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The pandemic has resulted in millions of Americans moving, whether for financial reasons or for an improved quality of life. It has also left us with more time to nest and outfit new dwellings with necessities and comforts to make these places feel like home. As Slate senior editor Allegra Frank recently prepared to settle into her first apartment, she posed to our colleagues: “What’s the best thing you bought for your apartment that you never thought you needed until you got it?” Our staff replied with a variety of products they’ve used to optimize their living space. Once you’ve bought the basics, like your couch and shower curtain, you should consider these smart purchases that will make you more prepared, comfortable, and happy.
For the first two years I lived in New York, I would stare enviously at the Brooklyn grandmas and their little handcarts as I stubbornly lugged my giant bags of groceries home. I refused to buy one for a couple of reasons—I was broke and couldn’t justify the purchase, and I told myself that cutting off the circulation in my hands as I carried groceries up the stairs was easier than carrying a cart. Eventually, after waxing poetic on these carts to my mom for perhaps the fourth time, she bought me one. I instantly regretted my years of reticence. This handcart makes living in a city where basic amenities like grocery stores and laundromats are blocks away so much easier. It folds up relatively flat, making it simple to store in a hallway closet. With the liner, I never have to worry about not having enough reusable bags with me. It makes laundry day a breeze. And honestly, it’s kind of fun to use, bringing back childhood memories of pushing a wagon down the street. So don’t make the mistake I did in waiting to buy this. —Rachelle Hampton, staff writer
I don’t have an elaborate home-cooking routine, because I am a bit lazy, often lack the time for involved recipes, don’t have much kitchen counter space, and hate my gas coil stove. Thus, my air fryer has been a blessing for my simple-at-best culinary habits. In the short time that I’ve owned the Cosori 5.8-quart electric air fryer, my roommate and I have made our own fries, chips, quesadillas, and more, all with relative ease. The touch-screen interface is intuitive, the frying settings are easy to customize, the basket can be set up and cleaned with minimal issue, and the needed cooking time for potatoes or meats is remarkably short. If you’re settling into a small place with constricted room for meal prep, an air fryer can be a bit of a space-hogger. Still, considering how efficient and convenient it is, you’ll be happy to have made the room. —Nitish Pahwa, copy editor
A compact clothes steamer is a must-have for any apartment. Sure, ironing boards fold flat, but if you’re strapped for storage space, every square inch of that closet matters. And even irons themselves can be bulky to store. My tiny hand-held steamer, which I stow under my bathroom sink, gets rid of wrinkles as well as any iron does, takes up much less space, and works on delicate fabrics that I’d be too scared to press with hot metal. And if I’m ever desperate for a sharp pleat, well, there’s always the dry cleaner for that. —Christina Cauterucci, senior writer
All homes should have a good toilet plunger. It goes without saying that it’s way better to have one before you need one. A plunger is definitely not glamorous or luxurious—or something you’ll want to show off to all your friends—but it’s a staple that will save you a lot of money by not having to call a plumber! —Holly Allen, web designer
When I turned 25, my late stepdad gave me a toolkit. I thought it was kind of a weird present at the time, but I’ve come to realize it’s one of the absolute best “starting out in life” or new apartment presents. I still have it, 20 years later.
While mine is out of date, this one from Stanley looks great. It’s reasonably priced and has all the basic tools and hardware you might need to get set up in your own space and tackle any Ikea project without relying on Allen wrenches. And crucially, this kit has a level. Do not hang anything without a level. Trust me on this. —Lizzie O’Leary, host of What Next: TBD
I became a fire extinguisher evangelist years ago, when my husband used a hallway extinguisher to successfully put out a small fire in our apartment. While working smoke alarms and an evacuation plan are the most crucial elements of home fire safety, every home should also have at least one fire extinguisher, if not more. As I’ve noted in Slate before, the National Fire Protection Association says to make sure you purchase one that’s approved by a third-party safety-testing organization like UL, which is indicated on the product itself as well as in the product description if you buy it online. —Jill Pellettieri, contributing editor
If you, like me, have always been on the fence about buying a TV, you should buy a projector instead. In pre-pandemic times, I preferred to go to the movie theater to get my big screen fix, but I still liked the idea of being able to host the occasional movie night. With a little research, I discovered that you can get a quality projector for about $100. (The one I originally bought is discontinued, but this model is similar.) This projector can cast an image up to 14 feet wide, and when you’re done, it’s small enough to easily store. —Cleo Levin, commerce production associate
I keep my grocery lists on my phone, like any normal person. But somewhere between the moment I realized I needed more soy sauce and the moment I pushed my cart down the supermarket aisle, items kept getting left off my list, because it was too much of a hassle to find my phone and open my grocery app in the midst of cooking. I’ve since realized it’s much easier to pick up a stick of chalk and jot down whatever I need and then add it all to my phone later. —Laura Miller, books and culture columnist
The single best purchase I’ve made since the start of the pandemic is a gorgeous, crocheted weighted blanket from Bearaby. I love it so much I’m convinced everyone should have one in their home for lounging while watching TV or cuddling into bed with a good book. Unlike other weighted blankets, Bearaby blankets don’t rely on beads or sand to weigh them down, so their weight remains evenly distributed. They’re also the prettiest weighted blankets I’ve seen—they come in cotton or velvet in rich jewel tones, bright seasonal colors, and soft neutrals. —Madeline Ducharme, production assistant
The great benefit and joy of at last living in one’s own apartment is having a sanctuary all your own—free from concern for roommates, their peccadillos, and whose turn it is to wash the dishes. (It’s always on you now.) But also, you do live alone—which can be, you know, lonely. Nothing can help turn a “lonely cave” into a “personal sanctuary” more than the best roommates around: plants. Don’t be scared off by thinking you lack a green thumb; many tend to be very forgiving, and I use apps like Gardenia and PictureThis to help guide me in my plant care.
I like to support my local nursery to procure my plants, but once you get some verdant podmates, you’ll need some accessories: soil, a watering can, fertilizer, and trays. The place to begin, though, is with pots; your new friends deserve a bed, after all. I like the look of terra cotta, and these faux ones are cheaper than the real thing but look splendid on any windowsill or side table. They also feature a self-watering mechanism on the base that allows roots and soil to drink up when they feel like it. So grab some and get started! You’re by yourself by choice, but that doesn’t mean you have to live without other living things. —Seth Maxon, associate editor
My router situation used to consist of a blinking bushel of cords and lights emitting a constant “eeeeee” right beside my bed. Whether or not your router keeps you awake like mine once did, you owe it to yourself to hide it away. This reasonably nice-looking ladder shelf does the job for me. It has an opening in the back of the cabinet for all those cords, and it also offers ample room for my printer, books, knickknacks, and alarm clock. And most importantly, I can’t hear the eeeeee. Now if only I could block the green light on my printer without resorting to duct tape. —Nick Milanés, associate creative strategist
I lived most of my life in New York (I’ve since moved to L.A.), and like most urban New York dwellers, my apartment-size kitchen there lacked one vital component: counter space. A pilgrimage to the Ikea in Red Hook changed all of that, when my wife and I came home with one of its most popular pieces of wooden furniture, the Förhöja. While we regularly kept ours against a wall (which we liked because the Förhöja’s drawers don’t have backs), you can easily wheel it into the middle of your kitchen and pretend you have an island. It’s your world. —Derreck Johnson, designer