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18 Must-Have Items for Your First Apartment


While moving into your first apartment is an exciting milestone, creating a comfortable, functional living space from scratch is no simple task. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, read on. This article will delve into the essentials you need for your new space, from the kitchen to the bedroom and beyond. We’ll also offer tips on considerations you need to make before buying specific items, especially the bigger investment pieces.

In This Article:
  1. Before You Buy Anything...
  2. Living Room Essentials
  3. Kitchen Essentials
  4. Bedroom Essentials
  5. Bathroom Essentials
  6. Other Home Essentials

1. Before You Buy Anything...

Before you make any new purchases for your apartment, it’s a good idea to explore what you might already have. Whether it’s digging through your storage unit or your parent’s garage or attic, repurposing gently used kitchen essentials, furniture and decor items is a great way to cut down on moving costs. Don’t hesitate to reach out to family and friends to ask about items they might be looking to pass on. If you’re on a budget, platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are also treasure troves for affordable finds. For any items you must buy new, consider waiting for a holiday sale.

2. Living Room Essentials

Your living room is the heart of your home — where you’ll relax and spend time with friends. It’s also where some of your most expensive furniture items will be. Here are the must-haves for a warm, inviting living room.

Floor Lamp

Depending on your needs, you may want a floor lamp with an adjustable height (for reading or focused tasks) or a softer shade (for ambient light). Wood bases and paper shades can add a cozy, mid-century feel to your space, while an all-metal lamp will match a more industrial aesthetic. A lamp with multiple brightness settings — or a smart LED bulb with dimness and color options — will allow you to easily adjust the mood of your room.

Couch and Side Chair

A comfortable couch and side chair are key to creating a welcoming living room. If you often host guests, consider a sofa bed or a sectional that offers a sleeping area without taking up extra space the rest of the time. If you have pets, look for durable, easy-to-clean fabrics in a neutral color like gray (white and black can easily show stains and hair, respectively). 

Tip: If you’re buying a couch online, make sure you double-check the measurements. Leave at least 18 inches of space between your couch and coffee table and at least 36 inches of space for walking on either side of your couch.

Coffee Table

A coffee table is a central piece in any living room, anchoring the seating area and providing a surface for drinks, books and decor. When choosing a coffee table, consider the size and layout of your space to ensure it complements the scale of your sofa and allows for easy movement around the room (nobody likes a bruised shin). Many coffee tables also feature additional storage options, such as drawers or lower shelves, which are perfect for organizing magazines, remote controls and other small items.

Other Living Room Essentials

  • Bookshelf
  • TV and TV Stand
  • Coasters
  • Area Rug
  • Vacuum Cleaner

3. Kitchen Essentials

Whether or not you’re an avid home cook, having even a basic set of kitchen tools can make meal prep easy. Here are kitchen essentials for your first apartment:

Starter Cookware Set

A starter cookware set that will serve most of the cooking levels and needs includes a skillet (or fry pan), a saucepan and a stockpot or Dutch oven. Opt for cookware made from durable materials like stainless steel or non-stick surfaces for easy cleanup. Look for sets that feature heat-resistant handles and lids for added convenience.

Essential Utensils and Dishware

Even if you’re living by yourself, having a flatware set and dishware set is a great way to minimize dishwasher use and allows you to entertain guests. Have at least four of each of the following: forks, spoons, knives, small plates, dinner plates, bowls, glasses and mugs. For flatware, opt for stainless steel without any removable parts that can trap grease and grime. For dishware, it’s best to go for stoneware or porcelain that’s microwave-safe and safe for hot foods.

Basic Cooking Tools

A well-equipped kitchen should have a sturdy chef’s knife, bread knife and paring knife, as well as a cutting board, baking sheet, spatulas, wooden spoons, measuring cups and spoons and mixing bowls. Consider materials that are durable and easy to clean, such as stainless steel for mixing bowls, glass for measuring cups and thick plastic or bamboo for cutting boards.

Pantry Organizer

A good pantry organizer can transform a cluttered shelf into a neatly arranged storage area where every item has its place. Options range from over-the-door racks, shelf dividers, canisters and bins as well as turntables and stackable baskets. These tools help categorize your goods, from spices and baking ingredients to snacks and canned goods, making it easier to take stock of what you have and what you need.

Other Kitchen Essentials

  • Dish Soap and Sponge
  • Spice Rack
  • Water Filter
  • Trivet
  • Colander
  • Toaster
  • Microwave
  • Crock Pot or Instant Pot
  • Kettle

4. Bedroom Essentials

Your bedroom is a private sanctuary, especially if you live with roommates. Here are the things that every bedroom needs:

Mattress and Bed Frame

A mattress and bed frame are among the most important — and expensive — investments for your new apartment. But since you’ll spend about a third of your life sleeping, it’s worth finding ones that suit your needs. Think about your preferred firmness level and whether you prefer to sleep on your side, back or stomach. Memory foam, innerspring or hybrid mattresses offer a range of different benefits, from contouring to support to cooling. 

Pair your mattress with a sturdy bed frame that complements your bedroom’s style while providing stable support. Consider one with under-bed storage or headboard storage to maximize space in smaller rooms. You should also invest in a mattress protector that can protect your mattress from spills and stains.

Bedsheets, Pillows and Blankets

Choosing the right bedsheets boils down to the materials. Cotton is breathable and moisture-wicking, eucalyptus is temperature-regulating and microfiber has a soft, velvety texture. Pillows should support your sleeping position, whether you’re a side, back, or stomach sleeper, to prevent neck and back pain. You should also have a few blankets, from lightweight throws to a cozy, heavy duvet, depending on your climate.

Nightstand and Dresser

A nightstand and dresser are not only practical bedroom furniture pieces but also ways to keep your sleeping space organized. Opt for a nightstand with open shelving or drawers to maximize storage. It should have a solid surface to hold any items you need within reach of your bed. Your dresser should have drawers or a door to conceal its contents and prevent them from accumulating dust.

Full-Length Mirror

Not only is a full-length mirror a functional part of any bedroom, but it can also make your space feel brighter and airier. If you have wall space, consider a wall-mounted option or one that can be leaned against a wall (with an anchor) for a casual look. To save space, get a mirror that you can hang over your bedroom or closet door.


While a simple plastic laundry basket is all you truly need, hampers come in a range of styles that serve different needs. Consider getting a hamper with a lid to conceal laundry and odors or one made of bamboo that’s stylish enough to be displayed outside of a closet. For smaller spaces, consider a collapsible design that can be easily tucked away when not in use.

Other Bedroom Essentials

  • Blackout Curtain
  • Desk Lamp
  • Closet Organizer
  • Over-the-Door Organizer
  • Fan, Air Purifier or AC
  • Small Rug

5. Bathroom Essentials

Your bathroom is one of the areas in your home that needs to be maintained the most regularly. Here are some critical things you’ll need:

Quality Towel Set

Towels are a bathroom staple. You should aim to have at least two plush towel sets that include a bath towel, hand towel and washcloth. Opt for high-quality towels made from 100% cotton. If you have the budget, towels made from longer cotton fibers — they may be described as being made from “long-staple” or “extra-long-staple” — tend to be more soft, durable and absorbent. Like bedsheets, a higher GSM (grams per square meter) will have a more luxurious, spa-like weight and feel.

Tip: If you don’t have a towel bar, install removable towel hooks with a wall-safe adhesive or an over-the-door storage system.

Toilet Plunger and Brush

No bathroom is fully equipped without the practicality of a toilet plunger and brush. When buying a toilet plunger, look for one that’s collapsible (or “accordion”-style) for extra suction power and space-saving properties. As for the toilet brush, opt for one that comes with a discreet holding tray to protect the brush bristles and keep it neatly stored and out of sight.

Storage Organizer

If you have a small bathroom, you may need extra storage space beyond what the medicine cabinet can hold. Thankfully, you have plenty of organizers to choose from, including over-the-door organizers that can hold hair dryers and curling wands or freestanding over-the-toilet storage shelves for toiletries and towels. You can also get a compact rolling bathroom cart that will slip into the smallest nooks and corners for easy access that doesn’t take up too much space.

Shower Curtain and Liner

A shower curtain and liner are not only functional bathroom necessities but also an opportunity to add a touch of personal style to your space. Choose a liner made from PVC or polyester (you can throw these in the wash but let them air-dry) and a curtain that comes in a color, pattern or material that complements the rest of your bathroom decor.

Other Bathroom Essentials

  • Bath Mat
  • Toilet Paper
  • Shower Caddy or Tray
  • Hair Catcher for Drain
  • Trash Can
  • Small Hand Vacuum or Broom
  • Hand Soap

6. Other Home Essentials

Beyond what we’ve listed above, there are other things that are indispensable in a new apartment, even if you won’t use them every day. Here are some recommendations:

  • First Aid Kit
  • Basic Toolkit
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Broom, Dustpan and Mop
  • Cleaning Wipes
  • Cleaning Spray

For more tips on moving and organizing, check out the SmartStop blog.

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