1) You Have to Start from Scratch
Renting an apartment means just that—an apartment. What you get is an empty space, and nothing else. No stove, no fridge, no curtains or lights. So whatever you are budgeting for your up-front fees, like a deposit and/or first and last month’s rent, add in a good 30 or 40 thousand yen for appliances, not to mention towels, plates, hangers, etc.
2) It’s Good to Know Your Options
Starting from scratch means an empty apartment, and that means you’ll feel the crunch to get settled. But if money is an issue (and when isn’t it, really?), you’ll want to do a bit of shopping around. Sure, it’s tempting to go to the nearest home furnishing store and just buy everything at once, out of convenience. But they may not have the best selection, or the best prices, or even the best option for you. Once you have the very basics in your apartment—a futon to sleep on, paper plates and plastic silverware, towels and a trash bin—take your time on the bigger, spendier investments. Check out IKEA, see if there’s a second-hand shop nearby (like Treasure Factory), and snoop around on the Gaijinpot listings for deals. Having no fridge sucks, but so does paying twice as much as you need to just to have one right away.
3) No Two Delivery Services are Alike
Speaking of having things right away, be sure to compare different stores’ delivery services. IKEA, for example, charges per piece, which can be quite expensive. Nitori charges a flat rate, but they only deliver on Sundays. Treasure Factory charges on a scale—¥1,000 for one item, ¥2,000 for 2, and ¥3,000 for 3 or more—so it’s a good idea to get as much as you can from them, at once. BUT, they only deliver twice a month.
Also, some items, like curtains or sofas (items that must be specially ordered or made), can take several weeks to arrive at your home. A new couch from Nitori might be more tempting than one from TF, but you’ll be sitting on the floor for weeks.
4) You’re Craftier Than You Think
One option that will save you both time AND money, is to simply make it yourself, and you can. Curtains, for example, cost an arm and a leg here, but for less than half the price of store-made ones, you can buy fabric from IKEA, hardware from Daiso, and fabric tape from the craft section at a big store like AEON. No sewing required, just cut, tap and iron. Then hang the buggers up and admire your work.
5) Measure Twice, Buy Once
Of course, all these money- and time-saving tricks will get you nowhere if you’re not prepared. Like me, you could wind up with Like me, you could wind up with ¥2,000 of excess fabric. So invest in a tape measure, and write everything down. How tall are your windows? How wide is the toilet room? Will that $5 steal-of-a-table even fit through the door? Know your dimensions before you go to the store.
6) You Could Be Earning Points Right Now
You may not speak the language, or be a big coupon-clipper, but believe me, it’s worth it to get the member’s card. If you’re going to drop thousands of yen at a store, you want to be earning points, and you will. Faster and easier than you think, in fact. Meaning that after your first big, money-dropping trip to Nitori, then second time you’ll have enough points for free delivery. And there WILL be a second time (then a third, then a fourth).
7) Your Apartment Is a Work in Progress
You will make so many trips to so many stores, it’s insane. You will agonize over the right throw pillow, the best dishes. You will stretch your mind to the limits trying to figure out if you buying a fitted sheet or a comforter cover. And times all this gnashing of teeth by two, if you’re making a home as a couple, or family.
BUT…you will figure it out, as you go, and little-by-little, your home will come together. It will happen in waves—first the basics, then the staples, then the things you forgot, then the personal touches. Start with a place to sleep and something to eat off of, work your way up to a place to prepare a meal, then a way to do laundry, then shelves, then a coat rack…and pretty soon, you’ll feel welcome in your own home.
8) Know What’s Important, and When to Splurge
A good futon is important, it’s where you’ll sleep. A vacuum…not so much. You just need one that works. If you’re a foodie fanatic, get the bigger fridge. If you’re a budding fashionista, get an ironing board. If you hate laundry, but your family makes piles and piles, go for the high-end washer AND dryer. If you’re a worrywart and want to make sure that you’re covered, buy things new—with a warranty—instead of second-hand. The point is, you know what will make your day better, the details that will enhance your quality-of-life.
9) It’s Okay to Ask for Advice
Probably the best amateur advice I can give, is to turn to those who know for help. If you have friends or coworkers, they’ll help you to troubleshoot. If you’re going it alone, well, that’s what Gaijinpot is for. Comb through the discussion forums, or ask your own questions. Because I wouldn’t know half the things I’ve written about here if I hadn’t trusted those who came before to guide me.
10) …And It’s Okay to See for Yourself
A friend told me that Nitori has the best/cheapest futons, and they were right. So now I tell you. Many people told me that second-hand wasn’t really worth it, but Treasure Factory has furnished more than half of our home (and saved us a pretty penny, in the process). Trust your friends, but also trust your instincts. Then before you know it, you’ll be the one giving advice.
The Short List
As I’ve said, this will vary from person to person, but here are the things that I’d buy, and from where:
– Futon, garbage cans, random storage and hardware-type stuff (think towel rack, closet storage, bookshelves, etc.). Also a water boiler. So at least you’ll have tea and cup-of-noodles.
– Linens, towels, plates/cups/silverware, kitchen stuff (pots, pans, dish rack, etc.). Not really worth it for bigger items, like furniture.
– Bedside tables, fridge, washing machine, table. Basically any big purchase you can get for cheaper here, if you don’t need more than a 6 month warranty and don’t mind the occasional nick or dent.
– Random things (can opener, picture hooks, tools), plus hardware/stuff to make curtains, and some plants.