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New Apartment Decorating Ideas to Set Up Your Place from Scratch (And On A Budget)

Furnishing a house and relocation concept.
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Moving into your very first apartment is big. So is the to-do list, especially if you’re decorating from scratch — and on a budget. Before doing anything, make sure you change your address with the USPS. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to think about decorating your new apartment. These apartment decorating ideas come with a basic shopping list to get you started. The list focuses on the elements in each room that create the biggest bang for your budget.

When moving into a new apartment, your first task is to choose two spaces you want to prioritize first. The living room and bedroom are likely the two most important spaces in your place. They may also be the two rooms that require the most investment. Regardless of which rooms you want to tackle first, visualize how you’ll be using the room in order to furnish it. Focus on quality over quantity. To get started, take a look at these apartment decorating ideas and see which give you the most inspiration.

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General apartment decorating ideas

There are a couple of elements you should consider adding to every room in the apartment. They’re affordable, and they make a big difference in the look of the room.

General shopping list for your new apartment:

  • Window treatments for each room
  • Two lighting fixtures per room

Window treatments

Nothing makes a room look unfinished faster than bare windows. Not to mention, you’ll be lacking in privacy. Whether you go with blinds or simple curtains and a curtain rod, make sure to add window treatments to each room in your new apartment. Don’t know what kind to buy? Choose a simple neutral shade. You can always add a second curtain panel in a geometric print or bold color.

Lighting fixtures

Swapping out boring, basic light fixtures can make a huge difference in how your room looks and functions. Some lighting fixture ideas include:

  • Pendant lights
  • A more stylish, replacement overhead light fixture
  • Wall sconces
  • Table lamps
  • A floor lamp
  • Battery-powered, LED under-cabinet lighting

As a rule of thumb, try to have two different light sources in each room. For example, add a floor lamp and an overhead light fixture in your living room, a table lamp and a pendant in your bedroom and an overhead light fixture and under-cabinet lighting in your kitchen.

Buy all of the fixtures at once to create a sense of flow in the apartment. If you’re handy, you can install them yourself. Or if you prefer not to work with electricity, call an electrician or take advantage of Amazon’s new home service line.

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Apartment decorating ideas for your new entryway

Do you have a designated entryway? Make use of the space by adding some function to it.

Entryway shopping list:

Narrow table, cabinet or bench

This will be your entryway focal point and the catch-all for keys, handbags and mail. A narrow item will keep the area from feeling closed-in. Look for a piece that has additional storage like drawers, shelves or cabinets. If you need a place to sit and remove or put on your shoes, consider adding a bench that can work as an entry table and dressing bench. Choose one with storage, or one with tall legs where you can tuck in baskets for shoes and other objects.


Hang a mirror over your table or bench. A mirror adds vertical height to the setting and allows you to give yourself a check when you’re coming and going. Mirrors also do a great job of expanding small spaces.

Wall hooks

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Add a series of wall hooks or a wall rack in your entryway to organize jackets and backpacks. If you have lots of smaller items like umbrellas and hats, hang a canvas bag on one of the hooks to hold them.

Apartment decorating ideas for the living room

How will you use the living room? It’s likely you’ll need a quality sofa and somewhere to kick your feet up. Will there be a TV in your living room? Where will your devices go?

Living room shopping list:


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The sofa is the star of the living room, so invest carefully. It’s wise to choose the largest one you can fit in the space. Don’t fret if you’re dealing with a small living room; there are plenty of small apartment sofas that are just as stylish and comfortable as larger ones. If your budget is limited, go secondhand shopping for your sofa. Older or vintage sofas are well-made, and you can always throw a slipcover on one to freshen it up.

Coffee table

The next piece to consider should serve double-duty: the coffee table. Don’t feel limited by the word “table,” either; an ottoman is a great substitute. If space allows, select a narrow, rectangular ottoman that works as a bench or table. You can add a tray on top to set drinks on. In addition, many ottomans come with inner storage for blankets and magazines.

Wall art

You probably have a large white wall behind your sofa space to deal with. If you’re renting, painting or wallpapering may not be possible. However, strategically placing a collection of objects or framed photos, gallery-style, may be all you need. Alternatively, hang a rug or tapestry on the wall to add some color and texture to your living room.

TV cabinet

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A media or TV cabinet is a great furniture piece to include in your initial living room decorating plan, even if you wall-mount your TV. It adds storage to your living room for more than just your media. Choose a narrow style with plenty of shelves, doors and drawers for optimal usage of space.

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Apartment decorating ideas for the kitchen/dining room

You may have a designated dining area, or perhaps just a small breakfast nook or a kitchen with an island and bar stools. Whatever the case, there are a few essentials for making the most of your dining room and kitchen.

Kitchen/dining room shopping list:

  • A table and chairs
  • Table runner

Table and chairs

Choose a versatile table that can serve many purposes — you’ll use it often. Splurge on the table and look for secondhand chairs if you can’t afford both. If your kitchen will serve as your dining area, too, then consider adding one of these kitchen island ideas with stools or a tall bar table instead of a dining table. A taller table setup can serve as your dining and breakfast table, food prep and storage spot and mini office space.

Table runner

A table runner is a long strip of fabric that adds a pop of color or style to your table. Unlike a tablecloth, which covers the whole surface, a table runner adds a stripe down the table for a more modern feel. Simply including a runner can add a sense of design to your table and make your table setting more interesting.

Apartment decorating ideas for the bedroom

Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. Focus on keeping the space uncluttered, inviting and restful. Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing an entire bedroom set; it’s better to have a sublime bed and one or two nightstands than an overloaded, six-piece bedroom set.

New apartment shopping list for the bedroom:


Invest in the best and most comfortable mattress you can afford. After all, you’ll spend more time on your mattress than anywhere else in your new apartment. Save your creative budgeting for the rest of the room.


A headboard is cool, modern and perfect for small bedrooms. Even if you don’t have the space or budget for a bedframe, never skip the headboard; it completes the look of your bedroom like nothing else. If cash is tight, check out these headboard ideas.


Depending on the size of your new bedroom, you may choose a small side table or a traditional nightstand. Don’t feel like you have to get a matching pair, either; mixing and matching nightstands is a fun design choice.

Closet organization

If you don’t use your closet efficiently, clothes, shoes and miscellaneous items will inevitably end up in your bedroom space. A few closet organization items to consider are:

For more ideas on how to organize your closet, especially if it’s a small one, check out these tiny closet and no closet ideas.

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Start with these essentials and live with them for awhile. As you get to know your new apartment, you’ll come up with ideas about what else you may need. Continue to layer your space with more items as your budget allows. Which rooms will you decorate first in your new apartment?

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