Non-Consumer Photo Essay – Outfitting Apartments For Next to Nothing

by Katy on September 24, 2017 · 19 comments

After a summer dominated by preparing all the necessities for my kids’ off campus apartments, (including the arduous task of finding said apartments) I can finally move forward with my life and enjoy my empty nest.

This page? It ruled my every move.

I made a decision in January of 2007 to buy nothing new. This was financially motivated, but also from a strong craving to move away from the over manufacture of poor quality consumer goods. It’s mostly a non-issue ten years down the road, but having to source so many specific things on a deadline was a real challenge. I’m not going to lie, it would have been so easy to walk into Target and cross everything from my list in a single trip.

We were able to assemble pretty much everything we needed from thrift shops, my buy nothing group and stuff around the house, but we made a decision to buy a coffee table and desk in Ashland, Oregon in order to fit everything into our minivan. (Our youngest moved into his apartment last week.)

Of course, the best laid plans will invariably go awry. My husband, son and I unloaded the car and then set out to grab the last few items from my list. None of the five (five!) thrift shops that we visited had anything acceptable, which took me to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. $50 later, and my daughter was finally outfitted with a solid wood coffee table and desk.

She also needed more hangers, but the Medford St. Vincent DePaul proved to be a terrific source.

I do confess that I made one brand new purchase, which was a whistling tea kettle from Bi-Mart. However, I consider it to be a safety requirement, as my daughter has a history of setting water to boil and then completely forgetting about it. (Nothing non-consumer about burning down an entire apartment complex!) I looked and looked (and looked) for a second hand kettle, but the thrift shops were oddly devoid of this item.

My daughter’s roommate was providing a couch, so you’ll just have to imagine one in this space. That bright blue table? I picked it up at an Ashland garage sale for $8, which brought the grand total of this furniture to be a whopping $28 as the chair and lamp were both garbage picked.

I would estimate that we spent approximately $200 for all the furniture, bedding, bathroom stuff, kitchenware and miscellaneous stuff for both apartments. It’s impossible to pin down the exact amount as a lot of my purchases were from the pay-by-the-pound Goodwill Outlet bins.

Of course no Non-Consumer Advocate visit to a college town would be complete without some of my signature garbage picking. You threw out your old textbooks? I will scoop them up for eBay!

Including these . . . umm . . . unique sunglasses. Totally my style!

My husband (sporting what he calls his “vacation beard”) and I finally decided that we’d accomplished all we could, and pointed the now empty minivan back towards Portland. The two of us discussed how we keep coming to the Rogue River Valley without ever taking the time to enjoy the breathtaking landscape. This prompted us to sneak in an impromptu hike up Table Rock, although we could only hike around a third of the way since it was getting dark and neither of us had water or proper attire.

Look at those empty nesters. Don’t they look miserable?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura September 24, 2017 at 5:04 pm

You did great! Our oldest daughter attends UO, and lives off campus, and while we weren’t there to shop for her like you did for your sons, she has done a remarkable job on her own of finding everything she needs for her apartment from local thrift stores. The only thing she bought new was a mattress and bed frame from Amazon, but everything else was thrifted, including most of her wardrobe. She did buy a sturdy new backpack. She participated in a focus group and got paid, and used that and her discount at the Duck Store to get an otherwise too-expensive but sturdy new Jansport pack.


Katy September 24, 2017 at 6:22 pm

She sounds like a real go-getter!


WilliamB September 25, 2017 at 7:00 am

Good for her.

Out of curiosity, what do you consider too expensive for a Jansport? Their new backpacks seems comparably priced with other company’s backpacks. But Jansports will last decades: mine has lasted at least 25 years and has hauled heavy loads of books for 10+ years. It has never needed a fix or suffered even small damage.


Katy September 25, 2017 at 8:00 am

And they’ll fix them for free. (You just pay postage.) I find this preferable to companies that replace instead of repair, as it keeps the backpacks out of the landfill.


Diane C September 24, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Wait – is she the reason for the dearth of teapots in local thrifts?

Nice job, both of you moms! Enjoy your empty nests.


Sandra September 24, 2017 at 10:18 pm

I have been watching Craigslist and FB Marketplace for months looking to replace a loveseat. My husband suggested that we just go out and buy a new one so we went looking in furniture stores. Cheap ones were $400 and they were too big. Expensive ones were over $1,000 and even then it was hard to find exactly what I had in mind. So I kept watching and waiting. It paid off. I found an almost new name brand loveseat for under $100. Someone moved and it didn’t work in the new place. Yea me! Yea Craigslist!


Katy September 24, 2017 at 11:57 pm

Yay indeed!


Minimalist45 September 24, 2017 at 10:55 pm

You are my She-ro!


Linda September 25, 2017 at 3:35 am

Awww! This so reminds me of when, many years ago, I moved into my own apartment & my mom furnished it with goods from her own house & goods she bought at yard sales. Thanks for reminding me of this happy time!


Katy September 25, 2017 at 8:00 am

What a nice mom you have!


Jennifer September 25, 2017 at 4:25 am

Katy, you did great! Your boys are so lucky to have you. Those are some good looking empty nesters!


Cindy in the South I September 25, 2017 at 5:18 am

Y’all look fabulous!


janine September 25, 2017 at 7:03 am

Congratulations on your commitment to buy nothing new! I furnished my sons’ digs with mostly gently used furniture and glassware, as well as overstock from our household. However, I admit to finding a couple of things on sale and clearance at IKEA. My best find was an oriental type rug which graces my older son’s entryway. At this point they have moved beyond college apartments but they still appreciate Mom’s help.


anna September 25, 2017 at 11:53 am
Mandy September 25, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Lol “budget” is such a relative term. I have lived in a 1400 sq foot house for 10 years, and in all that time I don’t think I’ve spent 5k on furnishings.


Veneta @ Becoming Life Smart September 26, 2017 at 4:45 am

Katy, I wish I had your wisdom when I was in college. I went to school in a different state and ended up buying a whole bunch of stuff new. When I moved out to my own place later own, I did buy more used stuff since I was on a budget but I could have done much better.

Nowadays, I do a much better job of buying whatever I need used and selling what I don’t need (or donating). It’s amazing how new items seem to lower their value the moment you walk out the store with them. Buying second-hand is a much better deal and keeps useful stuff from the landfill. Live and learn!

Great post!


Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker September 29, 2017 at 9:44 am

It’s interesting to compare your list to the one I just made for my daughter this past month. I definitely have more item on the kitchen list, as I know she’ll be cooking more things from scratch (so she’ll need things like a ladle for soups, a flexible spatula and an offset spatula, tongs, a baking sheet, etc.)

I didn’t notice any hotpads on your list. They may need those.

I am surprised you use cleaning wipes, as that is a disposable item (sponges too) rather than cleaning rags. Cleaning cloths are on our cleaning list, as well as vinegar and baking soda (we’ll start her out with some to make her own cleaners).

We don’t have a by-the-pound thrift store here and I noticed our thrift store prices for kitchen items were often almost the same as new! I plan on going to garage sales for many of the items she needs, as they are cheaper. We will purchase some things new (like a can opener) and we’ve been comparing prices all over the place. I have 16 months to prepare, so I can take my time looking for items.


Katy September 30, 2017 at 9:02 pm

I did have all the spatula/tong type items on the list, but under the category of “utensils.” I had potholders from home already. We use reusable rags/napkins/dish towels at home, but I didn’t want to burden my sons with excessive laundry as doing laundry as a college student is kind of a pain. (Although they each got two dish towels and two microfiber cloths.)

I was able to find can openers at the pay-by-the-pound Goodwill, but agree that garage sales are definitely cheaper than most thrift shops.


Karen September 30, 2017 at 9:12 am

This is bringing back memories of when I moved into my own apartment after grad school (I went to school in my hometown and lived with my parents to save on rent). I went to garage sales and the Goodwill store–I had never been to the Goodwill store because my mom looked down on secondhand stores. She even hated KMart, she thought it was “sleazy”. So she was baffled when I’d come home triumphantly showing her my nice china plates and cooking utensils I’d found. She kept saying she’d be happy to buy me new stuff, but she just didn’t get it. I still have some of those plates!


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