First Apartment Checklist: All the Essentials You Need

Essentials for your new digs, plus expert tips on how to budget for them.

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Stocking your first apartment doesn't have to be so bad if you know how to shop.

Whether you’re flying solo, shacking up with a partner, or piling into a tiny walk-up with three roommates, moving into your first apartment is an exciting milestone.

But you’ll need to invest time and money–and maybe some Facebook Marketplace negotiation skills–into stocking up on everything you’ll need to make your rental feel like home.

Let’s dive into a first apartment checklist that’s also packed with expert tips from financial educators on budgeting and dividing expenses. Or, if you want to skip ahead to a shopping-ready list, click below.

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Plus, we’ll take a look at the role renters insurance can play in protecting your stuff as you set up your first apartment.

First apartment essentials by room:

Extra tips for moving into your first apartment:

Bedroom essentials

Sometimes, all you want is a comfy place to crash at the end of the day. Here’s what you need to make that happen:

Bonus: fan, desk and chair

If you can’t work through your whole apartment checklist at once, we recommend starting with the absolute essentials—a mattress, sheets, pillows, and pillow cases. You’ll need all the beauty sleep you can get in those first few days of moving and settling in. 

Living room essentials

If you can't buy everything for your living room right away, start with a couch and a coffee table.

Your living room is likely going to be the heart of your home. To make the living space in your rental comfortable and inviting, here are some items to consider:

  • Sofa and chairs: Consider a futon or sleeper sofa if you’re short on space but plan to host a lot of guests
  • Coffee table 
  • Side tables
  • Bookcase
  • Coasters (protect your coffee table!)
  • Lamps: Depending on how much overhead lighting you have, you might want both a table lamp and a torchiere (a fancy word for floor lamp)
  • TV and TV stand if needed

Bonus: speaker or sound system

Don’t worry too much about decor in the early days. Start off with a couch and coffee table, and if you’re worried about not having enough space, check out these hacks for getting the most out of your small living room.

Kitchen and dining area essentials

Setting up a fully functional kitchen can be daunting, but you should still be able to knock out the essentials in a trip or two. Here are some items to get you started:

  • Microwave
  • Electric kettle
  • Water filter
  • Silverware
  • Plates and bowls
  • Glasses and mugs
  • Pots and pans: Consider purchasing a whole starter set, like one these budget-friendly options
  • Oven-safe baking dish
  • Baking sheet
  • Mixing/serving bowls 
  • Ice trays
  • Cutting board and knife set
  • Spatula
  • Wooden spoons
  • Can opener
  • Bottle/wine opener
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Colander
  • Dish drying rack
  • Dish soap
  • Oven mitts and hot pads
  • Food storage containers
  • Aluminum foil
  • Parchment paper
  • Dish towels 
  • Salt and pepper shakers
  • Trash can
  • Trash bags–consider some of these sustainable options
  • Dining table and chairs

Bonus: blender, mixer, vegetable peeler, grater, fancy espresso machine

While you can hold off on certain appliances, like a blender or espresso machine, you’ll probably want to tackle most of this hefty list right away.

Bathroom essentials

Bathrooms are relatively easy and inexpensive to stock.

Bathroom necessities are relatively easy and inexpensive to stock. Here’s what you’ll need in addition to your basic toiletries:

  • Bath and hand towels
  • Shower curtain, liner, rod, and rings
  • Tub mat and bath mat
  • Toilet brush and plunger
  • Small trash can
  • Small garbage bags
  • Toothbrush holder
  • Hand soap
  • Toilet paper

Bonus: air freshener or diffuser, shower organizer, soap dispenser

Cleaning essentials

It’s always a good practice to have the right supplies on hand to ease into your household routines. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Broom and dustpan
  • Vacuum
  • Mop, bucket, and Swiffer
  • Sponges or scrubbing pads
  • Duster or microfiber cloths
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bleach or disinfectant
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Glass cleaner
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • Laundry detergent

Decorations and comfort

You don't need to get all your decor set up right away.

Maybe you aspire to transform your new place into a hygge haven or a tasteful ode to Mid-century modern design. Whatever your vision may be, it’s okay to take it slow and wait to design your dream home until after you’ve shouldered all of the initial expenses of making your new space livable.

Here are some things to gradually stock up on as you make your apartment feel like home:

  • Door mat
  • Rugs 
  • Curtains
  • Artwork and posters
  • Plants 
  • Wall hooks and shelves
  • String lights
  • Candles/incense

And, again, don’t feel too pressured to purchase all of your decor immediately. Financial educator and host of The Money Bare Podcast, Chloé Daniels (aka Clo Bare Money Coach) expresses her own regrets about succumbing to the urge to set up everything right away:

I fell into this trap many times where I’d be trying to make my apartment look cute in a quick period of time, and I’d end up buying a lot of junk that needed to be replaced relatively quickly. It was wasteful– both in terms of the trash it created and in terms of the wastefulness of money. If I could do it over, I’d be happy with a more minimal look until I could afford the things I truly wanted for my place.

Miscellaneous and safety

Here are a few more essentials to add to your list to ensure that you’re prepared for every scenario–whether it be a loose hinge or a brief power outage.

  • Toolbox
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extension cords

Protecting your stuff with renters insurance

Once you take stock of all the items in your new space, you might be wondering—what’s the best way to protect my stuff from unexpected mishaps?

Your landlord might require you to buy renters insurance as a condition of your lease. But, even if it’s not mandatory, it’s still a good idea to put it at the top of your apartment moving checklist

Lemonade renters insurance is an easy and affordable way to protect your personal property in all kinds of unfortunate scenarios—including fire and theft. And, if you’re unsure how much your stuff is actually worth, you can check out our guide to how much personal property coverage you need.

Click below to start your free quote.

Cover your stuff

Shopping for apartment essentials on a budget

You don’t have to break the bank to set up your first apartment. With some smart shopping and strategic budgeting, plus a little bit of patience, you can kit out your new space with minimal stress.

Shop second-hand

While it might be tempting to exclusively rely on places like Target and IKEA for essentials, here are some affordable (and eco-friendly) second-hand options to consider: 

  • Second-hand shops
  • Garage sales
  • Facebook Marketplace or Nextdoor 
  • Buy Nothing groups

Distinguish between urgent needs and not-so-urgent wants

With so much to shop for, it can be hard to distinguish between what you truly need and the extras you crave. Daniels recommends listing and categorizing your monthly expenses by level of urgency:

I keep a note in my Notes app of all the things I want to buy, and I rate them by urgency, including: “need ASAP,” “can wait,” and “would be nice to have.” Then, next to each item, I put what I think the cost range would be for each one.

For Daniels, this system becomes a way to prioritize the essentials while still making space for the occasional splurge. If you really want something but know it isn’t a top priority, you can still keep it on the horizon by making a budget for it or setting up a sinking fund (more on that below).

General budgeting tips

Making a shopping budget might also inspire you to set broader budgetary goals as a new renter.

Here are a couple of tips for getting started:

Follow the 50/30/20 rule

The 50/30/20 rule offers a loose guideline for determining how to distribute your expenses. It advises allocating different amounts of money to each of three categories:

  • 50% for essential expenses or “needs”—like rent and groceries
  • 30% for non-essential expenses or “wants”—like vacations and your favorite Sunday brunch spot
  • 20% for savings—like for an emergency fund, or for a future downpayment on a house

Best-selling author, finance expert, and founder of Clever Girl Finance, Bola Sokunbi, tells us that she’s always relied on the 50/30/20 rule in her own experiences as a renter. However, she also emphasizes the need to be flexible with this rule, depending on where you live:

In a location with a high cost of living, you might need to adjust your non-essentials spending to be able to cover high rental costs and still save for your future self. Meanwhile, if you live in a more affordable area, you might not need to spend as much on essentials, which will allow you to save more money or put more money toward paying down debt.

Remember: This is a general budgeting rule, not a law, so make sure to find and commit to a plan that works for you. Sokunbi recommends using a budgeting app to track your spending and set financial goals. Options like PocketGuard, You Need a Budget, and Opportun are great places to start.

Set up sinking funds

A sinking fund is a budgetary strategy that involves setting aside a little money each month to cover future expenses—both planned and unplanned. Daniels suggests setting up sinking funds for any extra expenses that don’t fit into your day-to-day budget.

You might, for instance, set up a sinking fund for inevitable car expenses, like a new set of tires. But you could also set up a fund for more fun purchases, like a fancy espresso machine or that green velvet couch that you pinned forever ago.

Daniels points out that sinking funds are not only a way to plan for the future, but also a means of sorting out what you think you want from what you actually want long-term:

When you set a budget for yourself on what you can reasonably afford, it becomes a lot easier to say no to the stuff you don’t actually need and to really prioritize what adds value to your life. Waiting on purchasing a few things made me realize that there are things I thought I needed but actually didn’t.

You might even be able to create a sinking funds account through your bank. Daniels recommends looking for a high-yield savings account that allows you to divide savings into different categories based on the type of expense—like the Ally Savings Account.

Coordinating with a significant other or roommate

Make a plan for splitting expenses before you decide to shack up with a significant other or with roommates.

If you’re moving in with your significant other or with roommates, then you have someone (or ones) to share the shopping trips and expenses with. But that also means it’s crucial to build healthy communication when you’re sharing finances–or even just dividing up expenses–with someone else.

Moving in with roommates? Have an open conversation and set boundaries about splitting expenses, both before and after you move in. As you shop through your first apartment checklist, you’ll want to plan how to divide up the purchasing.

For everyday items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, sharing costs might make sense. But it’s best to avoid jointly investing in expensive items like furniture and electronics. Since you probably won’t be roommates forever, it’s practical to understand that some things will need to be divided up when you eventually part ways.

If you’re moving in with a significant other, take stock of what you both already have and make a list of what you still need. If you’re planning to split everything evenly, it could make the essential shopping trip more straightforward.

Sokunbi stresses the importance of having a candid conversation about your individual finances and shared goals before you even decide to move in together:

Open and honest communication is key. Establish a clear financial arrangement, such as splitting bills equally or based on income, and set up a joint account for shared expenses. It’s essential to discuss your financial goals and expectations in advance to ensure both parties are on the same page.

In addition to making a plan for your future life together, you might also want to have the tougher conversation of deciding how some of your bigger (or pricier) belongings will be divided up in the unfortunate event that you break up. Making a breakup contingency plan is hardly romantic—in fact, 56% of people say they don’t have one with their live-in partner—but it could save you some trouble down the line.

And, whether you’re splitting expenses with roommates or with a partner, it’s best to keep a formal tally of who’s paid for what. Sokunbi recommends making a spreadsheet or using an expense-splitting app, like Splitwise, to keep things as fair and transparent as possible.

Once you’ve settle in…

After you’ve stocked up on all the essentials, it’s time to kick back, relax, and make sure to get your new digs protected with renters insurance, which covers your valuable stuff if something bad happens to it. 

Moving can feel like a marathon, but you can get a Lemonade renters insurance quote in seconds.

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A few quick words, because we <3 our lawyers: This post is general in nature, and any statement in it doesn’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. You’re encouraged to discuss your specific circumstances with your own professional advisors. The purpose of this post is merely to provide you with info and insights you can use to make such discussions more productive! Naturally, all comments by, or references to, third parties represent their own views, and Lemonade assumes no responsibility for them. Coverage and discounts may not be available in all states.


Please note: Lemonade articles and other editorial content are meant for educational purposes only, and should not be relied upon instead of professional legal, insurance or financial advice. The content of these educational articles does not alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. While we regularly review previously published content to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date, there may be instances in which legal conditions or policy details have changed since publication. Any hypothetical examples used in Lemonade editorial content are purely expositional. Hypothetical examples do not alter or bind Lemonade to any application of your insurance policy to the particular facts and circumstances of any actual claim.