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How to Set up a Kick-Ass Apartment on the Cheap

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Three weeks ago, my partner Tyler and I moved into our first place together. Overnight we each went from established, shared houses with everything we needed, to our own one-bedroom apartment in Oakland with almost no furniture and no kitchen things. We love to cook and we want our space to look nice. But we’re broke. Here are my best tips on how we’re setting up our new home on the cheap.

Good Enough for Now

Until we upgrade to something more our style, we’re sitting on cushions with tiny dogs.

I have particular tastes when it comes to furniture. Funky, vintage dressers make me weak at the knees. And while you can get some sweet deals off Craigslist, FREE trumps cheap. So when Tyler’s former housemate offered us her old kitchen table and chairs, I said, “Hells yeah!” Are dog print cushions my taste? No. Is this better than eating off our laps on the futon that used to be Tyler’s bed? Definitely.

Walk the Streets

Why yes that is an accordion!

I actually found everything here in my new neighborhood’s sidewalk FREE boxes. One person’s trash is another scrounge’s treasure.

Thrift it Up
Well-made kitchen things last a long time, so it’s totally worth scoping out your local thrift store. I got a measuring cup and spoons, a metal colander, a cookie sheet, and so on, all in good condition at Goodwill for about $15. New, they would have cost me three times as much.

Just a Little Bit

We got a little baggie of turmeric for 40¢!

Salt and pepper. These were literally our only spices when we moved in and I pulled them out of our camping box. Tyler and I love cooking curries and Moroccan tagines. These ain’t the old Silk Road days, but even so, we couldn’t afford to build up an entire spice rack. Were we doomed to bland food? Never!

Get this. Natural food stores like Berkeley Bowl and Rainbow, often sell spices in bulk. These stores sell empty spice jars for around $2 each. Or if you’ve got a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have a small selection of spices in glass jars for $2 each.

Ask for Stuff
Over the years, my parents had accumulated more wooden spoons and mixing bowls than they knew what to do with. Similarly, they’d upgraded to nicer frying pans but still had their old ones. When we moved, they totally hooked us up. Sure their old frying pans are a little scratched, but they’re better than nothing. For folks without parents nearby, ask your friends! Recently married peeps are good bets for hand-me-downs, since they probably just got a ton of fancy kitchen shit for their wedding.

Yard Sales Rock my World

Sweet-ass deals and FREE stuff too.

Our first weekend in Oakland, Tyler and I found a cute bedside table at a yard sale for only $10. At another yard sale, once the guy realized we weren’t going to buy his designer mid-century modern lamp for $200, he gave us a bunch of plates for FREE! Now we could stop eating off our camping plates.

What Do You Really Need?
Actually, living simply and being resourceful has been fun. It reminds me of camping. We’ve been making some pretty tasty toast in a frying pan. Several weeks without a microwave and we’re both feeling that we don’t even need one. There’s a whole kitchen appliance industry trying to convince us we need gadgets for everything. Thinking critically about what we really need has made us feel like anti-consumerist kitchen rebels.

Enjoy the Process
There have totally been times these past few weeks when I’ve felt overwhelmed setting up a new home, or frustrated when I don’t have what I want. But it’s also a really exciting time. Tyler and I are living together for the first time and exploring our new neighborhood. Slowly and steadily, we’re making our apartment into a home. And that all feels pretty awesome.

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Fayette Fox - The Scrimpy Scribe

Fayette Fox - The Scrimpy Scribe

Fayette is a freelance writer and Co-Founder of My Love Ninja, an OkCupid profile makeover service. She rewrites people's profiles to help them put their best foot forward and find love. Her debut novel, "The Deception Artist" was published in North America in March 2015, by Roaring Forties Press. She loves hanging out with friends, cooking, and seeing staged readings of new plays.