How to Nicely Furnish and Decorate Your Apartment for Under $1,000

When you move into a new apartment, you will undoubtedly need or want some items that you didn’t have in your previous apartment. Every apartment has a different layout, different windows, different amounts of storage space, and other subtleties that can invoke the desire to buy something that solves a problem-whether it’s a new couch when you move up from a studio to a one-bedroom, or some area rugs when you move from a place with carpet to one with hardwood floors.

But if you’re a young apartment-dweller who’s at a stage in life where moving frequently is the norm and paychecks are entry-level, it doesn’t make sense to buy expensive furnishings for your new apartment. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for dog-chewed furniture and posters taped to the walls, though. Here are some strategies for keeping the costs of furniture, decorations, and other housewares within your budget while avoiding the bachelor pad look.

First, there’s something you should know about the market for these kinds of items: for the most part, they have a very low resale value. Perhaps this is because many people think that other people’s used couches, beds, drapes, and dishes are contaminated in some way. While there are certainly horror stories of rat-infested sofas out there, most of the used items available for sale will be carefully screened by both you and the store that’s selling them. The low resale value of home goods makes buying them secondhand from thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay a great option. Consider mixing new items with well-cared-for secondhand ones to get the nicest look and the most bang for your buck.


  • To get the best garage sale furniture, you’ll have to be the dreaded early bird, so plan to set your alarm on Saturday mornings until you find what you need.
  • Supplement your garage saling with daily trips to all the local thrift stores to see what’s new. You never know when someone else might drop off your future couch. My $50 Salvation Army like-new La-Z-Boy recliner was a great find that I enjoy to this day.
  • Some people might think they have to buy new furniture because they need a store to deliver it to them, but if transporting furniture is an issue, just rent a pickup truck or cargo van for a few hours. Even with the added cost of a vehicle rental, you’ll still come out way ahead over buying your furniture new. If you’re the adventurous type, you can even hire a stranger off Craigslist to move it for you. $50 is a very reasonable offer for a short move of one large item.
  • Consider recycling furniture you find in the alley. If you live in an apartment-filled area, you’ll probably encounter a steady stream of abandoned furniture in your alley as tenants move out. Inspect the items carefully and clean them thoroughly with a bug- and germ-killing product. You may want to avoid soft items like couches, rugs, and mattresses altogether as they can harbor bugs. If you want to be more proactive about finding free furniture, get your hands on a pickup truck or cargo van and go on an alley crawl one weekend.

Housewares and Small Appliances

  • People are always getting rid of old dishes, silverware, and other kitchen items, which means that you can easily obtain them for free from friends who are moving, parents who have accumulated too many over the years, and thrift shops. If you’re the type who needs a perfect set of matching everything, this strategy won’t work for you, but if you care more about function, a couple of visits to Goodwill will allow you to cheaply accumulate a variety of interesting plates, bowls, glasses, and whatever else you need. Clean them with plenty of soap and very hot water and you’re ready to go.
  • Due to their relatively low cost compared to the other things you need for your apartment, things like blenders and toaster ovens aren’t bad candidates for things to buy new from the big box store. It’s hard to say how long the thrift-store one will last, but the new one will come with a warranty.


Once you’ve got the basics covered, you’ll probably want to personalize your space with some decorations.

  • One of the fastest, cheapest, and easiest ways to spruce up a living space is to paint it (check with your landlord first, though-many places don’t allow it). You can paint a room for around $25, including both paint and supplies, as long as you do the work yourself. The most time-consuming part is usually finding the right color-the painting itself is easy.
  • If you have ugly floors, get a few inexpensive rugs to add some warmth and color to your rooms.
  • If you’re the creative type, use your own photography or artwork and some inexpensive frames to decorate your walls. If you’re not, talk to a friend who is.
  • If your apartment doesn’t have adequate overhead lighting, buy inexpensive lamps to brighten your space.
  • Replace generic plastic switchplate covers with decorative ones.
  • Clean everything thoroughly. Ideally, a new apartment would be clean when you moved in, but depending on the previous occupant, the landlord, and the length of time the unit has sat vacant, it might be pretty dingy. Even an old, cracked countertop looks better when it shines.
  • If interior decorating isn’t your strong suit, that’s okay. Just ask some friends whose living spaces you like for suggestions. They’ll be flattered that you asked and probably be happy to give you their input (for free!) on how to decorate your apartment.

Following my own advice, I was able to decorate and furnish my first one-bedroom apartment for about $1,000. That’s not super cheap, but when you think about how a new couch alone can easily cost $1,000, it seems like a pretty good deal.

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6 Responses to How to Nicely Furnish and Decorate Your Apartment for Under $1,000

  1. SEW? or not? make your own window treatments, ie simple drapes, scarves, etc. The hardware costs more than the material!

  2. whitestripe says:

    my bf and i have always been more focused on owning a house to put crappy furniture in, rather than renting a house to put nice furniture in – so a lot of our furniture comes from op-shops. we have never had to buy book cases because BF is a tradesman and can make them esaily – the same goes for tables, beds, computer desks etc.
    if you have a skill, consider bartering or trading with another person.

  3. Diane says:

    If you have an IKEA nearby, you can buy some items new for a really reasonable price (although you’ll have to assemble them yourself).

    I’m way past the apartment stage, but I like some of their modern things. Unfortunately, we don’t have an IKEA anywhere close…

  4. Cindy M says:

    In this day and age, if you’re not especially particular, I’m sure if you mentioned to most people you know, family, people you work with, etc., that you are in need of any and all things they want to get rid of to set up house, you’d do surprisingly well. Most people I know have things they’d gladly give away or agree to let you use for awhile, especially if you are prepared to haul it away yourself. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. I certainly wish I’d done things this way when I first started out instead of spending so much money over the years on furniture, though I’ve always been careful never to go into serious debt for anything. Like most younger people, I was a bit particular back in the day about some things but wish I’d taken that extra money and banked it, swallowed some pride and accepted some older stuff some relative was kind enough to offer. Anyway, I did buy my first house when I was 23 years old, nothing special, so that was smart. But I will never again pay full price for most household goods I can think of. I do very well at thrift shops on most things I think I have to buy these days. There is just so much out there these days if you know where and how to look.

  5. Meghan D says:

    One of the best pieces of advice I got for cheap decorating was for curtains–buy a regular rod and then the curtain CLIPS–then go to walmart and buy a twin sheet set in the desired color/pattern (their Mainstays brand is about $5 or so for a set) and wash/dry the sheets–then use the clips to hang them from the rod : ) No more $30 curtains! I have done this several different times, and one of my favorite things about it is if I decide to use a different color, I don’t feel bad about changing them out because 1) I have a set of sheets to use later, and 2) it’s only $5.00 bucks!

  6. The Rookie says:

    This is my first time moving. Im 20yrs old and I am leaving the nest. I have a 2yr old and I am a single mom. I am currently not in school but I am making arrangements to start soon. Both my parents are deased, so everything is a struggle. The information on this web site was extremely helpful. Not only was the advice helpful but the comments as well. You gave me a hole new outlook on this new change in my life. I was terrified and nervous but know i know their are other options other than braking the bank just to live happy and comfortable. Thank you so so so much.

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