The Rookie

I know there are some readers out there who are preparing to move into their first solo apartment (or recently have). I've been in my own place almost two years, and I have some advice to share. Readers, please feel free to add your own 2 cents in the comments section! Without further adieu, here are the Maggie Rose Rules of the Rookie Apartment:

1. Paint is your best friend. Even if your landlord would freak at color, choosing a pretty shade of white can off-set the "renter" vibe. I lucked out--my apartment came with a soft gray on the walls.

2. Add to shopping list: Sponges, bucket, all-purpose spray, microfiber dust-clothes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (amazing). Have carpet? Buy a vacuum. Have wood floors? Buy a Swiffer. Trust me, once you eliminate all the scum of the last renter and scrubbed the place yourself, you'll immediately feel like it's your own.

3. Raid the attic and basement. Of your parents and relatives that is. But be comfortable saying no to the horrific couch your bachelor uncle wants to pawn off on you so he can upgrade. You're not the Goodwill. Sure, beggars can't be choosers. But don't beg and you can still choose. Make sure to get a thumbs up if you plan on painting or altering an item or you might get some unexpected backlash at your house-warming (after a year or two, do what you want unless they've specifically said no).

4. Make Craigslist your homepage. Seriously, there is amazing stuff on there, but you have to check regularly. The good stuff goes fast and the early bird gets the worm. Always negotiate. And try to see any furniture item or appliance in person before agreeing to it. Pictures don't show everything (like scratchiness of a sofa).

5. Finish one room within 48 hours of moving in. I usually complete the bathroom because it's small and it's easy to establish a "decor". You could go with a uniform (white towels and curtain for me), or decorate it uniquely (you probably already saw it on your tour). Shop the clearance aisle at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target for great deals on fun waste baskets and toothbrush holders. And consider what you really need before wasting your money. Will you use that cup that matches the kleenex box and soap dish or will it just take up room?

6. Stock the kitchen wisely. Speaking of not buying unnecessary items, here's how I first determined what I would need for my kitchen: I made a list of every dish that I routinely make (like pasta and pancakes), plus a few that I occasionally make (like cake or smoothies). Then I consider the tools needed to make those dishes. Strainer, spatula, cake pans, blender... What I did NOT do: Go to the kitchen supply store or Target and pick up one of everything (zester, melon baller, baster). This way I'm actually using the tools that I have. If I add a recipe to my repertoire (say, fried chicken), I may try it out at a friend's house before committing to a baster and meat thermometer. Also: your parents may have duplicates of tools they'd be willing to give you, like cookie sheets. Estate sales are also good for basic kitchen items (wash before using, obviously).

7. Just because you're young and broke doesn't mean you can't be stylish. For table settings, I use a mish-mash of silverware (some left behind by old roommates) and plain white plates. Mine are from Crate and Barrel (I'm picky about my bowls), but something from ikea or Target would work just fine). For a festive table, try picking up single china plates at an antique mall or yard sale (or even Goodwill). You could stick to the same color family or try a whole hodgepodge for an elegant Mad Hatter-bohemian look. You may be able to find these for only a dollar or two apiece for a more interesting look. Hem a piece of discounted fabric for a tablecloth and you're ready for brunch!

8. You don't have to be fully furnished. It took me a year and a half in my own place to buy a coffee table because once I had the money, I couldn't decide on one! If I had to do it again I might have purchased a "placeholder" table from ikea or a yard sale, but if you don't NEED it, it's ok to wait a while. You'll need a bed, somewhere to put stuff (shelves or dressers), somewhere to eat, and that's about it. I waited a few months to buy a couch and just sat on pillows to watch tv. I survived.

9. Hang it up. If you're the only twenty-something without at least one artist friend that would be willing to do a cheap painting or what-not for you, make something yourself. Find art on Etsy.com and get Ikea frames. Or blow up some of your photos from your semester abroad (or of the cool bug in your backyard) and get those framed. If you're at all crafty, buy a canvas (anywhere from $10 to $100), get some paints, and slap-dash a "modern" painting (try to avoid anything too Pollock-inspired... they look the most fakey for some reason).

10. This is your time to be YOU. Without a live-in boyfriend or hubby, without kids, without roommates (yay!) this is the one time your living space is 100% about you. So go ahead and slather it in pink if that's your thing. Hang a gallery wall of all the foreign places you want to see. Don't want a GIANT big screen TV and xbox controllers everywhere? Done. Enjoy it now and make the most of it and you'll have great memories of this time. And be sure to take photos!

Readers, any other suggestions for our Rookie renters?