6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Moved Into My First Apartment

Moving? Thinking about it? Just moved? Read this.

Illustration by Emily Zirimis

This story first ran in September 2016, but post-grad apartment move-ins are in full force, and the advice below is relevant as ever. If you’re about to move into your first apartment, or even if you already have, whip out a mental pen and paper and start taking notes.

I have lived in New York City for 11 years (15 if you include college which, for the sake of the math that’s about to happen, I won’t) during which time I’ve lived in nine different apartments.

NINE apartments! Do you know how many moves that is? Of course you do because you can read and it is NINE. And while I love my current apartment more than I love anything else in this world (except for my dogs, my boyfriend, my family, spaghetti bolognese and my torn-up Big Smith overalls), I will truly never forget my very first apartment. Moving that sticky sweet June was a nightmarish experience and I undoubtedly paid hundreds of dollars more than I should have for a fifth-floor walk up above a lovely Thai takeout place I would soon consider my second kitchen. But it was mine and I loved it.

And yet: eight moves and eight apartments later, I have a few things I would tell myself if I could go back in time and accompany a dewy-cheeked me, Casper the Friendly Realtor-style, on my search and subsequent year-long lease.

But since ghosts are rarely that utilitarian and Elon Musk hasn’t cracked the whole time-travel thing, I’m just going to share them with you.

1. Money (In Your Bank Account) > Location > Space.

I’ve said this before about moving to New York City but it basically applies to anywhere: Forget about living in a “cool” neighborhood or near work or a short commute or any of that nonsense. Move to a neighborhood that allows you to live in a not-entirely-terrible apartment that you can actually afford. Use the money you save on rent to explore the city and also to buy lots of cheap wine that you will drink in bed with your best friend.

2. That said, a hallway is not a kitchen and a crawlspace is not a bedroom.

Don’t let a realtor talk you into something you can’t stand. But do make sure your apartment meets the legal definitions of a habitable, residential space — especially if you are looking in a city with notably limited and therefore insanely expensive stock, like San Francisco — and that it has all the utilities and amenities you need. If you don’t cook much, sacrifice your kitchen space for a closet. If clothes aren’t your thing, prioritize lots of windows! It’s your first apartment, and it might be the size of a Q-tip box, but you should love it because it’s yours.

3. Pick your paint colors wisely and not on a drunken whim. 

I What’s App-ed my best friend and former roommate (we lived together in that fifth-floor pumpkin seed of an apartment in the East Village in 2005) and asked her what advice she’d give our 22-year-old selves, and she reminded me that we decorated our very humble abode by gluing board games (Candy Land, among others) onto our walls and drunkenly painting our respective bedrooms watermelon pink and Miami Dolphins teal.

…You know what? I was going to use this anecdote as a case for why you should not do what I did but fuck it: I have the fondest memories (and hilarious photos) of that place and, well, it makes for a good story. So do you and paint your bathroom neon yellow if that makes you happy. But also: Ikea is your best friend and if you’re going to spend any money on anything, it’s a couch. The rest you can scavenge, buy on Craigslist and rural junk shops, or wheedle out of your friends and family.

4. Declutter

As you should with every move for the rest of your life, use this opportunity to get rid of stuff. Keep the bare minimum (plus all your shoes) and let this be the start of a lifetime of loving accumulation. Give yourself a few months to find the perfect lamp. Buy that weirdo portrait you found on Etsy and hang it above your bed. Your first apartment, like going to college, is one of the few blank slates you get in your life. Allow yourself the time to fill it in meaningfully.

5. Roommates are you and your bank account’s best friend.

Moving out of your parent’s house or your college dorm and into your first apartment is a big deal. Resist the urge to do it alone. I have always been a solitary person (and somehow managed to avoid having the quintessential freshman year roommate), but living with my best friend and, eventually, her boyfriend, our first year out of college was. the. best. We had a standing date for Wine Wednesday, wherein we alternated weeks picking up three bottles of what was then Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joes, a wedge of triple cream brie, the best baguette $3 could buy and a package of pre-sliced prosciutto. If we were feeling fancy, we splurged on cherry tomatoes and olives. We got ready to go out together. We walk-crawled-stumbled to the corner deli for bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches on Sunday mornings before curling into one of our beds and marathon-ing Grey’s Anatomy or The O.C. I cried on her floor and she cried in my arms. We both saved money and we gained a lifetime of blurry, so-cozy-as-to-actually-be-very-cramped, city-sparkled memories. Win-win.

6. Don’t get a pet.

Seriously: don’t get a pet. (Yet!) I say this as someone who has two dogs, one of which I acquired in the aforementioned pumpkin seed apartment and neither of which I would give up for all the penthouses in the world, BUT: Pets are expensive (even if you adopt, which you 100% should), time-consuming and likely to cost your security deposit. (Trust me.) Just wait. Give yourself a few years to live a commitment-free life and then once you’re bored with drinking after work, impromptu day trips and staying out all hours of the night, march yourself to the local shelter and take home a loving, furry and needlessly homeless roommate. You’ll both be better off for it.

And until then: do the rest of it. Come home, get into your bed, pull your comforter up under your chin, look around you and smile because the apartment you’re in? It’s yours.


  • Harling Ross

    “We decorated our very humble abode by gluing board games (Candy Land, among others) onto our walls and drunkenly painting our respective bedrooms watermelon pink and Miami Dolphins teal.” I NEED TO SEE A PICTURE OF THIS

    • Harling Ross

      Also, your description of living with your best friend is poetry.

    • The glued board games actually sound really cool…yes, picture pls!

      • Verena von Pfetten

        “Cool” is one way to put it. Ridiculous is another. Will try and dig up some pics!

    • “Cool” is one way to put it. Ridiculous is another. Will try and dig up some pics!

  • Andrea Raymer

    #1 has been my motto lately. I have been freelancing(ish) this summer and my primary takeaway from all those days at home is that i just need to like an an apartment that makes me feel like an adult. I got to a point where I NEEDED to redecorate everything and buy all new furniture.

  • Grace b

    Still working on decluttering in my 4th apartment! Kitchen in particular. Our shelves are teeny tiny.

    • Verena von Pfetten

      Decluttering is a work in progress. Forever.

  • Aydan

    YASSS first apartments are rad. I’ve been living in my first real-true-adult-apartment-paid-for-by-me for three years (just resigned my lease to enter my third year — HUZZAH!) and the number one thing is def taking it slow when it comes to decorating. At the outset I threw up three beautiful water colors my dad painted (my first attempt at getting real artwork framed — very adult) and its taken me three years to decide I want my bathroom decorated in raunchy cartoons of naked people, but guess what I AM AN ADULT AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT!!! (I also have a boob pillow on my bed, so this is how I’ve progressed….)

    • Verena von Pfetten

      I would like to see these raunchy naked people cartoons pls.

      • Aydan

        Camilla Engstrom’s art of course (thank MR for that introduction) and some cartoon boobies, cause you know!! 🙂

    • when I moved into my first apartment earlier this year I got all my really nice posters that had spent too much time being taped to the wall, all framed. I’m now buds with the people at the frame store, I go so often. They even said to me “you’re an adult now that you frame your posters!”

  • Oh man, my first apartment was terrible, but I have so many memories of it!

    – Curry spices dripping off the wall the first time I took a sponge to the back of our stovetop (smelled amazing…looked like a horror movie)
    – The ant invasion after my roommate tried to make a strawberry daiquiri without putting the lid on the blender
    – Waking up on 9/11 to my roommate in my living room watching television and frantically trying to call friends and family
    – Answering the landline phone in our place for the first time (major adulting goals back in 2001)
    – Banging on the ceiling at 4am because my friend who lived upstairs thought that was a great time for a sex marathon
    – Trying Nutella for the first time (and crying at the store when I found out how expensive it was)

    Even though I couldn’t afford it at all, we barely decorated, and looking back it was kind of a gross apartment…I wouldn’t give back those memories at all!

    • Verena von Pfetten

      Landlines! We had one!

      • Glad I’m not the only old fart on here! 😉

  • Max

    OR find a roommate with a pet. All the fun, none of the responsibility

    • this!!! my roommate has two cats. love hangin’ with them, but in the end they are HIS responsibility 😀

    • Adrianna

      That’s what I did for 8 years. My roommate has had a series of dogs and cats. My boyfriend, on the other hand, bought a puppy at age 20. Something I would deeply recommend you don’t do in your twenties in NYC.

  • Natty

    Currently weeping with nostalgia for the dumpster fire that was my first apartment in weird Midtown east no-mans-land. There were three outlets in the whole apartment, a room with no windows, and because we couldn’t afford a real couch, two hand-me-down settees jammed together as a makeshift sectional sofa. It also constantly reeked of burger grease due to proximity to a Goodburger. Wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Verena von Pfetten

      lol DUMPSTER FIRE. I hear you though. My kitchen legit was actually just the “hallway” between our two bedrooms, one of which fit a fullsize bed and…that’s all.

  • so wonderful ideas!
    fashion blogger

  • Jolie

    All these are so important! All my friends are constantly like “WHY DO YOU LIVE IN QUEENS???” and I’m like “um, I can afford not to cook and to have a TV and you guys are practically rubbing your hands over a garbage can fire every night just so you can live in Williamsburg near a bunch of wild people.”

    Also, my first apartment was on the Upper East Side with three random roommates (two were insane), and we thought we were SO lucky because we had an exposed-brick wall. All our Ikea furniture fell apart and one of my roommates used to hide pieces of living room furniture in her room when she got mad at us, so we had nowhere to sit. CLASSIC!

  • Yes, yes, yes to everything on this list! I remember moving to Rijeka two years ago after living in Zagreb and Sibenik (Croatia, in case you’re wondering where in the world are these places), and the first thing I said to myself (and my bf) was ‘this time I’m not looking for a super chic place somewhere in the centre of the town’ because that truly makes all the difference in the budget. Plus, if you’re a dog parent, it’s actually much easier to live somewhere where there’s a big park nearby but I absolutely agree that you should wait a few years before getting a pet, especially if you’re just entering a glorious new phase in life called you and your first apartment. Dogs, as awesome as they are (better than most people!), are also quite demanding, require a schedule and sometimes kill the spontaneity so enjoy lots of me time before getting one.

    And I’d LOVE to see the picture of that watermelon pink bedroom!

    • Verena von Pfetten

      I visited Rijeka a few years ago and LOVED it. So jealous that you live there!

      • Nikki Prsa

        I was about to comment because I used to live in Zagreb, Croatia and wanted to know more about Matea when I realized I already follow her on IG! Love it 🙂 AND love this post!!

  • This post is ON POINT! I love how you use “pumpkin seed apartment” hah genius!
    xx Tess | Sequins are the New Black

  • Literally have this post up side-by-side with listings and the Brooklyn crime map (for my mom’s mental health)

    • ((thank you for this.))

      • Verena von Pfetten

        YOU are welcome.

  • Breaking rule 1. & 5 lmao!

  • Moving into my first apartment was a breeze compared to trading up for my second home-away-from-my-parents-home: half a duplex. Still living with a roommate and my Manfriend, but so much more to fix. Bought my first faucet last month, learned how to haggle at a pawn shop for a weed wacker and fought a hairy house centipede for my pillow. Gahh!!

  • But let’s get real: in terms of furniture, Ikea SUCKS! I found a waaaaay nicer (and cheaper couch) on craigslist than any Ikea couch for my first apartment!

    • Buying a pretty blue velvet IKEA couch was one of the worst purchases. It barely made it a year before I decided it was too uncomfortable.

  • I agree with everything here except completely disagree that location/commute distance doesn’t matter. I would absolutely advocate for spending $50+ more on rent if it means your commute it 20 minutes vs. 60 minutes. Your time is definitely worth more than your money. Also, if we’re talking about commuting by car, you can save a lot on gas & wear+tear by having a shorter route or best of all, a bikeable, walkable or transit-based commute. Totally worth a more expensive apartment.

    • Adrianna

      I was apartment searching in NYC last month. 40 minute commute differences are more like a $500+ monthly difference.

  • krissiathaiane

    I’ve moved 5 times in the past 5 years.

    1. I disagree with not splurging on an apartment in a good location. My favorite apartment was a block away from my job, and across the street from a train station, so I was able to be at work in 5 minutes, and my husband just had to cross the street to commute to work. It was glorious. Above a burger place, next to a Chinese food and coffee shop, across the street from an ice cream shop. Aka: heaven. It was totally worth it paying more and not having to drive everywhere.

    2. DO NOT GET A DOG. Trust me. Not only is it a lot of responsibility, if you ever have to move out, tons of places will not rent to you if you have pets.

    3. The whole downsizing thing is a lesson you’ll learn when you realize how much shit you’ll have to carry from place to place. After a while it’s just easier to get rid of things than to move them to a new place.

    4. Splurge on a U-Haul. It’s so much easier to make one or two trips with a truck than to fill your car up with stuff and make 10 trips.

    5. Painting your apartment a different color could be fun, but not fun enough to make me do all that extra work. Most places will make you paint the apartment back to the usual white that It was in when you got it. I can totally live with white walls.

    6. As for furniture: the couch and the bed should be your splurges. That’s really where you’ll spend most of your time. But if your parents happen to give you a couch or any other piece of furniture, no matter how ugly, just make it work and save your money for booze and going out.

    I’m sorry this was so long, I just have lots of feelings on this subject.

  • Laura

    Funny because one of my tips would be contrary to #1! I’d say to balance out location with the apartment itself. I would not move into a nicer apartment if it meant adding on an hour of driving to work everyday (but I live in LA. So there’s that).

  • Cup of Jo linked to your post today and I’m so thankful. I lived in Seattle for 9 years and I think I moved about 8 times. If I could do it over again I would stay in my very first apartment. I would have saved so much money, time, and angst! Oh, and I never painted, not once. Miami Dolphins teal doesn’t sound so bad compared to white!

  • Lane Alves

    “We both saved money and we gained a lifetime of blurry, so-cozy-as-to-actually-be-very-cramped, city-sparkled memories”


  • SFA

    Disagree with half of these. Don’t paint: it was awesome to move out without worrying about painting back and I got my full deposit. I adored living alone after living with a sibling and my best friend and I still had fun nights over. She stayed the night and it was fantastic – and then I loved having my quiet time. Plus: snow days meant my neighbors came over for Wii Bowling and beer. Living with my cat was epic. Snuggle time for days/years.

  • Interesting points. I agree with you.

    But pets are my favorite and can’t think even a day without them. So I am looking for a small apartment/house in a peaceful atmosphere is my first priority where pets are allowed. How’s that ?

  • JBrags

    I CAN’T BELIEVE I MISSED THIS POST. What’s more amazing is that I’m sitting on my shitty couch in my London Apartment drying my tears after a phone call to my boyfriend saying I want to move back to Aus. I have my slippers from Romania on and my huge Minnie Mouse Mug on the coffee table. What was I so upset by? Because the painting didn’t arrive and the landlord said he’d change the keys today with no notice and coming home to hopefully someone home? Or the hot water breaking or my weird housemate who always stays in his room. The thing is I can keep listing the bad stuff but I don’t have enough time to list the good. How our kitchen is the size of the oven door (literally it just opens) and my boyfriend and I use the kitchen bench tops as gymnast posts to try and land on the other side holding our wine glasses. Or the beautiful Victorian houses and we can see our neighbours having a dance. I’ve never felt so much better from reading a post THANK YOU!

  • Emma Ruben

    Ugh but DOGS

  • Jo Chrobak

    Fantastic story and advice i laughed out loud reading it!

  • I still live at home and I’m itching to get my own place (once the housing market corrects…. hopefully sooner rather than later!) and I’m thankful for the many ideas that people write about to make my future move easier!


  • TinySoprano

    But if you combine #5 and #6, you get housemates who already have pets! A kitten you don’t have to worm yourself! Yay! Of course, that’s providing the housemate and/or pet/s in question aren’t scum-bag jerks who pee on your floor, or literal Nazis (true story, both cases).

  • Adrianna

    I dunno guys. This nostalgia for shitty NYC apartments perpetuates the amount of expensive, shitty NYC apartments.

  • Jay

    Roommates… ähem… never really worked for me. I agree that the first night being all by yourself in a new place that is – most likely – entirely empty is super scary… but take your teddy bear and stand up for it. Being by yourself becomes less scary after some time. And it’s nice to not ever have to apologise for anything. To just do what you wanna do. to wear that new silver super tight mini dress from Ivyrebel you just got only to write this post. To watch RHBH while cleaning. To not be hiding and not be judged. Ever…

    … well…

    But while being on your own is great and I’d totally prefer it over roommates… especially when moving to a new city it is tough to make new friends. And that is a story I have learned a bunch of times…

    (And it was easiest indeed, when I shared a place… and hardest when all by myself…)