A big empty room I can practically do anything I want in. This might have been your initial thought upon walking into your first apartment, it certainly was in my case. Granted my first real apartment was a studio in Van Nuys, CA with barely enough room for a desk, bookcase, and bed, but nonetheless, it was a big empty room I could practically do anything I wanted in. I wasted no time mapping out a plan.
For the newly minted bachelor with a little bit of income to their name, putting together your first living space will be an exciting task. Not only is it a space you get to make your own but you’ll also end up taking some pleasure in seeking out and acquiring your brand new digs. Who doesn’t like buying new stuff, especially when it’s something you actually need, and thanks to places like IKEA, it’s even less of a hassle and expense to go out and furnish a new apartment these days.
I happen to like IKEA a lot, their furniture is sturdy enough, it’s inexpensive, it’s attractive looking, endlessly hackable (an important feature for a guy like me), and indeed has some character to it. Maybe not the kind of character you want to feature throughout your entire apartment (lest you enjoy the feeling of living in a catalog page) but getting some essentials from IKEA isn’t a terrible place to start with your first apartment.
Over time, and with a few back and forth trips to the store, I had built up a respectable collection of brand new, stylish, and affordable home furnishings in my new living space. A table to serve meals on, a desk to handle work at, a bureau to keep all my clothes in, a comfortable chair to relax and read in, a rug that really tied the room together, and though it was a small assortment of things, I felt proud of my consumerist accomplishments. And looking back on it, this was maybe the worst possible way ever to have furnished my little apartment.
For you see, my experience as a first time renter wanting to deck out a comfortable apartment was not a unique one, and thanks to the ingenuity of a place like IKEA, thousands of people go through these motions every day, picking out new bed frames, sofas, and kitchen cabinets for their residences. At some point, these hundreds of thousands of proud IKEA customers will be looking to shed their lightly used MALM desks and TARVA nightstands in favor of something more refined and expensive. Either they move or they downsize or they divorce or they give away all their worldly possessions in the name of some spiritual journey they’ve just begun, but you never quite realize how easy and cheap it can be to buy IKEA furniture (or most other home goods for that matter) on the second-hand market until it comes time to sell off your first apartment’s worth of stuff.
In addition, due to IKEA’s relative inexpensiveness and sheer ubiquity, it’s a buyers market for something like a used EXPEDIT bookcase or RANDERUP rug. While this is fantastic news for someone shopping for new furniture, this also means that you’ll be selling your lightly used IKEA goods at just a fraction of what you purchased them for new (something I had never even considered until it was too late). This might not be terrible news considering IKEA and the like are “starter” furnishings which you’ll probably tire of at some point in your life, but what if you could furnish your entire house in decent quality second-hand furniture (IKEA and beyond) for about the cost of buying a nice new dining room set from Ethan Allen? This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Not only is is possible to do something like this thanks to websites like Craigslist and thrift stores like Goodwill but it’s a consumer philosophy I will be holding myself to when I move into my next apartment in only a few short weeks. The plan is this: start out with mostly nothing (maybe an air mattress and a couple of books) and build up a reasonable collection of furnishings and other home accessories according to my immediate needs. Everything I can reasonably purchase will be purchased from a second-hand source (or possibly built by hand) and these purchases will be tracked to see just how much money I’m spending. It’s quite possible I’ll be able to piece together a comfortable living space from the recycled stuff of those in my neighborhood. It’s also quite possible that I’ll end up with tacky junk only a local Goodwill could offer, or even more so, that the expense of buying everything second-hand will only save me a marginal amount of money, being more trouble than it was actually worth.
Whatever the outcome I’ll be sure to share my observations and experiences throughout the process, not to mention a few articles I have in mind which will cover other aspects of a personal finance philosophy I’ve been experimenting with the last year or so, ways to get more for your money without having to settle for less. I also want to break apart some of the ideas which have had embedded into us as modern consumers and how the culture around us has played a role in shaping many of these opinions and perceptions.
Check back frequently for more updates!