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Decorating My First Apartment – A Look Back

Reminiscing about decorating my first apartment as my son gets ready to go away to college for the first time.

My son is on Easter Break this week and we’ve been working on registration for his post-secondary classes next year. It seems like not that long ago we were buying kindergarten school supplies and now we’re here! That’s the way it goes, I guess. When I think back to my first year of college, I remember it being an exciting time. I shared a two bedroom apartment with a friend, and was thrilled to “set up house” for the first time. It’s a memory that’s still very clear to me.

Decorating on a Budget

Back then finances were tight, and my decorating budget was basically nonexistent. If it wasn’t for garage sale fix-ups, thrift store finds and a few items purchased by my parents, our living room would’ve been empty. My grandparents even helped out by going through their cupboards and closets, giving me the stuff they never used (at least that’s what they said). I still have a set of sheets from back then and the odd pot and pan kicking around (some things just aren’t made the way they used to be).

The following years at university continued to test my skills as a decorator. Frugal living became the norm. I bought sheets on a major discount and sewed them into curtains. I also painted my own watercolour art and recovered a chair or two.

Bright Watercolor Artwork by Glitter & Goat Cheese

Glitter & Goat Cheese

I also began to “rescue” furniture from the side of the road and the odd dumpster. I guess I was doing repurposing and upcycling projects before that became a trendy thing to do.

In some ways, things haven’t changed all that much. I still like to find inexpensive ways to decorate, and many of you know that thrifting is one of my favourite past times.

My son plans on living in an apartment on campus this coming September. I can’t help but wonder what the experience will be like for him and what he’ll remember most about his first year. Somehow I don’t think it will be his apartment!

Do you remember your first place after leaving your childhood home? What did you do to stretch your decorating budget? I want to hear details!

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Enjoy your day,

Shauna at Satori Design for Living Blog - Home Decor, DIY, Vintage Finds, Recipes


  1. My first apartment was a horrid basement suite with beer can decor and cardboard furniture. It makes me shudder now to think of it!

  2. Yes, I clearly remember my first apartment. It was when I got married (eek – at 20!) before that I lived in residences and at home. But my husband and I bought an antique library desk and chairs at a antique dealer whose prices 22 years ago were a steal (sadly he has been featured on Canadian Pickers and well…not such a steal) The table was bright red and we lovingly stripped it, all 5 layers of  paint and sealed the gorgeous oak under. It was our dining table and is still used as our kitchen table! The chairs and table set us back $125! After that I sewed slipcovers for an ugly sofa gifted to us, sewed duvet covers and re-painted curb side finds. OUr budget was maxed so we made the classic brick and wood bookcase – priceless! 
    My daughter, after a year of living in residence is moving to her first apartment this fall, I can’t WAIT to help her decorate!

    1. Sounds about right. Wow, you were married young. I wasn’t far behind you at 22. My hubby and I were laughing the other day at how we still had some of the hand-me-down stuff from our college days, and perhaps it was time to let some of it go (maybe to my son this fall- LOL!). I’m sure you’ll have a blast decorating your daughter’s apartment. Does she like U of A?

  3. I lived in a dorm and trying to make that place homey was just about impossible. It had painted cinderblock walls, old drafty windows, and a linoleum floor. Eek! I was into a neoclassic style back then and I remember buying a greek column from Michael’s that I used as a nightstand, lol.

  4. I definitely had to be creative.  Furniture that no one else wanted. The couch was an orange and green floral pattern, which would probably be considered funky vintage now, but I just thought it was ugly! The artwork was stuff I found in my grandparents’ basement that smelled musty. Nothing matched, nothing was memorable, but I loved it because it was mine! 

  5. I definitely relied on hand-me-down furniture. I even kept my twin bed all throughout university! Try fitting my 6 foot boyfriend + me… not comfortable. Haha.

    Now that we live together, we’re trying to upgrade our mismatched furniture one piece at a time. It’s much less of a financial stretch that way. Framing art (even with cheap frames) makes a space look more finished and I DIY some art/photos for cheap!

    1. When my husband and I were first together we slept on a super single, upgraded to a queen, and now we have a king. He always jokes the longer the marriage, the bigger the bed. Perhaps we’ll be in our own king beds when we’re 80 ha ha!

  6. I so remember my first apartment, and my approach was pretty much the same as yours. I didn’t paint my own artwork, I have to say, but I did frame postcards and things like that. I had hand-me-downs from my parents, my grand parents, and my great uncle, too! It was an eclectic mix to say the least. But it was fun, and it was mine! I wouldn’t change a thing – that would take half the fun out of it!! :-)
    xo Sheila

  7. How fun it is to stroll down “memory lane”!  I’m fascinated by your last picture in the post.  Is that actually light bulbs??  They are SO beautiful!

    1. Isn’t that cool. Some people are just so smart and can take garbage and make art! I’m not quite that creative, but I often have to think outside the box to keep client projects on budget (and my own). After reading your blog, I see you are pretty much the same.

  8. Oh, you are bring back some memories for me Shauna! I was pretty much the same as I am now – thrift shop finds and items found on the side of the road, painted of course! 

  9. I’d love to go thrifting with you some day! I am so excited when I find a deal, or something amazing for free!!! Our first “apartment” was a salmon pink trailer (think trailer park boys)! Ick! the inside was panel and rug (wall to wall) in the bathroom!!!! It was hideous! it must have been love because while we lived there we didn’t do anything other than curtains… I’m some glad that has changed… I shudder just thinking about that place! Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  10. My roommate and I actually made a profit on our first apartment! The budget was basically zero, so we sourced everything we could for free and did some sewing and decorating ourselves, I even reupholstered a couch and loveseat on my own – this was waaay back before YouTube! We were given lots of free furniture including the ugliest couch in the world, which we didn’t end up using. We decided to try and sell the ugly couch. Imagine my surprise when a HUGE astrophysics grad student showed up at our door and loved the massive brown couch, and paid us $300 for it. It was a perfect match for him, and $300 covered all our decorating expenses and more. The good old days of no money decorating!

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