So you just rented your first apartment in NYC — CONGRATULATIONS! But you just paid first month’s rent and a security deposit and now you’re kind of broke, and you’re stuck furnishing your first apartment on a budget. Don’t worry, we have you covered!
I’ve heard stories from older New Yorkers that back in the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s young New Yorkers had apartments so big they couldn’t even furnish them. Luckily for us, that no longer is a major issue. Right now the question is how much you can physically fit in your cramped room and oddly shaped living room. When you get your first apartment in NYC, you’re new best friend is a tape measure. That should help you figure out the basic questions, should you get a queen-sized bed or a full-sized bed? Or for the less fortunate, should you get a murphy bed or an aerobed. But before you actually buy things, make sure they will fit in your first apartment in NYC.
So we’ve established you need a bed in your apartment. I once had a subletter sleep on an aerobed for two months, it was very suspect. She also used an obscene amount of toilet paper. I was not a huge fan of living with her. But that aside, what beyond a bed do you need?
You need a night stand to keep your phone on when it’s charging at night if you’re afraid of the radiation that comes from keeping it under your pillow. A dresser for the clothes you cannot fit in your likely way-too-small closet. A couch to sit on when you are sick of sitting on your bed, if you search correctly the couch will have a pull-out bed in it so your friends from out of town can sleep there instead of having to get a hotel room or Airbnb when visiting here. And then a coffee table so you don’t have to hold your drink when sitting on the couch. Curtains! I always forget that you need to bring your own curtains and my first night in apartments always is a bit brighter than I hoped for. Not just window curtains, but shower curtains too. And a bathmat so you don’t slip. And frequently you’ll need a toilet paper stand, if a holder didn’t come with the home. You also need a garbage can. And a recycling bin. With changes in NYC law, you won’t be getting plastic bags with your purchases. That was a very cheap way to save on garbage bags, but it no longer will be an option.
Beyond the simplest basics, A bookshelf to prove to others that you are smart, educated and absolutely brilliant. A television so you don’t have to strain your eyes from streaming on your laptop. A shower caddy so you don’t have to precariously balance all your products on the ledge of your bathtub. If it’s your first NYC apartment you might have to acquire art or posters to hang on the wall, people always think if you don’t decorate your home you come off like a serial killer. I have not met any serial killers (that I know of), so I cannot confirm or deny that fact.
Cheap furniture in NYC can be hard to come by. I’d always advise using Craigslist to see what is out there. Obviously Craigslist means you are getting used items. So always ask to see pictures before you arrive. And be aware that cheap furniture in NYC on Craigslist might not be good, so be prepared to travel to see an item and then realize you might not even want it. But there are deals on Craigslist. I actually got a virtually new mattress from someone I met there for $50, and since he was moving and couldn’t sell all of his furniture, he invited me to come over the next day and just take his sofa. I also bought a sectional couch (which I’ll talk about more later) that was virtually new for far less than it was being sold for at Macy’s.
Beyond that I’d reach out to personal networks, people are frequently moving, and have furniture they can’t take with them. By picking it up from them you’re actually doing a huge favor, since moving stuff in this city is hard, and it takes effort to even throw out a couch on the curb.
If you want new items instead of gently used items from strangers on the internet, you have many options. The first is IKEA! People always talk about how hard IKEA furniture is to assemble, but I don’t buy that claim at all. I find it fairly easy and intuitive. It’s rarely high quality stuff, but it’s cheap and definitely gets the job done. Plus there are great meatballs at the cafeteria there. If you want some Lingonberry jam, there are currently 2 IKEA locations in NYC, and a third soon to open. The full-sized Brooklyn IKEA is in Red Hook. There also is an IKEA Planning Studio on the Upper East Side, it doesn’t have full items for you to take home, but you can browse products and get them delivered to your home. And coming in summer 2020. IKEA will have another full location in Rego Park, Queens.
Affordable furniture for your apartment, not from IKEA is also doable. NYC is full of small local furniture stores in the outer boroughs, some of which offer great deals. Also thrift shops, either local or big name ones like Goodwill or Salvation Army, often carry furniture basics.
For cheap mattresses in NYC, you can order from some of the new online brands like Tuft & Needle or Casper. These are very comfortable, often have deals/coupons, and are able to beat out the bigger brands by spending less on advertising and not being in traditional stores. An added benefit is that they will deliver the mattress directly to your new NYC apartment.
And if none of those work, you can always buy cheap furniture on Amazon. Amazon has an unlimited amount of suppliers, many selling very cheap furniture. But they are of varying quality. So I always read a ton of reviews before making an Amazon purchase. When you order one of these mattresses, or some furniture, you almost always need to be home when it arrives. This often means taking a day off of work for your bed to be delivered in NYC. This is something to consider, but taking a day off of work is often easier than lugging furniture home from anywhere else to your first apartment in NYC.
So you have your first apartment in New York City. You found a great deal on a mattress or dresser or couch off of Craigslist, so how do you bring it to your new home? If it’s just a mattress, with bungee cords you can strap it to the top of any sedan. I’ve become a pro at moving mattresses on the top of cars. I’ve driven a mattress 100 miles in upstate New York, and I’ve driven a mattress 100 blocks in New York City. Both times were terrifying, but it worked out and was great.
If you don’t already have a car, you can rent one through ZipCar, by the hour. ZipCar also offers vans, trucks and SUVs. If you have a full day of moving ahead of you, I’d advise using one of the traditional car rental services like Enterprise. Something I’ve learned through the years is that it’s markedly cheaper to rent from outside of the city, like the Newark airport, or Long Island, than it is rent in either Manhattan or Queens. While it’s annoying taking the train to Newark to rent a car, it usually is half to a third of the price of Manhattan car rental services. That’s a huge way to save money for furnishing your first apartment in New York City.
Another important part of moving furniture in New York City to your first apartment is that it’s hard to do alone. I’d suggest three people in total for any move. One can sit in the car in case you live on a street with strict parking rules, and the other two people can carry the stuff in and out. You’ve furnished your first apartment on a budget, but it still takes effort to bring stuff in. Sometimes you have to carry your couch up six flights of stairs. Other times you have to get very creative.
A few years ago my roommate and I bought a beautiful sectional couch off of Craigslist in NYC. We picked it up, put it in a van and brought it home. Then we tried to bring it into the apartment. It’s one of those groundfloor apartments in a Brooklyn brownstone, where the entrance is below the stairs to the other units. Essentially the servants quarters or mother-in-law suite type setup.
There are two doors to get in, meaning the entrance is a perfect 90 degree angle. The long part of the sectional couldn’t quite fit. Then we tried taking it up the stairs to the main entrance and bringing it down the internal staircase. That also was too tight to fit. So we took it outside, and vaulted it over multiple neighbors’ yards to get it through the door to our backyard. Once again that didn’t work, it was just too big to slide in. We were devastated. We got all this affordable furniture for our first apartment, and couldn’t get it in. Then our next door neighbor got his hand saw, and took off the 4” legs from the couch. VOILA! It fit through the back door. It was not all for naught. But I don’t think I’ll be buying another sectional any time soon.