Woman in the process of packing for a move

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Moving into your first apartment is an incredibly exciting time! Whether you’re taking this big leap on your own or with roommates, there’s a lot to do before you can call your new place home. In addition to packing up all your personal belongings, you’ll have to choose furniture and decor, possibly for the first time. While helping my sister prepare for her first unfurnished apartment this month, I was reminded how overwhelming it can be for first-time renters to know where to begin or what to prioritize. If you can relate, you’re in the right place because I’ve put together a list of the most important items you need to acquire before you move into your new apartment.

During my first big move a few years ago, my own planning process ensured that I didn’t forget anything important, and I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned to make apartment shopping less daunting for others. Out of everything you need for your apartment, most items aren’t necessary right away, but this list is all about the furniture, decor, and supplies that are critical or highly recommended to have from the start. I’ve also included links to some items I own and love to make the shopping process that much simpler for you!

As a rule of thumb, cross all the items from this checklist off before you officially move to your new place. If you’ll be living with roommates, I recommend that you review this list together before your move-in date, decide which apartment items will be shared, and coordinate who will be responsible for what. On moving day, unpack these top-priority items first to ensure you can start settling into your new home, regardless of how long it may take to unpack everything else.

Now, let’s dive into all of the essential furniture, decor, and supplies for your first apartment.

Must-Have Furniture Before Moving

If you’re anything like me and the thing that excites you most about your first apartment is decorating it, you’re probably eager to start browsing online for all the furniture and decor ideas you can find. There are a few must-have pieces of furniture you should focus on first to make your apartment livable from day one, and I like to remember them in terms of the essential functions they serve: somewhere to sleep, somewhere to eat, somewhere to sit, and (if you’re a student or remote employee) somewhere to work. For what it’s worth, just because these are “essential” pieces of furniture doesn’t mean you can’t look for items that fit your personal style and aesthetic, so let your inner interior decorator go wild!

Somewhere to Sleep: Bedroom Essentials

A bed should be the highest-priority item on your furniture list. Sleeping on the floor after a hectic moving day is definitely not ideal, so it’s crucial to unpack your mattress and bedding on the first day in your new apartment. The sooner you have a comfortable bedroom setup that gets you quality sleep, the sooner your apartment will start feeling like home. Here’s everything you’ll need to create a cozy bedroom for your first night in your new apartment:

  1. Mattress
  2. Bed frame
  3. Box spring
  4. Bedding

While not technically necessary before moving day, I recommend prioritizing a bed frame and (if your frame requires it) a box spring. It’s okay to hold off on these as long as you have your mattress and bedding for a good night’s rest, but it’s much more convenient to have your bed frame from the very beginning so that you can set up everything for your bed together.

Bedding isn’t technically furniture, but your mattress would be incomplete without it. Picking your bedding is a fun opportunity to infuse your decor style into your bedroom as soon as you move in. It’s easy to find coordinating bedsheets, pillowcases, and comforters, so search for quality items that catch your eye. (You can also explore quilts or duvets if you prefer one of those options over comforters.)

Somewhere to Eat: Dining Room Essentials

After your bedroom, the next priority is your dining space, which could be a proper dining room or a section of your kitchen. You may be fine with eating on the floor or in restaurants for a few days, but having a dedicated dining area offers convenience and makes it so much easier to settle in. With that in mind, make sure you have some dining furniture ready for your first meal in your new apartment:

  1. Bar/counter-height stools
  2. Dining table
  3. Dining chairs

Bar stools or counter-height stools for the kitchen are all you need on moving day if your apartment has a breakfast bar or island. Otherwise, find a dining table and dining chairs that work for your dining space and your decor style so you can eat meals in your new dining room in comfort. If you’re on a time crunch or have budget constraints before your move, consider using a small folding table or other temporary alternative as a dining table.

Somewhere to Sit: Living Room Essentials

To make your living room a comfortable and inviting space from the moment you move in, here are a few essential items you’ll need:

  1. Sofa
  2. Coffee table

While you could use your bed, a dining chair, or the floor as a makeshift seating option, it’s worth investing in a proper sofa. This provides a cozy spot to unwind out of bed and offers additional seating for guests. Your sofa will be the focal point of your living room, so choose something that complements your decor style, whether you’re bringing a new or secondhand piece. Pay attention to comfort as well, especially if you anticipate using your sofa for lounging. (If you’re shopping online and can’t test a sofa out in person, read product reviews to gather insights from other buyers.)

A coffee table isn’t necessary for moving day, but I recommend getting one before you move in or as soon as possible afterward so that you’ll have a convenient flat surface to set things down on in the living room. That means it’s also the perfect spot to rest plates and cups if you’re like me and enjoy eating snacks and meals on the sofa in your PJs!

Somewhere to Work: Home Office Essentials

Technically, home office furniture is an optional essential (which is a bit of an oxymoron) for moving day. For some people, using a kitchen counter or dining table as a temporary desk will suffice. However, if you study or work from home, you may need a proper workspace as soon as you move into your new place. In that case, regardless of whether your office is an entire extra room in your apartment or just part of your bedroom, make sure to bring office furniture that matches your decor style on moving day:

  1. Desk
  2. Desk chair

And don’t forget to unpack any office supplies or electronics you’ll need to get your work done!

Must-Have Decor Before Moving

If you’re excited to start decorating your apartment but want to focus on the essentials before you move, there are a couple of decor pieces that will allow you to do both. Just like home office furniture, certain decor items can be considered optional essentials. As you’ll see, some decorations can serve as necessities in specific situations:

  1. Curtains + hooks + rod
  2. Lamps

If your apartment windows don’t come with blinds or shades, it’s worth prioritizing curtains for the sake of privacy, especially if the inside of your apartment is easily visible from the outside. Even if privacy isn’t a concern for your apartment, curtains offer the added benefits of blocking out light and heat, which can be useful for creating a darker sleeping environment in your bedroom or regulating the temperature in your apartment.

In a similar vein, it’s not uncommon for apartments to forego overhead lighting in certain rooms, typically bedrooms and living rooms. If that’s the case for your apartment, keep floor lamps or table lamps in spaces that have insufficient lighting. If available, an outlet controlled by a wall switch could be the perfect spot to plug in a lamp so that you can easily turn it on and off.

Find out ahead of your move if your apartment will have bare windows or poor lighting, and bring curtains or lamps with you on moving day if needed. Remember that all decor items, including curtains and lamps, are a great way to incorporate your decor style into your home, so have fun finding pieces you like!

Must-Have Supplies Before Moving

It’s tempting to focus only on furniture and decor for your first apartment, but don’t forget some of the smaller essentials you’ll need when you move in. First of all, bring any supplies you’ll need for the move-in process. Additionally, keep some cleaning supplies around on moving day, and make sure your bathroom and kitchen have enough products for your daily and weekly needs.

Unpacking Essentials

When it comes to unpacking your moving boxes and setting up all the essential furniture and decor we covered, having the right supplies on hand can make the move-in process much smoother. Here are some more optional essentials you may find useful on moving day:

  1. Tool kit
    • Box cutter
    • Screwdriver
    • Power drill
    • Hammer
    • Measuring tape
    • Level
  2. Step stool/ladder
  3. Light bulbs
  4. Clothing hangers
  5. First aid kit

A box cutter is essential for efficiently unpacking your boxes, while a screwdriver or drill will speed up furniture assembly. Other items in your tool kit can come in handy for hanging up any curtains, and a step stool or step ladder will help you install the curtains safely or reach higher shelves to put things away as you unpack. Additionally, remember to bring light bulbs for any lamps you set up on moving day and hangers for all the clothing you’ll unpack. Finally, bring a basic first aid kit to deal with potential scratches from unpacking boxes and assembling your belongings.

Cleaning Essentials

Cleaning is probably the last thing you want to think about during the move-in process, but it’s important to have these essential cleaning supplies ready for possible messes on moving day and beyond:

  1. Disinfectant wipes
  2. Multipurpose cleaner
  3. Microfiber cloths
  4. Broom + dustpan
  5. Vacuum cleaner
  6. Mop

If time permits, consider cleaning the whole apartment the day before you move in. Your unit may already have been cleaned after the previous tenants moved out, but it doesn’t hurt to do a thorough cleaning of your own and ensure that everything is up to your standards. (Plus, it’s a good opportunity to take note of any areas that may need repairs so you can let your landlord or property manager know.)

Bathroom Essentials

Whether you’re hiring movers or doing all the hard labor yourself, moving day can drain your energy. By the end of it, you’ll probably be itching for a long, steamy shower. Go ahead and stock your bathroom with all the essential items to make it functional even during the process of moving in. As a guideline, if it’s something you would expect to find provided in a hotel bathroom, have it available on moving day! Here are the basic bathroom items to remember:

  1. Toilet paper
  2. Hand soap
  3. Facial tissues
  4. Towels
  5. Shower curtain + liner + hooks
  6. Hair dryer
  7. Bath mats
  8. Wastebasket

Bathroom essentials don’t have to be boring. You can use them to express your style: pick coordinating colors or patterns for your towels, shower curtain, bath mats, and more to match your decor vision! Of course, if your bathroom has an enclosed shower, you won’t need to bring a shower curtain, but you can still incorporate your style into the other items.

Kitchen Essentials

As mentioned earlier, having a dining set or bar stools is essential for comfortable meals in your apartment. But don’t forget all the supplies you need to actually be able to eat those meals. You may choose to forego cooking for the first few days (or even weeks) in your new apartment, but you won’t regret having some basic dining and kitchen supplies ready on moving day so that you can still enjoy relaxing meals in your new home. Here are some items you’ll want:

  1. Microwave
  2. Food storage containers
  3. Plates
  4. Bowls
  5. Drinkware
  6. Silverware
  7. Hand soap
  8. Dish soap
  9. Dish sponge
  10. Dish towels
  11. Paper towels
  12. Garbage can
  13. Trash bags

Most apartment kitchens already come with a microwave, so you may not have to worry about packing one yourself. However, if your apartment doesn’t include a microwave, make it a priority to bring one on your move-in date for the convenience of warming up leftovers. Also, consider prioritizing any other kitchen appliances not listed here if you use them on a daily basis for making food or beverages.

Speaking of eating in your new apartment: while disposable dinnerware, drinkware, and silverware can be convenient, I recommend getting a few “real” ones as soon as possible. That way, even if you want to take your time picking out full sets you love, you can reduce waste and potentially save money in the long run.

It’s worth mentioning that there may be additional kitchen items that aren’t considered moving-day essentials but that you’ll personally want to unpack and prioritize early on. For example, if you do plan on having a home-cooked meal the day you move in, then you may want to add cookware and cooking utensils or bakeware and oven mitts to your list of essentials; similarly, it may be worth it to prioritize any small kitchen appliances you use on a daily basis and unpack them on your first day in your new apartment.


I hope this checklist of essentials has been a valuable resource in your apartment preparations! By prioritizing the apartment necessities covered here, whether that means purchasing them yourself or acquiring hand-me-downs, you’ll be able to make your new apartment livable from day one. While the items on this checklist have practical purposes, they can also be opportunities to express your individual decor preferences. Choose essential furniture, decor, and supplies that align with your personal style and aesthetic to create a functional space that feels like home.

Once you’ve taken care of these must-haves, check out my ultimate first apartment checklist for everything else you may want or eventually need in your apartment!

If you found this checklist helpful, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for more “first apartment” advice and home decor guides. Stay updated on my latest posts tailored for young apartment-dwellers like you. Let’s make your new home somewhere you love spending time!

Happy decorating!

First apartment essentials

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