Whether you’re starting a new job in your hometown of Nashville, TN or getting a fresh start across the country in Portland, OR, moving into your first apartment is an exciting milestone in life. There’s something surreal about sitting in your new place for the first time and realizing that you finally have a place to call your own. However, knowing what exactly you’ll need can be overwhelming, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Even if you try to focus on the essential items, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos and excitement of filling your new home.

With this comprehensive first apartment checklist, you’ll learn what you need to survive in your first rental and what home goods you can put off buying – at least for now. We’ve sorted this first apartment checklist by room so you won’t miss a thing. It’s important to remember that while decorating your space is the fun part, be sure you have all the essentials and a few “nice-to-have” items to make your new house feel like home. The key is to find everything you need on the first apartment checklist while prioritizing the splurges that are most important to you. Let’s get started.

First Apartment Checklist: A Room-by-Room Guide

Living room essentials and nice-to-haves

The living room is the first space we’re crossing off on our first apartment checklist. It’s usually the area where you’ll spend most of your free time – your main hangout zone for entertaining, watching TV, lounging, and even working from home. Opt for hand-me-down items from your parent’s basement or thrift store finds if they’re in good shape. Here’s what you’ll need to include on your first apartment checklist to make the living room your ideal hangout spot: 

Living room essentials checklist:

  • Couch or 1-2 chairs
  • TV stand or mount
  • Couch pillows
  • Throw blanket
  • Coasters
  • Wall decor
  • TV
  • Speakers or soundbar
  • Lamp
  • Window treatments 

Living room nice-to-haves checklist:

  • Both couch and chairs for entertaining
  • Coffee table
  • End tables
  • Plants
  • Area rug
  • Speakers or soundbar

Living room with blue couch, TV, and accent chair

Kitchen essentials and desirables

Many first-time renters are surprised at how many items they need to acquire to have a truly functional kitchen. And unless you’re planning to order takeout every night, we recommend purchasing some kitchen essentials. Here are some must-haves and the nice-to-haves to add on later to help make life in the kitchen run a little more smoothly: 

Kitchen essentials checklist:

  • Pots and pans
  • Salt and pepper shakers
  • Basic knife set
  • Dish drying rack
  • Baking tray
  • Oven mitts
  • Measuring cups and measuring spoons
  • Cutting boards
  • Mixing bowls
  • Basic cooking utensils
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Wax paper
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Recycling bin
  • Microwave
  • Hand-mixer
  • Colander
  • Bottle opener
  • Can opener
  • Tea kettle
  • Blender
  • Coffee maker
  • Toaster/Toaster oven
  • Dish soap
  • Dishtowels
  • Sponges
  • Dishwasher pods
  • Paper towels
  • Ziploc bags
  • At least one plate, bowl, fork, knife, spoon, and mug
  • Food storage containers
  • Fire extinguisher

Kitchen nice-to-haves checklist:

  • Bag clips
  • Fruit basket
  • Full set of dishware, 4 place settings
  • Full set of glassware, 8 glasses
  • Full silverware set
  • Silverware organizer
  • Clock
  • Wall decor
  • Timer
  • Wine opener
  • Crockpot
  • Instapot
  • Water filter
  • Paper towel holder

Kitchen with floating shelves, and a farmhouse sink

Bedroom essentials and nice-to-haves

Creating an ideal sleep environment is crucial to your health and well-being, so feel free to spend a little more on bedroom essentials for things like a high-quality mattress and cozy, durable high-thread-count sheets. Here’s what else you’ll need on your first apartment checklist:

Bedroom essentials checklist:

  • Mattress
  • Bed frame
  • Sheets
  • Bed pillows
  • Pillowcases
  • Bedspread/comforter
  • Blankets
  • Dresser
  • Desk
  • Nightstand
  • Fan
  • Clock
  • Additional storage/boxes
  • Trash bin
  • Hangers
  • Shoe rack
  • Mirror
  • Curtains
  • Desk lamp
  • Laundry hamper

Bedroom nice-to-haves checklist:

  • Wall decor
  • Area rug
  • Vanity
  • Chair
  • Space heater, if necessary
  • Portable AC unit
  • TV stand

bed with side table

Bathroom essentials and nice-to-haves

Your bathroom is one of the areas where you can emphasize function over aesthetics, at least in the beginning. You can balance out what you spent on your bedroom by choosing less expensive yet durable products for your bathroom. Here’s what you need to complete the bathroom:

Bathroom essentials checklist:

  • Shower curtain, liner, and hooks
  • Bath towels
  • Hand towels
  • Toilet paper
  • Soap
  • Toilet brush
  • Toiletries/personal care items
  • Hand soap
  • Plunger
  • Shower mat/bath mat
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Small trash bin
  • Bathroom cleaning supplies
  • Toothbrush holder
  • Air freshener
  • Window treatment

Bathroom nice-to-haves checklist:

  • Hair towel/shower cap
  • Candle
  • Febreeze
  • Potpourri
  • Extra storage bins or baskets
  • Wall decor
  • Clock

apartment bathroom with white tiles

Dining room essentials and desirables

If you have a dining room and plan to have meals there, here are a few essentials you’ll want to buy. In many apartments, the dining room is not actually separate. Instead, it’s more likely to be space for a table and chairs adjacent to the kitchen. Some apartments have a nice countertop separating the main living space and dining area from the kitchen. With a few bar stools, you could forgo spending the extra cash on a whole dining set and still have a highly functional dining area. 

Dining room essentials checklist:

  • Dining table and chairs
  • Trivet/hot pad
  • Barstools if you have a countertop

Dining room nice-to-haves checklist:

  • Placemats
  • Wall decor
  • Centerpiece

Fridge and pantry essentials 

You may need to make countless grocery trips for specific ingredients during your time as a renter, but you’ll want to stock your refrigerator and pantry with these basics. Here’s a starter list you can customize according to your preferences and cooking habits: 

Fridge and pantry essentials checklist:

  • Produce (fruits and vegetables)
  • Frozen and fresh meat
  • Frozen and fresh seafood
  • Meat alternatives
  • Dairy
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Breakfast pastry (bagels, muffins)
  • Dessert
  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Yeast
  • Shortening
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate chips
  • Salt and pepper
  • Spices
  • Oil (vegetable oil, olive oil, etc.)
  • Mayonnaise 
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Sauces of your liking (BBQ, soy, etc.)
  • Ketchup and mustard
  • Frozen items (frozen berries, pizza, etc.)
  • Cereal
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Soup/broth
  • Snacks
  • Beverages
  • Peanut butter or nut butter
  • Jelly or jam

produce in the fridge

Cleaning equipment and supplies

Moving is a dirty job. You may find that the bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom is not clean enough for your standards, so having a fully-stocked cleaning cabinet for a deep clean on move-in day can make all the difference. Be sure to have these on hand as you need to clean before moving in, and for weekly cleaning chores:

Cleaning equipment and supplies checklist:

  • Vacuum
  • Swiffer with both wet and dry pads
  • Multi-purpose liquid cleaners like Lysol or Mr. Clean
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Laundry detergent
  • Stain remover
  • Sponges
  • Glass cleaner

Cleaning a mirror

Miscellaneous items for your first apartment

A starter toolbox is one of the “nice to have” items as you’re moving in. Whether you need to reassemble a bookshelf or hang some wall art, you’ll likely need a hammer and screwdriver on moving day. And if the ceilings in your apartment are high or the upper cabinets are out of reach, a step stool also comes in handy. Or, if your apartment isn’t equipped with A/C, you might consider investing in an A/C window unit. Here’s what else we recommend for your first apartment:

Toolkit checklist:

  • Screwdrivers (Phillips and flat head) 
  • Hammer
  • Nails and wall hooks
  • Step stool
  • Power strips and extension cords 
  • Batteries
  • Light bulbs
  • Measuring tape
  • Duct tape

“Extras” checklist:

  • Sewing kit
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Window A/C
  • Umbrella
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape

First-aid essentials

Accidents happen. Whether you cut a finger opening a box on move-in day or are feeling under the weather months from now, you’ll want a few first-aid supplies on hand: 

First-aid essentials checklist:

  • Band-Aids
  • Antibiotic ointment 
  • Anti-inflammatory (Advil, Motrin, or other)
  • Thermometer
  • All-in-one first aid kit

Contact the local utilities to service your apartment before move-in day

  • Internet: If you have a Wi-Fi router, you’ll need service, especially if you’re working remotely or want to stream your favorite shows. If you don’t have a router, you’ll want to add that to your checklist.
  • Electricity: Call the electric company as soon as you sign your lease to ensure they switch the account over to you. 
  • Water: The same applies to the water company unless your property manager sets this up automatically.
  • Gas: If your stove or heat run on gas, contact the gas utility to put the account in your name. 
  • Cable: If you want cable in addition to the internet, call the cable company in advance as it may take a while to get on their schedule. 

Items you don’t need to buy right away

There’s no need to go overboard on decorations and house plants right away. Especially after paying your security deposit, first month’s rent, and what you’ve spent on buying the essentials. If the budget is tight, plan to set aside funds over the next few months for those “nice-to-have” items at the top of your list. 

What to do on move-in day

Document your apartment’s condition

Many property managers or landlords have a move-in checklist. This checklist should lead you to document the condition of each room and all of the fixtures. Before you move your belongings into your new home, take time to document the condition of every room and everything on the move-in checklist. Consider this step as part of a renter’s insurance policy – you don’t want to pay for damage done by the previous tenant. 

Measure each room

Depending on the size of each room, you may have to scale back on the size of your furniture. If you have a smaller bedroom, the queen or king-size bed you wanted to buy might not fit. You may have difficulty fitting an oversized sofa or dresser through a doorway or down the hall. When you measure rooms and door openings in advance, you can ensure your furniture will fit in your apartment before you purchase furniture. You’ll also avoid damaging walls and door frames. 

Move your belongings safely and efficiently

Moving can be stressful. That’s why the best way to move into your first apartment is to be as organized as possible. Label each box for its intended room to make things simple, and don’t overload your boxes. Boxes come in many sizes, but not so you can fit more into a larger box. The largest boxes are actually for the lightest and bulkiest items like pillows and blankets, which take up a lot of space but don’t weigh much. Use smaller boxes to pack heavier items. Most moving companies recommend that you pack boxes not to exceed 30 pounds, a weight relatively easy for most people to lift without injury. 

Wrap bulky items like the couch or sofa in moving blankets secured by packing tape. This keeps edges from scratching the walls and prevents anything that sticks out from the wall from damaging your furniture. All wood furniture should be wrapped in blankets or packing paper. Mattresses can be packed in an oversized box that slides over each side and taped together for safety. If you don’t want to purchase boxes, a thick plastic wrap similar to painter plastic can protect your mattress. 

The items in this first apartment checklist are recommendations from those who have moved in the past. But you can personalize the checklist to meet your needs, wants, and budget, regardless of whether you’re searching for your first apartment or becoming a first-time homebuyer.

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