7 Items That Make You Feel Like a Real Adult… and How to Buy Them for Cheap

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I’ve been spending a lot of time watching HGTV and reading Apartment Therapy, and the internet is onto me.

All the banner ads I see are for handmade, midcentury style sofas. Or mattresses that come in the mail, shoved into a long box like a jelly roll.

And holy moly, so many “modern and chic” home decor items I desperately want, but honestly have no use for.

Plus, since I’m a woman who uses a wire kitchen storage rack as a bedroom bookshelf, I really need to bring down my homemaking ability expectations — and my budget.

If you, too, are blinded by the put-together homes you see on TV and decor blogs, stop panicking.

Here’s what you really need to get busy adulting… and how to get it on a budget.

1. A Good Mattress

Do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you have a mattress that hasn’t been hanging around your parents’ house for 20 years.

If you’re going to spend a third of your life in bed, it’s crucial it be comfortable, supportive and clean.

Mattresses are notoriously expensive, so don’t get stressed if you’re tight on cash. Read up on the various types of mattresses you can catch your zzz’s on before you go shopping.

Remember: If a pushy salesperson makes you uncomfortable, you can always leave and try another day.

My tip for finding a mattress in your budget, if your budget is “the cheapest one I can find”: Visit a major mattress chain’s store and ask if you can roll around on the options in their “discount section” for a while.

Every mattress shop has a special section for the cheap(er) mattresses. Just ask where it is. A good salesperson won’t bat an eye.

2. A Houseplant

It’s time to prove you can take care of a living thing other than yourself.

Grab a resilient houseplant like a snake plant or jade for a few bucks at your local garden shop. You can actually order plants on Amazon, too.

Choose an attractive pot or DIY your own — just spray paint a coffee can a cheery color.

No matter how haphazardly decorated, nothing makes a home look pulled together in a flash quite like a flourishing houseplant.

The extra oxygen won’t hurt you, either.

3. A Good Bookshelf

When I moved into my first studio apartment, I noticed my cheap bookshelf starting to lean.

As the back cardboard panel slowly pulled away from the particle-board frame, I started to worry the whole thing might collapse and crush me, probably in the middle of the night when no one would know they should come find me under the splintered shelves.

Since my budget for a bookshelf was zero dollars, this was my solution: half a roll of Hello Kitty-print duct tape. Hello Kitty saved the day and held on for a few months until I figured out an alternative.

Don’t go out and buy a new bookshelf, though.

You can find hundreds of good, assembled bookshelves on Craigslist. It doesn’t need to be the prettiest bookshelf in the world. It just needs to be sturdy and clean.

No wheels for a Craigslist pickup? Ask the seller if they’ll deliver. The extra $20 may be worth the convenience.

4. A Real Sofa

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to sit down on a futon and how hard it is to get back up again?

Not so much with sofas. Sofas are made for sitting, instead of sitting and sleeping.

But sofas get expensive quickly, especially if you want one that doesn’t look like you graduated from Ikea Academy.

If you’re afraid of any creepy-crawlies that might come home from Craigslist, try your local antique or vintage furniture shop.

You can also keep an eye on used furniture stores that sell gently used items from offices or hotels.

5. A Set of Dishes

Eating pizza off a frisbee was funny during your dorm-room days.

But now you’re a grown-up — and you need some plates.

Your best option is to go for a generic style, so if a few break along the way, you can easily replace them.

Don’t be fooled by the expensive place settings you saw on your friend’s wedding registry. You don’t need to spend a lot.

Instead, head to the thrift store, where complete or nearly complete sets of bowls and plates are often taped together.

6. Luggage

I’m talking about luggage with four working wheels.

There’s no reason you should be getting on the Megabus to go visit your friends in New York for the weekend with luggage that doesn’t zip right, won’t roll properly or looks like you dropped it in a pile of snow and left it there until spring.

Granted, these options are better than showing up with a big blue Ikea bag filled with your worldly belongings… or are they?

first apartment checklist

Don’t sweat this one. Don’t try to buy one online, either.

Suitcases are all different — sort of like snowflakes — and are best selected in person. Head to TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods or a similar store and spend some time rolling around whatever you can find in your price range.

And remember, when you’re not using your suitcase for travel, it’s perfect for storage.

Think off-season clothes, spare linens or holiday gifts you bought on sale in April — this way, you won’t want forget where you stashed them.

7. A Nice Lamp

We all had the floor lamp for college with five bulbs you could move every which way.

If you were lucky, mom and dad sprung for the one with different-colored plastic shades. Because if there’s one thing that sets your personal style apart, it’s multicolored lampshades, right?

Stop using that lamp.

Donate it to the next generation of students and pick out something that suits your adult style. Bonus points if it generally goes with your couch, but I’m not going to be too picky here.

Head to Craigslist or local yard sales to tick this one off your list.

Your Turn: What purchases made your home feel more adult? Which were you confident in skipping?

Disclosure: What would Abe do? Probably pat us on the back for placing affiliate links in this post. Thanks for helping us fill The Penny Hoarder’s beer fridge!

Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor and podcaster living in Washington, D.C. She’s still working on acquiring a nice bookshelf.