Your First Apartment Checklist: Essentials You Need to Buy

This post contains references to products from one or more of our partners and Updater may receive compensation when you purchase those products.

While you dream up how to decorate your new home, we’re here to bring you the ultimate first apartment checklist. With this comprehensive list in hand, you’ll be sure to have everything you need for your first apartment. Get excited, because we’re going shopping!

What You Should Buy Before You Move:

What You Should Buy After (or Before) Your Move:

Ready to get started now checking items off your First Apartment Checklist?

first apartment checklist buy before you move

First Apartment Checklist: What You Should Buy Before You Move

Think of this section as a condensed version of your first apartment checklist: everything listed here is a must-have. Period. Make sure that you’ve checked off all these items before you move — whether purchased, commandeered from your parent’s basement, or found for cheap at your local thrift store. Then, keep everything on this list close by when you move. After all, who wants to be rifling through boxes for a shower curtain when you should be out the door and on your way to work or class?

Bedroom Essentials

A mattress should be one of the first items you buy after signing your apartment lease. Yes, you would be fine sleeping on the floor, but life gets crazy busy, and that first night on the floor could easily turn into a month before you find the time to purchase a mattress. Check out some tips for picking your new mattress. And don’t forget all of the stuff you need to make your bed cozy — sheets, duvet or comforter, mattress topper, pillows, etc.

Your bed, dresser and nightstand can be bought as part of a match set, or you can mix and match to suit your preferences. Your bedroom can take a whole new look depending on what styles you choose — so start browsing early. 

If you know what you need for curtains or shades, grab them ahead of time — it’s no fun to get stuck without anything to cover your bedroom windows (privacy, anyone?). If not, make sure you have an extra sheet or blanket to tack up temporarily.

Finally, invest in some hangers before the move. The sooner you can get your clothing unpacked and put away, the sooner your first apartment will feel like home.

  • Mattress 
  • Bed, dresser, nightstand
  • Sheet set 
  • Duvet, comforter or quilt
  • Mattress topper or mattress pad
  • Pillows
  • Window treatments 
  • Clothes hangers/coat hangers

Not sure where to start? Check out some of our bedding favorites from Target:

Living Space Essentials

Whether you want to host movie nights or classy cocktail parties, you’re going to need seating that matches your style, while being functional at the same time. Bonus points for a sleeper sofa or futon — it can double as a place for your guests to crash. Oh, and there’s no shame in snagging something used from a friend or family member.

A coffee table is also essential for your first apartment. It’s a great place to put drinks when hosting a party, but also provides a way to express your personality in your home.

And whether you’re paying for cable or not, getting a television is a great investment. It’s not absolutely essential, but it is necessary for throwing awesome movie nights! If you’re a film buff, you could consider skipping a TV and getting an awesome projector setup instead. If you already have a television, follow these tips for moving electronics.

If you haven’t set up your internet or TV service yet, check out what providers service your new address.

  • Comfy couch 
  • Coffee table 
  • Television

Bathroom Essentials

Bathroom items might not need as much consideration as some of your larger first apartment purchases, but you still may want to consider the style of your bathroom. It’s easy to find coordinating shower curtains, towels and more — so that these bathroom essentials all look great together.

After a long day of moving, you’ll probably be dying for a hot shower. Pack your toiletry items (soap, shampoo, etc.) with the other items in this section of your first apartment checklist, and you’ll be ready for some much-needed self care. See what else you might want to pack in this “open-first” box.

  • Shower curtain 
  • Bath towels
  • Hand towels
  • Toilet paper
  • Soap
  • Shower curtain liner
  • Shower curtain hooks

Check out some of these simple and chic shower curtains from Target that will look great in your new bathroom!

Kitchen Essentials

Every apartment is different, so whether you need a full kitchen table and chairs or just bar stools is up to you to decide. But you will eventually want somewhere to sit other than your couch to eat dinner.

You could stick with paper plates and cups until you buy a full dish set, but we recommend going ahead and purchasing a few of these items before you move in. That way, if it takes you a few weeks to pick out kitchenware you love, you’ll at least have the essentials on hand. Using real dishware is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. 

  • Table and chairs or barstools 
  • Plate
  • Cereal bowl
  • Water glass
  • Mug
  • Fork, knife, spoon
  • Dish towels
  • Kitchen trash can
  • Sandwich bags or food storage containers

Home Toolkit and Essentials

Whether it’s to take apart a bookshelf or put it back together, you won’t regret having tools like a screwdriver and a hammer on moving day. Once you start unpacking, you’ll also want to have wall hooks and nails on hand. There’s nothing as frustrating as being in an unpacking and decorating groove, only to find you have to stop and buy these items. And whether you’re short or your new apartment has high ceilings, a step stool will be extremely valuable during the early phases of unpacking and is a must-have for your first apartment. 

Plus, who can’t find a use for duct tape?

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

Cleaning Essentials 

You’ll want to consider cleaning the day before you move in — it’s just too much work to clean and move on the same day. Then make sure your cleaning supplies are in easy reach on moving day to catch anything you missed. 

As a substitute for surface cleaners, white vinegar is also a decent option and doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals. Get plenty of sponges to replace often. No one likes a stinky sponge!

  • Dustpan and broom or vacuum
  • A Swiffer with both dry and wet pads
  • Multi-purpose liquid cleaner like Lysol or Mr. Clean
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Toilet scrubber
  • Toilet bowl cleaning solution
  • Dish soap
  • Sponges

First-Aid Kit Essentials

Unfortunately, accidents do happen when moving. Whether you cut a finger opening boxes or on a broken water glass, you’ll want band-aids and ointment on hand. And you just might find yourself a little achy by the end of moving day.

  • Band-Aids
  • Antibiotic ointment 
  • Anti-inflammatory such as Advil
  • Thermometer

Check out this compact and convenient first aid kit that will have you prepared for all small emergencies.

Safety Essentials

Your apartment probably already has smoke detectors, but if it’s an older building, you may want to add one or two for extra coverage. Make sure you also have a carbon monoxide detector, and add a small fire extinguisher to your safety essentials list to keep on hand near the kitchen.

  • Smoke detectors
  • Carbon monoxide detector
  • Fire extinguisher

First Apartment Checklist: What You Should Buy After (or Before) Your Move

First Apartment Checklist - Bedroom

Bedroom Space

All you need in a bedroom is a bed, right? Nope! These items will start to make your first apartment bedroom a cozy, restful place to fall asleep at night.

You could technically sleep on the floor with just your mattress, but you’re probably going to want a bed frame if you didn’t already purchase a bed. There are many options for bed frames, so make sure to shop around, consider the size of your apartment, and choose what best fits your needs. And unless you went with a platform style bed, you’ll need a box spring or foundation to support your mattress on your frame.

Don’t forget to buy and install some window treatments if you’re still sleeping with a sheet tacked over the window.

  • Bed frame
  • Box spring or foundation 
  • Vanity or desk
  • Comfy chair
  • Bedside/reading lamp
  • Laundry hamper
  • Closet storage solutions like a hanging closet organizer or shoe rack
  • Full-length mirror
  • Decor items such as decorative pillows, cozy blanket, rug, wall art
first apartment checklist bedroom

first apartment checklist - living space

Living Space 

You’ve got the couch and coffee table, but there are a few more items you’ll want for a more functional first living space. 

No one likes living in a cave — and not every apartment comes with overhead lighting. Add both class and functionality to your space by picking out a cool lamp or two. And once your belongings are unpacked, you’re going to need somewhere to put everything. Whether that’s a bookshelf or a TV cabinet, make sure you take into account all your belongings (including the ones on this first apartment checklist), and then find the best storage for your needs.

  • Extra lighting such as floor and table lamps 
  • Side tables
  • Storage solutions
  • Extra seating
  • Window treatments
  • Decorative pillows
  • Throw blanket
  • Decor items such as wall art, picture frames, coffee table books, houseplants, candles, vases
first apartment checklist

first apartment checklist --bathroom

Bathroom Space

We’re here to make sure you don’t get so excited about choosing the scent of your hand lotion that you forget to purchase a bath mat. Double check to make sure you have everything you need for a functional first bathroom. 

Like your bedroom, it’s good to have some privacy in your bathroom. If there’s a window, you probably want to cover it. It’s also helpful to have a bathmat and/or bathroom rug to keep water off your floors. Consider matching your window coverings and bathmats to the shower curtain and towels you already picked out.

  • Window treatments 
  • Bathmat and/or bathroom rug
  • Bathroom wastebasket
  • Toilet paper holder
  • Plunger
  • Storage solutions for your toiletries
  • Tissues
  • Hand soap and lotion
  • Small vanity mirror
  • Air freshening spray

first apartment checklist -- kitchen

Kitchen Space

For this section of our first apartment checklist, we break down what you need in your new home to cook like a boss, host awesome parties, and store your leftovers. It’s a lengthy section, so buckle up.

Don’t forget that you may have already purchased some of these essentials before the move. Now’s the time to grab a few more items to round out your collections and place settings.

Dishware and Utensils

You can purchase a boxed set of dishes from a retail or department store. Or have some fun by mixing and matching the pieces you like best. It’s a good idea to start with at least four full sets of dishware — but you can always buy more if you think you’ll be hosting larger parties.

  • Dinner plates
  • Salad plates
  • Cereal bowls
  • Mugs
  • Water glasses
  • Serving platters
  • Silverware 
  • Serving utensils
  • Other cooking utensils you think you’ll use. Consider stocking your first apartment with a spatula, spoon, and slotted spoon.

Pots and Pans

For your first apartment, we recommend keeping it simple and getting a kitchen starter kit from a department or retail store. However, if you’re more of the DIY type, these are a few basic pots and pans you should have in your first kitchen. 

  • Large stock pot
  • 2-quart saucepan
  • 10-inch frying pan
  • Rimmed baking sheet 
  • Cookie sheet
  • Large baking/casserole dish
First apartment checklist kitchen


While you don’t need a ton of fancy gadgets at your first apartment, there are a few key appliances you’re likely to use frequently. You’ll definitely want a toaster and microwave (if your apartment doesn’t include one). And if you crave your morning cup of java, you won’t want to go long without some sort of coffee maker. There are plenty of options out there, from a single-serve Keurig to traditional drip coffee makers to a fancy French press — add one of them to your first apartment checklist.

  • Coffee pot and/or kettle 
  • Toaster or toaster oven
  • Microwave
  • Hand mixer
  • Blender
  • Crockpot or instant pot

Tools and supplies

You need more than just pots and pans to prepare and store your food. From opening a beer to draining your pasta, these kitchen tools will round out your first apartment. As for your knives, a few basics like a paring knife, chef knife and something serrated will cover most of your needs. Grab a few pieces of Tupperware or Gladware to keep your food fresh (if you haven’t already).

  • Cutting knives 
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Mixing bowl 
  • Colander
  • Bottle, can opener, corkscrew
  • Aluminum foil and cling wrap
  • Food storage containers

Spices and pantry

Even if you’re not a budding chef, you’ll still want to stock your pantry with these basics. Choose spices and condiments according to your own preferences and cooking habits. You can always add to your collection later — here’s a complete list to pick up more groceries after you’re all settled into your first apartment.

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Spices you cook with often
  • Oil (vegetable, olive, coconut, etc.)
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Flour
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Vanilla extract
  • Vinegar (white wine, balsamic, etc.)
  • Soy sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard

Miscellaneous kitchen items

Don’t forget to check these miscellaneous kitchen items off your first apartment checklist soon after your move. It’s no fun to fish a hot pan out of the oven sans oven mitt.

  • Water filter
  • Recycling bin
  • Silverware organizer
  • Dish drying rack
  • Paper towel holder
  • Oven mitts


You don’t want to go too long without taking care of your laundry! It’s time to grab any additional cleaning items you still need.

  • Laundry basket
  • Laundry detergent
  • Stain remover
  • Dishwasher detergent

first apartment checklist -- miscellaneous

Miscellaneous Items

From reducing plastic water bottle waste to repairing loose buttons, these first apartment checklist items cover the miscellaneous stuff that will make life in your new place a little easier.

Command hooks are useful for so many purposes. Whether you want to hang bags, baseball caps, or keys, command hooks are a cheap and easy solution. Plus, since you’re likely renting your first apartment, the hooks are a great way to ensure you don’t damage the walls and ensure you’re able to get your security deposit back in full.

Consider investing in a space heater and/or window AC if your apartment’s HVAC isn’t quite up to snuff — but make sure you choose one of the safest space heater options.

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Sewing kit
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Command hooks 
  • Space heater
  • Window AC
  • Light bulbs 
  • Umbrella
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape
  • Chip clips

Ready to cross everything you need for your first apartment off the list? Take this printable checklist with you when you start shopping, and you’ll be all set.

So that’s your ultimate first apartment checklist — save this list and our Epic Moving Checklist, and you’ll be ready for a stress-free transition to your new home.

Download the full apartment checklist PDF!

Related Articles