Moving into your first apartment is a major milestone, one that comes with lots of excitement and marks your independence. However, many first-time renters face budget challenges with so many expenses coming all at once. It can be difficult to pay for all your moving costs, rent, and security deposits while still having funds left over to pay for the basics you need in your new space. 

That’s why it’s important to focus first on your new apartment must-haves so you can be functional and comfortable in your new home. Then you can keep an eye out for additional furniture, decor, and kitchen items over the months ahead. Whether you’re getting ready to move into your first college apartment in Madison, WI, or looking to rent in San Diego, these apartment must-haves will help you establish yourself in your new place.

Bedroom essentials

When thinking about must-haves for your first apartment checklist, your bedroom is a great place to start. A mattress and bedding will be some of the first items you’ll need. From there, you can add additional items over time to make your space a relaxing and cozy sanctuary.  

The bedroom essentials you’ll need when you move in:

  • Mattress
  • Bedding (comforter, sheets, and pillows)
  • Dresser/Wardrobe
  • Hangers
  • Hamper/laundry bag
  • Blinds or curtains

With these essential items in place, you’ll feel comfortable and able to relax in your new bedroom. 

Bedroom items you can buy later on

  • Bed frame, day bed, murphy bed, or pull-out couch
  • Standing full-length mirror
  • Rug
  • Shoe rack 
  • Decor items such as decorative pillows, cozy blankets, rug, or wall art
  • apartment bathroom sink with flowers

Essentials for the bathroom

The bathroom is one area where you can easily blow your budget, especially with all the tempting shower curtains, bath rugs, fancy toothbrush holder sets, and more that will be calling you from the shelves of any home goods store. 

You really can get by with just a few essentials if you need to be budget-conscious for a while. Other than the basic toiletries that you’ll bring along with you (and toilet paper, of course!), here’s what you’ll need to equip your bathroom. 

The bathroom essentials you’ll need when you move in include: 

  • Bath towels
  • Face/hand towels
  • Washcloths
  • Shower curtain and liner, if it’s a tub/shower combo
  • Toothbrush holder 
  • Bath Mat or rug
  • Toilet brush
  • Plunger
  • Small trash can
  • Soap
  • Air freshener
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Lamp
  • Bedside table

Bathroom items you can buy later on:

  • Mirror or storage shelf 
  • Soap dispenser
  • Waterproof speaker
  • Art and decorations
  • Shower caddy,

In the beginning, your bathroom will be just fine with essentials only. There is no need to spend more than necessary in this room.

apartment kitchen with a dark brown floor

Must-have kitchen supplies for your new apartment

Amid move-in excitement, you might feel that you need to purchase all kinds of kitchen gadgets. However, when you’re just getting started you should focus on the most important apartment kitchen equipment and supplies that will get you through those first few weeks of making meals at home. Thrift stores, second-hand stores, or friends and family can be excellent sources of kitchen gear.

Kitchen supplies you will need when you move in: 

  • Essential pots and pans: one fry pan, one small pot, one large pot, or a small cookware set 
  • Oven-safe dish
  • Baking sheet
  • Utensils: spatula, large spoon
  • Mixing bowls
  • Dishware: two bowls, two plates
  • Flatware: spoons, forks, and knives
  • Drinking glasses
  • Mug
  • Kettle, coffee maker, or french press (if you’re a regular coffee or tea drinker, it’s cheaper to make than buy it daily)
  • Knives: a chef’s knife, serrated knife, paring knife, and steak knife
  • Napkins or paper towels 
  • Ice cube tray
  • Strainer for draining veggies or pasta 
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener 
  • Cutting board
  • Food containers for leftovers
  • Plastic storage bags: gallon and quart
  • Measuring spoons and cups and spoons
  • Oven mitts
  • Dish towels and rags
  • Dish drying rack if there’s no dishwasher
  • Garbage can and trash bags

If you’re looking to buy new kitchenware, stores like Costco, Walmart, and Ikea carry reasonably priced sets of all the items above to get you started.

Kitchen items you can buy later on:

  • Microwave
  • Toaster oven
  • Espresso machine
  • Blender
  • Food processor
  • Hand mixer
  • Cake pans
  • Serving dishes
  • Pressure cooker or slow cooker
  • Utensil holder
  • Stove-top spoon holder
  • Trivets
  • Rug
  • Fancy dishware for holidays and gatherings
  • Art and decorations

If you’re not planning to host gatherings or bake, some of the above items might not be necessary now or later.

Apartment essentials for your dining and living room

You’ll probably spend most of your time in the dining and living rooms, so focus on making them comfortable and welcoming. Measure the rooms so you’ll have a good idea about what furniture will fit, and think about dual-purpose items, such as shelving that can double as a  desk, an ottoman that has storage inside, or a futon for guests to sleep. Not everything needs to be brand new; thrift stores can be your best friend when looking for furniture. Spruce up a previously owned sofa with some fabric freshener and a new slipcover, and you’ll have a budget-friendly solution. 

Must-haves for the dining and living room:

  • A dining table, coffee table, side table, or tv trays
  • Dining table chairs (2-4)
  • A sofa, love seat, futon, or daybed
  • Lamps
  • Bookshelf

small apartment living room

Items for your dining and living room you can buy later on:

As you discover your interior design style preferences, you can explore more options to furnish your living spaces.

  • Throw pillows and blankets
  • Living room chair(s) or beanbags
  • Bookshelf
  • Decorative pillows 
  • Curtains
  • Area rugs
  • Sound system
  • TV and TV stand 
  • Decor items (wall art, picture frames, coffee table books, houseplants, candles, vases, etc.)

It might be tempting to buy the latest and greatest of everything for your dining and living room areas. But if you are working with a limited budget, hone your bargain-hunting skills and save to purchase a particular piece or two later. When you shop for these items, ensure they fit in small spaces to avoid crowding your apartment. 

Must-have tools for your apartment toolkit

You want to be equipped with a few tools to make light repairs without waiting on the property manager

You can purchase a basic toolkit or gather these essentials:

  • Hammer
  • Small nails
  • Screwdriver and screws
  • Wrench
  • Level
  • Duct tape
  • Flashlight
  • Measuring tape
  • Power strips
  • Adhesive hooks
  • Allen wrench
  • Pliers
  • Utility knife
  • Multi-tool
  • Extension cord
  • Step-stool
  • Assortment of fasteners like nails, hooks, reusable poster tack, hanging strips
  • Extension cords
  • Light bulbs

Tools you can purchase later:

  • Saw
  • Stud finder
  • Painters, masking, and duct tape
  • Cordless drill

grocery bags on the floor

Grocery must-haves

Storage space can be limited in an apartment, so start with just the basics. Making intelligent purchases for groceries and other pantry items is a challenge for all first-time apartments; you can consider it a right of passage. Plan to keep a few staples on hand; you can save money and freezer space for when there is a deal on your favorite steaks or frozen meals. 

You, of course, know your food preferences – the below list is just a suggestion to get your kitchen stocked for your first few weeks in your new apartment. 

Pantry must-haves:

  • Bread
  • Rice
  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking soda and baking powder 
  • Sugar, honey, or sugar substitute
  • Tea or coffee
  • Quick-cooking oats
  • Cereal
  • Nut butter
  • Ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, hot sauce, and any other condiments you use regularly
  • Cooking oil 
  • Vinegar 
  • Dried or canned beans
  • Canned or packaged tuna or chicken
  • Dried pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Snack food (chips, pretzels, nuts, etc.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Refrigerator must-haves:

  • Eggs or egg substitute
  • Milk 
  • Butter
  • Cheese 
  • Fresh fruit 
  • Fresh vegetables 
  • Jam or preserves

Freezer must-haves:

  • Frozen pizza or dinners
  • Frozen patties (hamburgers, veggie burgers)
  • Frozen fruit
  • Frozen vegetables

You can always buy spices and specialty ingredients later, as needed. 

Safety and first-aid must-haves for a new apartment

Living on your own calls for being prepared in case of an accident. Don’t forget to put together a simple first aid kit with a few essentials. As time goes on, you can add other items as you need them.

First aid kit must-haves:

  • Personal medications
  • Emergency contacts
  • Medical tape
  • Box of gloves – consider getting non-latex to prevent allergies
  • First aid guide
  • Digital thermometer
  • Butterfly bandage
  • Assorted bandages
  • Small scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Cold compress
  • Cotton balls
  • Bandage or wrap to reduce swelling
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Peroxide
  • Antibacterial gel for minor wounds
  • Antacids
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Aloe for minor burns, including sunburn
  • Fire extinguisher

Items you can buy for your medicine cabinet later on:

  • Decongestant
  • Allergy medication
  • Cough medicine
  • Cough drops
  • Saline or medicated nasal spray
  • Anti-itch hydrocortisone cream 
  • Emergency radio
  • Thermal emergency blanket

yellow sponge on a countertop

Must-have cleaning supplies for your apartment

When you move into your own space for the first time, you may find that you are more motivated to keep everything neat and tidy. Plus you’re bound to have a few spills here and there that you’ll need to clean up. 

Essentials for a clean kitchen, bathroom, and everything in between: 

  • Garbage bags: kitchen-size and small
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Sponges: separate sets for dishes and cleaning
  • Bucket for mopping or cleaning
  • Mop, if you have hard-surface floors
  • Bathroom cleaning spray
  • Multi-purpose spray
  • Soft rags and microfiber cloths for window cleaning
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Handheld vacuum
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dishwasher detergent, if you have a dishwasher
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Baking soda and white vinegar
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hand soap for kitchen
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • All-purpose cleaner

Cleaning items you can buy later on:

  • Fancy vacuum
  • Furniture polish
  • Microfiber sweeper
  • Wood cleaner, if you have wood surfaces

Miscellaneous items that are nice to have 

While these items are not necessary to survive on your own from day one, they can make life on your own a little easier. 

  • Command hooks – these are helpful for many purposes like hanging car keys, handbags, and ball caps
  • A space heater and window portable AC unit
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Sewing kit
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Umbrella
  • Scotch tape
  • Chip clips

How to buy apartment must-haves when sharing with a roommate

Talking with roommates about money can be intimidating. However, you want the experience of sharing an apartment to go smoothly, so the more conversations you have to make living in a shared space easier, the better off you’ll be. Talk to them about how you want to split the cost of items in shared living spaces. It may be easiest to divide the furniture cost evenly or supply the apartment’s shared areas as evenly as possible. If you’re worried about how you to split the furniture when you move out, consider having each person buy different items that have similar costs. Having an apartment must-haves budget is crucial, so everyone is on the same page. 

It can be a good idea for each person to have their own food or snack items. If you have shared food items, it can be best to have a system for how you will replenish or share the cost. Keeping a list of the items you agree to share can be the easiest. You can discuss sharing costs for spices, baking ingredients, and other kitchen essentials. It’s also worth discussing a budget for paper products and other shared items.

Final thoughts on apartment must-haves for first-time renters

Renting an apartment can be a big step toward eventually buying your first home. Use this list of apartment must-haves to make sure that you have everything you need to make your new home comfortable and functional.

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