First Apartment Essentials Checklist: What you need, what you don’t, and what you want anyway

There’s something powerful about finally having a place to call your own. It’s your own little universe, a space to shape however you want, an environment where you can truly embrace your own vision of what home can be. And now that you have space all your own, you have to fill it with furniture and belongings all your own as well. That’s where this list comes in.

When it comes to buying for your first apartment, there are needs and there are needs. It’s easy to tell yourself you “need” an air fryer or a set of matching embroidered throw pillows, but before you get too deep down an Etsy rabbit hole, let’s consider the essentials. Room by room.


Cooking for yourself can be either the most exciting, the most daunting, or the most frustrating part of starting out on your own, depending on your love of the kitchen. But no matter how you feel about toiling over a hot stove—whether you’re more Haute Cuisine or Hot Pockets—it can be a surprise how many pieces and parts go into a functioning kitchen. Of course, depending on how in-depth your recipes are (and how big your takeout budget) the amount of kitchen items you’ll want or need might be different, but here are what most would consider the minimum essentials for a well-stocked kitchen

  • One medium frying pan or wok
  • One small pot
  • One larger pot
  • One oven-safe dish like that for a casserole
  • One large or medium cookie sheet
  • A set of plates and bowls
    • Usually 4 of each, but you can get away with two as long as you don’t have large parties, or you’re ok with eating your dinner out of a mug while your guests use dishes.
  • Flatware: Forks, knives and spoons.
    • For a first apartment, there’s probably little need for specifics like fish forks, grapefruit spoons, or cheese knives.
  • Drinking glasses
    • Water glasses for four, and maybe wine glasses too
  • A mug for coffee or tea (or hot chocolate—you’re living on your own, you can drink whatever you want!)
  • Coffee maker or French press:
    • This may seem like a nonessential purchase, but if you’re a big coffee drinker, your Starbucks tab can add up quick. It may be better to brew at home.
  • Cooking knives
    • One serrated
    • One chef’s knife
    • One paring knife
  • Spatula
  • Large wooden spoon for stirring
  • A large mixing bowl
  • Kitchen shears or scissors
  • A whole lot of paper napkins—especially if you’re not used to cooking. There will be messes.
  • Strainer for draining pasta or vegetables
  • Ice cube tray
  • Bottle opener and corkscrew
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Tupperware for leftovers, and even more Tupperware if you plan to meal prep
  • Oven mitts
  • Dish Towels
  • A dish drying rack if there’s no dishwasher
  • Garbage can



The room where the magic happens. Sleep. We’re talking about sleep. And a good night of it requires more than just a mattress slung haphazardly on the floor. When picking your bed, bedding, and other furniture, take into account the size of the room, the amount of natural light, and the location of outlets and organize accordingly. If there’s one place to splurge here, it’s on a good mattress. Make sure your bedroom is the comfiest room in the house—a room that truly makes you feel at home.

  • Sheets
  • Pillows
    • Get the basic ones before the fancy decorative ones. One or two should suffice
  • Comforter or duvet and duvet cover
    • Especially if it’s cold
  • Bedside lamp and maybe more depending on the quality of lighting in the bedroom
  • Curtains, if your bedroom doesn’t have some sort of window coverings already
  • Dresser
  • Full Length Mirror
  • Organizers including under-bed storage
  • Hangers for the closet
  • Laundry hamper


Living Room

The living room is your main space for entertaining, so make sure you have everything you need to impress your guests when they come by to see your new digs. But it doesn’t have to be crazy. Unless you’re holding some sort of grand dinner soirée, a few comfy seating options and a place to put plates should suffice to prove to everyone once and for all—or at least trick them into believing—that you are a responsible adult with your life together.

  • Sofa
  • Coffee table
  • Small dining room table and chairs
  • Additional lighting:
    • One or two lamps if lighting is a major issue
  • Table for TV or storage if you have a TV that doesn’t mount to the wall.



Everybody poops. You might as well like the way the room looks while you’re doing it. And always be prepared with extra toilet paper.

  • Bath towels
    • at least two so there’s one when the other is in the wash
  • Two hand/face towels
  • Shower curtain and liner
  • Toothbrush holder
    • although this can be anything. A plastic cup, a glass jar, a mug
  • Bathmat or rug
  • Toilet brush
  • Plunger
  • Toilet paper
    • Any will do, but don’t underestimate the serotonin boost that the small luxury of 2-ply can provide.
  • Small trash can
    • And trash bags for it


Cleaning, Maintenance, and Medical

That which lies under the sink can often go under the radar…until you need it. But while your new place may start out clean, it won’t stay that way unless you have the proper materials to maintain it. And even more important are items necessary for maintenance and medical purposes. Those are things you certainly don’t want to be caught without. They’re not the sexiest purchases you’ll make—you won’t find any Pinterest board for “cute garbage bag inspo”—but they’re nonetheless one of the most important things to have at the ready.

  • Garbage bags
    • Make sure you get the right size
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Sponges
    • Separate sets for dishes and cleaning
  • Soft rags and microfiber cloths
  • Anti-bacterial wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Bucket for mopping or cleaning
  • Mop for hard surfaces if applicable
  • Vacuum
    • For a first time apartment, a small handheld vacuum should suffice
  • Bathroom cleaning spray
  • Multi-purpose spray
  • Toilet cleaner
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dishwasher detergent,
    • if you have a dishwasher
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Baking soda and white vinegar
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hand soap for kitchen and bathroom
  • Bandages: One package of assorted sizes
  • Butterfly bandage: One package for keeping deep lacerations closed
  • Small scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Crepe bandage to reduce swelling
  • Cold compress
  • Cotton balls
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Neosporin for small wounds
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antacids
  • Aloe for minor burns, including sunburn
  • Digital thermometer
  • Fans
    • One for each room, if your apartment doesn’t have ceiling fans
  • Flashlight
    • One in your bedroom and one in the main living space
  • Screwdriver
    • Philips and straight blade for assembling furniture and other tasks
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Hammer


Food is a hard one. It’s certainly a need, yes. But do you need the entire Trader Joe’s bakery section? Maybe not. So here are the basics for any beginner kitchen. Beyond that, let your own culinary flag fly!

  • Rice
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • All-purpose flour
  • Sugar (or sugar substitute)
  • Baking soda and power
  • Coffee or tea
  • Cereal
  • Quick oats
  • Nut butter of your choice
  • Ketchup, mustard, or other preferred condiments
  • Vinegar of your choosing
  • Cooking oil of your choice
  • Soy sauce
  • Pasta sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Salsa
  • A few of your favorite snack foods (chips, pretzels nuts)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic
  • Milk (or plant milk)
  • Butter
  • Eggs or egg substitute
  • Fresh fruit and veg
    • Or canned/frozen fruit and veg
  • Jam or preserves
  • Meat or poultry
  • A sweet treat or two to celebrate your new digs.

Dig in!

Now for the fun part: the essentials are fun, but the nonessentials are even better. Here are some things you may not need, but you just can’t help picking up.

In the kitchen:

Appliances like a food processor, a stand mixer, an instant pot, or an air fryer are the darlings of the modern kitchen. They can make cooking easier, create variety in your menu, and be fun to try out. Just make sure you have the space and budget to get them and the time to put them to good use. The same goes for additional pots and pans, baking trays, fun molds and dishware—it’s not necessary, but if cooking and entertaining is something you truly love, the extra expense can be worth it.

In the living room:

The living room is more than likely where you’ll do most of your entertaining. It’s a room that should represent you and your style to your guests, as well as being an ideal location for…as the name suggests…living. That means even though decorative rugs, throw pillows, art, planters, and tchotchkes aren’t necessities in the strictest sense, they do contribute a lot to making your home truly yours.

Oh, and a TV. Again, not a necessity…unless the Super Bowl is coming up.

In the bedroom:

Another place where decorations may not be mandatory, but it would feel a little bit dour without them. This is your room! Make it special with some art you love, a decorative rug, or even a little reading nook in the corner complete with bookshelves and a comfy chair. Whatever you do, just make it your own.

In the cleaning closet:

Keeping your home clean becomes a point of pride when that home is your own. It’s a way to show respect to your own space, and to impress with your superior housekeeping abilities. So a fancy vacuum, furniture polish and wax, and various other more high-maintenance cleaning supplies can give you the upper hand you need to keep everything spotless.

In the bathroom:

Probably not where you’re going to be driven to excess, but bath products like expensive shampoos, skincare products, and bath bombs can be one way to relax. And if there’s any one way you should feel in your new home, it’s relaxed.

And anywhere else

The best part about having a place all your own is that you decide what to use the space for. So whether it’s a spiffy home office, a fully decked out gym, a room to keep your fabric and sewing machine, or a playground of toys and treats for your fur baby, your new place can be unapologetically you.

And to make sure that all that stuff that makes your place yours also makes it in one piece, movers like Elite Moving and Storage have everything necessary to ensure that the important things (and the frivolities) are transported quickly and safely. So whether your first new place is a studio or a larger space, whether it’s a forever home or just a stepping stone to something more, you can feel secure that it will feel like home with all your belongings transferred with the ease and speed of 15+ years of Chicagoland moving expertise.