How to Furnish an Apartment in 4 Days with Used Stuff


Back in April, Mike and I decided to interject a shot of home into our nomadic ways by spending the summer in Denver. This meant, for the first time since we initially left our home, we’d have a lot of long-distance relocation logistics to manage. I guess that sounds a little funny, considering we’d been doing a lot of long distance travel planning as we hopped around Central America for the past 2 years. But a big part of why this Denver relocation was a little more complicated is because for the first time in all that time, we were renting an unfurnished apartment in a typical US car-centric city — and were still committed to finding almost all used or upcycled furnishings. After having sold and donated nearly everything we owned before setting off to travel, and after seeing the endless waste of useful stuff in landfills, we weren’t eager to accumulate or throw away more stuff.1

Lots of people buy their furnishings and keep them in one house for 20 years or more, which is a great way to keep your carbon footprint in check. Clearly, that’s not our path. So we’re trying to be cool about it here. We’re not experts in carbon footprint reduction by any means, but we’ve learned a few things about using and spending less. The good news is, there are lots and lots of collaborative consumption and specialized social networking sites that enable buyers and borrowers to connect with sellers and renters. We used them to make our landing back home much softer.

So here’s how we moved in and furnished an apartment in the US in 4 days.

Step 1: Find an Apartment

Though our longest stay over the past two years had been an unintentional 4 months, this time we were looking at an intentional 6 months or more, so we didn’t want to end up in a stinky, soul-less high rise in an uninspired complex behind a strip club. This is exactly what happened to our traveling friends who came home the previous summer and the experience left them feeling grumpy and unwelcome in a city they used to call home. I mean there’s a lot of love going on inside the Shotgun Willie’s strip club…

Shotgun Willie's, Denver

but not so much for the people living inside the apartment complexes surrounding it. So how did we avoid this crappy situation?

  1. Contacting Previous Landlords
  2. Craigslist + Having a Person Available to Look at Units For Us
  3. Getting Lucky (but not in a Shotgun Willie’s kind of way)

The first thing we did was contact our previous landlord. They were a great management company with lots of good properties, good maintenance, and good lease terms. Then, we asked around to see if any of our friends would be available to go look at a couple of places for us if we needed them to. And even though we had those things lined up via email, we just got lucky when a family member posted on Facebook that her condo would be available — exactly when we were headed back into town. We snagged it without sending anyone to look at it, handled lease stuff via email, and then moved on to finding furnishings.

If you don’t have the luxury of knowing the neighborhoods in a city or have a friend who can scope out a place for you, or a cousin with a condo that’s available exactly when you need it (seriously? how lucky are we?), I can’t recommend booking a place site-unseen in the US unless you’re only committing to a month. Instead, I recommend timing your arrival to be a few days before the 1st of the month, then staying at an airbnb with a kitchen until you find a place — which will probably take about a week. Mike and I took a few lumps and learned a few things from our recent relocation to New Orleans, and that is one of them.

Step 2: Find Furnishings

I admit, it would have been easier and faster to rent a U-haul cargo van, drive to Ikea, and fill the van with light-weight, easy-to-carry, hex-wrench-assembly furniture. But we were able to furnish our place in 4 days with used furniture with the small rental car we picked up at the airport by taking advantage of these resources in advance of our arrival:

Our friends
and thrift stores after our arrival.

If you’re careful about your furniture selections, you’ll be able to find things that are light weight and easy to disassemble.

Though most of you are probably familiar with craigslist, you might not know about NextDoor. It’s similar to craigslist in that you can post things you’re selling. But it’s different because as a user, you have a name, profile, and street address, and you’re automatically filtering by postings from people in your neighborhood. This means it’s super easy to swing by a few houses near your new place instead of driving all over the city to chase down some pots and pans. And since everyone who participates has an identity, people are less likely to do the craigslist flake — which is to never show up or to follow through with their promises. This is particularly useful when you’re messaging someone and saying “hey! I’m not going to be in town for another 2 weeks, but I promise to take your table and chairs if you hold them for me.” That’s pretty much not going to fly with craigslist users. Also, my experience on NextDoor is that often times people are just looking to make sure their unwanted extra stuff goes to a good home, which is a different motivation than making as much money as you can from a transaction. I found that people were more responsive, more honest, and more willing to be flexible with me.

Thrift stores and the alleys in the nicer neighborhoods are also good places to find decent wooden furniture. But these options can take a little more time, since you won’t know the inventory until you get there. So I recommend using craigslist and NextDoor for as much as you can, then hit the thrift shops to get the rest.

Step 3: Go Get those Furnishings

Since we don’t own a car, we decided to rent one at the airport for 5 days upon returning to help with this shlepping of stuff. Since I lined up 1/2 of our stuff in advance via craigslist and NextDoor, we were able to zip around with the rental car to 4 people’s houses, 2 thrift stores, and a friend’s house and had everything we needed by the end of the 4th day. In fact, the only new things we bought for our apartment upon arriving were an airbed & mattress pad, a shower curtain (and rings), and food. BOOM.

See? It’s not that hard.

… I say to myself after having done a lot of leg work before hand and a lot of coordinating with people upon arrival. It really just takes focus, organization, a decent wifi connection, and a little luck.

I know some of you move around the US a lot. Do you have any tips on how to find a place and transition into a new city?

1. Compared to the rest of the world, people in the US, Ireland, Norway, and Guyana throw away a heck of a lot of stuff (source) . Some of this is due to logistics, but some of this is also cultural. It’s what we’ve always done (for the last memorable generation). We’re really trying be a part of shifting disposable-centric culture towards conservative consumerism.

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