” says Sarah Wittenbraker.

Shop these: Plant Prints, Etsy, $6.99 Southbeach 1A, Minted, $21-$466

See more articles on all things apartment life:

4 Reasons Why Renting Isn’t Throwing Money Away14 Things to Stop Keeping in Your Apartment After CollegeEverything I Bought at Ikea for My First Apartment

Learn to love your inbox again—sign up for Domino’s daily email.