I am a 23 year old recent graduate who relocated to Seattle only four months ago. My boyfriend and I have found ourselves in a small one-bedroom in the Capital Hill area (gay/indie/cool Seattle area, FYI, for the non-Seattle world - decorno). Here are the details: hardwood floors, huge bay window, small 8x8 bedroom, no real kitchen, no real counter space, only a wall of kitchen appliances in the living room/dining room, simple bath with hex tiles and pedestal sink. The walls are a light creme with white moldings; we can't paint.
So here is where my real dilemma comes in… a lot of people keep telling me I'm not going to live here forever so don't bother accumulating too much, but my teaching career is not taking off so an upgrade is not likely anytime soon. Do I invest the time and little money (emphasis on little) into making this what I want or do I save my efforts and money for bigger things? I am tired of bare walls and cramped bookshelves but will it be worth it down the line?
This is an excellent topic. I know we will have comments galore on this one.
First, let me start by saying this:
If you really want to, that is. How much was your rental deposit? If it was minor, then so what. Go for it. If you want to live with color, do it. You can either decide that you will paint first and ask for forgiveness later. Or you may want to talk to your landlord and make a deal to paint it, provided you paint it back before you move out (I've done that. Although on the paint-it-back place, the jewel-box-like sunroom that I painted super-high-gloss hot pink remained pink, because the next renter decided she loved it. Go figure.)
Since paint is cheap, this is where I would be brave. I've painted at three apartments. I asked for permission each time and got it. They seemed amused by my interest in chartreuse, robin's-egg blue, and hot pink, but they let me roll with it. So be brave about paint. If they say no, paint it anyway. There is very little they will do as long as you are paying your rent on time.
Next, who are these people telling you this? Do they have killer style? I doubt it. And why do I doubt this? Because people who want to have chic things don't wait for the right time. If your career in teaching "isn't exactly taking off," then all the more reason to get their conservative asses over to your place for a painting party. Or better, tell these design tightwads to come over for a stock-the-bar party (every guest brings a bottle of booze) and get your bar set up in style. If your career is taking a while to really get going thanks to this economy, then you may as well stock up and cultivate the most rockin' home bar, right? Your home will quickly be the life of the party, and in these times, we all really need a party. Or a drink.
Next, don't spend a lot on bookcases. Just go Ikea. Or stack them and don't use bookcases at all. Of course, if you collect them and have copies you really want to keep in nice condition, don't do that (with art books, for example). It's not great for the spines and binding, from what I understand. At any rate, when you own a home you'll probably want something built in or more substantial, so this isn't something worth investing in now.
As for everything else, one mistake I made early on was that I knew what I loved, but wasn't really confident about it. I always loved photography and vintage things, but wasn't sure what things were worth getting, keeping, displaying. I find that my tastes, generally, aren't so different. I love vintage photos and collected them for a long time, but didn't do anything with them. It wasn't until I brought back silly (and cheap) vintage photos from a trip to Paris that I bothered to frame any of them. And now I think, well, that was dumb. I had kickass vintage American photos all this time and didn't do anything with them. It shouldn't take a trip to Paris to make something you acquire feel worthwhile. So I have flea market stuff all around the house now, and it's stuff I intend to keep. All of it comes with a story, too, which is nice. Plus, I like the thrill of the hunt. A great chair found at some trashy market can feel like sweet victory, you know.
And on that note, it's only as I get older that I realize, it really doesn't cost that much to have great things. Resist the call of newness. Crate & Barrel is not your friend at this point (maybe for dishes, etc, but not for furniture). You should pick things up along the way that you can remember. You're 23? Holy shit. I want to be 23 again. You're at that cool SELBY-like age where you can assemble a bohemian mix of non-pedigreed things and have it look pretty amazing.
Figure out fabric. I didn't realize until, like, this year, that I could buy a pillow insert at the fabric store, pick out great fabric, and drop it all off at my dry cleaner and have her whip up some "custom" pillows for me. Who knew? Well, I didn't, and now I do. My bed makes me happy now because my pillows are in a fabric that I haven't seen in any magazine or blog and I like that. Hang out at a fabric store and buy a few yards. You'll find something to do with it. Maybe recover the seat of a side chair, maybe pillows, maybe recover a stool. It's an easy way to add color without commitment and will likely yield more unique results than buying a pillow from Z Gallerie.
But above all, remember: It's not about what you spend. It never will be. The shocking thing I keep realizing when I pore over decor mags is this: the rooms I love the most aren't filled with Kriess furniture. They're the ones with the beat-up vintage dressers, old lamps, and cozy old chairs recovered in something yummy.
Your life has already begun. Don't wait to live. You're at the intersection of Youth & Opportunity. Don't miss your chance. Live now, keep your eyes open, and buy what you love. You may think you're buying "starter furniture" but you're not. Maybe with your sofa, yes. But with your chairs and dressers and lamps and small ottomans, you just may have them forever. And honestly, think of, say, New Yorkers. Many live in a rental til the day they die. Living in a rental doesn't mean you can't own amazing stuff. So go be a good scout and buy what you want to live with. You deserve to have a beautiful life. And don't be in a hurry to fill the space up. You've got a whole life to kit out your world.
Everyone else - what other advice can you offer up for Ashley?