It was August, and I had an empty apartment to fill. All I had brought with me from Los Angeles was three suitcases of clothes, a few pencil thin scarves and a shocking amount of makeup.
I needed all the household necessities (dishes, cups, cooking and eating utensils) and the big stuff too, including a television, a coffee table, sofa, bed, desk.
On my friends’ advice, I turned to Craigslist for smaller, luggable household items. I avoided anything upholstered that could bring along unwanted pests along with them and made sure that everything I was going to take home looked relatively new and clean.
I searched addresses only within ten blocks of where I lived so I could easily carry my treasure home.
Some people preferred arranging a time that I could pick up the goods from their apartment. Others gave the location where they had left their stuff on the sidewalk.
With the latter, it was a rush to get there before the other Craigslisters did. Four out of five times, someone would beat me to the spot. The few times I won the race, I was greatly rewarded by a complete set of pots, pans and Tupperware. Other times I realized why the owners had cast away these items, like the hair straightener that sparked and smoked when I plugged it in.
Soon I amassed a sizable collection of odd items that I never knew I needed--including photo paper, Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” and a 2008 copy of the Not For Tourists guide to New York City.
I also found useful items like a free coffee maker and hair dryer, though I overextended myself by carrying an air conditioner home on a hot September day. Lesson: Splurge on a taxi for anything that you can’t put two arms around.
My uncle in New Jersey volunteered to drive me to Target and Kmart for household necessities like garbage bags and toilet paper so I could stock up in bulk. (Other friends of mine who don’t have nearby family or friends with a vehicle opted to rent a Zipcar for the day because of the good discounts they give to students.)
Some items I could not get by being a furniture scavenger.
For instance, my bed and a desk proved too large to carry or fit in a car, so I needed to buy those from a place that would deliver AND walk the stuff upstairs. Fortunately, we lived on the second floor, versus a new friend on the fourth floor who couldn’t even get pizza delivered.
I ordered my large items online from Overstock.com and other discount retailers like Amazon. Although some stores, like Ikea, seemed cheaper at first glance, exorbitant $300+ delivery fees made the poor quality furniture even more expensive.
Without a doorman, someone had to be home to accept delivery, and those early weeks I felt like a dog in the window, waiting for the UPS guy to finally show up.
It took a few weeks until my place was adequately equipped with (somewhat) matching decor.
Now my roommate and I had to figure out how to co-exist in an apartment so small its ribcage was practically showing. There were also the locals to contend with, both inside and outside the building.
Next: We learn that our next door neighbor is an affordable housing complex.
Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School and currently works as a freelance writer covering entertainment for the TodayShow.com and MSNBC.com. Rental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.
See all Rental Rookie columns here.