Whether you’re moving into your first apartment after graduating high school or finishing up college and moving to a new town to start your first job as an “adult,” you’re probably going to need to furnish your new home. Furnishing a whole house, though, can be really expensive. You need a bed, mattress, couch, and a table and chairs, not to mention all the optional furniture: a tv stand, bar stools, bookshelves, and a dresser, among other things. Most college students and recent grads don’t have the money to buy everything new, and many wonder, “What furniture is okay to buy used?”
Generally, you’ll do fine buying anything made of metal (outdoor furniture, for instance). You can wash it yourself or paint it if you want, and it’ll be as good as new. Wooden furniture is often fine too, though you may need to sand it down and give it a fresh coat of paint or varnish, depending on its condition. Before you spend money on that table and chairs set, though, check to make sure that the table is sturdy (no wobbly tables for you!) and that the chairs are comfortable. What’s the use in buying something if you’re going to resent having to use it?
You need to start being careful with any furniture that has a plush component: chairs with cushions, couches, ottomans, and anything with a throw pillow. First, stuffing can break down over time, so if you notice that anything is lumpy, make a hard pass. If you’re on the fence about whether or not the filling is going to last much longer, sit on it! Try to get comfortable on the couch or chair, decide if you would be comfortable sitting or lying there long term, and make your decision that way. So many Americans spend their evenings snuggled up on the couch or in an armchair, so you should be sure that you buy one that allows you to feel right at home.
Once you’ve checked for lumpy stuffing and decided that you’ll be comfortable using a particular piece of furniture, it’s time to take a closer look. Do you notice any stains? Did the previous owner have a pet? Did the previous owner smoke? Do you see any signs of bugs? There are some stains that you’ll be able to get out on your own, or you could consider having the item reupholstered (though that’s going to cost you a fair amount), but if the stains are extensive or animal-made, you’re better off choosing a different item. Pet stains, particularly pet urine, leaves a noticeable smell; even if you can get the stain out, the smell is likely to linger. Like pet smells, the smell that a piece of furniture takes on when its owner was a smoker is heavy and nearly impossible to remove. Unless you’re a smoker yourself, you’ll want to keep looking; that smell is not going to come out.
If you’re considering purchasing a used area rug, check for the same things you would look for when choosing plush furniture: stains and smells. You’ll also want to look for any places where the rug is worn unevenly. This may or may not bother you, but it does change the aesthetic (and you can probably bargain for a lower price because of it). If you do buy a rug, be sure to vacuum and clean it when you bring it home; you can rent steam cleaners from stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot.
The one piece of furniture that you should never buy used: a mattress. There are so many reasons not to buy a used mattress: people sleep on them unevenly and don’t rotate them often, so the mattress may have a well-developed, human-sized crease; people are inherently dirty and mattresses are covered in their germs; and, worst of all, mattresses are often home to bed bugs. The last thing you want to do is bring home a used mattress, sleep one night on it, and wake up covered in bed bug bites. Not only will you have to have a professional exterminator come to eradicate them, but you’ll probably end up throwing away more than just the mattress.
When it comes to the rest of the furnishings in your apartment, you’re probably okay shopping used for most everything. There’s no reason you need to buy brand new art for your walls or brand new silverware (though you should wash it before you use it the first time). Even your appliances, like a microwave or toaster, are probably okay to buy used, provided you test them out first. New kitchen pots and pans might be a good idea, though, especially if you like nonstick ones since a nonstick coating will degrade over time. Your sheets, pillows, and comforter, too, should be purchased new (see: everything mentioned about mattresses above). The rest is up to you!
If you’re in the market for used furniture, appliances, etc., consider shopping at estate sales (these are often listed in the local paper and occur when a home needs to be emptied of its furnishings due to a move, the owner declaring bankruptcy, or a death); thrift stores and consignment shops (including Goodwill and Salvation Army); or a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. You may also have luck when reading through Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace postings (never go alone to purchase something from someone you met on the internet, and when possible, meet in a public location). If you need a place to shop new and cheap, IKEA is the favorite of many college students and recent grads, but you may find great deals at shops in your area too.