You’ve done it. You’ve moved into your first apartment — your very own place. The unpacked boxes and suitcases, the Rubbermaid bins stuffed with comforters and duct-taped into place, the un-curtained windows: everything holds hope and promise.
It’s only later that little things start to go wrong. Little things – a leaky faucet, a toilet that won’t flush, a jammed window – that start to pile up and overwhelm you. And suddenly, your new apartment starts to feel like an alien host, callous about your needs and comfort, because the walls are bare, and those Audrey Hepburn and ‘Requiem for a Dream’ posters do seem so very…undergraduate. You’ve just upgraded your living space – you need to upgrade how you want it to reflect your personality and taste. And you need it to operate properly.
Part I – Hardware Issues: Fix ‘Em and Nix ‘Em
No one realizes just how important tools can be till after they leave the amniotic sac known as the college dorm. Before, if the bathroom sink began spurting icy jets of water, you sent maintenance an e-mail and the portly building engineer came running in minutes. If the blinds came loose from their screws, you sent a text to your floormates, and the nearest guy with a hammer would swing by. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a kind and reliable super. Most people aren’t, and don’t. In either case, you don’t want get caught by an uncooperative toilet or piles of un-hung photo frames, and a reliable, good quality tool kit – and knowing how to use it – is the best response.
- 4-in-1 Philips screwdriver (with a variety of bits)
- Level (crucial if you want to hang art and photographs)
- Allen wrench (it comes free inside any box of Ikea furniture, so don’t lose it, because you will almost certainly own something from Ikea)
- Tape measure
- Pair of pliers (there are several kinds: needlenosed, slipjoint, lockjaw and lineman’s; you may need all four, so ask your handy friend/family member for advice)
- 14-volt battery-powered drill
- Utility knife (with extra set of blades)
- Miscellaneous: scissors (you need a strong pair of kitchen scissors – paper cutting scissors will go blunt in a matter of months if you use them for hardware purposes) and a fire extinguisher (your apartment should, by law, have one, but when has the law stopped a landlord from being careless and/or cheap?)
You can get these on the cheap at multiple locations: if you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, take someone handy with you, as they’ll know which brand and price suit your needs. You can check Craigslist but most tools for sale on the site tend to be used, and investing in hardy new tools will pay off in the long run.
If you’d rather not pay for hammers and screwdrivers, ask your handy parent or sibling if you can put together a basic set from theirs. (To preempt their annoyance with your request, ask for a tutorial. They’ll appreciate the chance to show off their knowledge, and you need to learn what exactly pliers do. If you’re in a hurry to move in, get settled and then go home for a weekend and learn the basics then.)
PART II – Ignore the Lines at Ikea and Patroll Fleas for Ideas
That’s fleas as in ‘flea markets.’ Every city has one, even if you have to drive to an obscure parking lot on the fourth Thursday of every other month to find it. You could plan a weekend trip to Ikea, and stock up on striped carpets (handmade in Malaysian sweatshops), dull lamps and furniture made from particleboard.
It’d be much more interesting, however, to stroll through flea markets, thrift shops and estate sales. Hand-woven Turkish rugs, vintage biscuit tins from Holland, pottery from New Mexico, a funky mirror framed in blank with dangling gold sequins: I’ve seen these and more at street markets all over New York. Chances are, variations are available at a church bazaar in your neighborhood.
Dorm rooms feel like they represent us and our beliefs, but we live there because it’s a requirement. The space is non-negotiable, and even the way we decorate is dictated by what is deemed “cool” for an undergraduate to project. This period of your life, then, is when you get to, in a way, go crazy. Listen to your parents when they recommend brands for sheets and Dutch ovens, but go vintage for the living room, mod for the bedroom, nautical for the kitchen.
The aphorism ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ is not only true, it’s downright invaluable advice. The 21st century has seen a resurgence of what was once considered old-fashioned become en vogue. Long strands of pearls, once only associated with Victorian grandmothers, made a comeback; Soviet-era posters, emblazoned with warnings against loose talk in Russian, appeared in living rooms; and previously unnoticed household goods, like plates printed with jazzy patterns, became legitimate wall hangings. This is all to your advantage, as these items are still quite cheap, and easy – after a lesson or two about pliers and nails – to install.