Recently, I overheard two friends talking: "Know where I can buy a more upscale coffee table?" "I guess we all have to graduate from IKEA someday."
Now hold on a sec, I silently grumbled. Some of us are pre-IKEA, you know, especially we who are Financially Challenged (Broke Ass Mofo is now an anachronism). You too might qualify for FC membership if you: a) are a recent graduate (or dropout) of any school system, b) are cursed with the word "assistant" in your job title, c) live in Seattle proper, d) spend 50 percent of your income on rent (see "c"), e) have kids or extended family sleeping in your bedroom, or f) sign the backs of government checks. Does being an FC mean you have to live in squalor? Hell no! If Martha Stewart can make a wreath out of compost, so can you.
Shop till you stop (which should be soon). For that red leather couch, Chilean chair, or the wicker bookcase I snagged for $15, garage sales are your best bet. Prices are low, negotiable, and tax-free. When the rain hits you, hit the thrift stores for less bulky items like kitchenware, that vintage coat rack, or pottery. FCs can always use good karma, so why not grace that nonprofit thrift shop (Chicken Soup Brigade, for example) before you do the chain thang. Don't spend over $10 on any one item and avoid thrift store electronics or your hot new apartment might end up a pile of ashes. For everything you don't want used (towels, silverware, shower curtains), a variety store like Fred Meyer is The Place to Shop. If you've hit rock bottom, then the 99 cent store is your way up. But remember . . .
Your bed is your temple. You spend one third of your day in the sack, solo or accompanied, so don't be cheap. If you have to buy a used mattress, avoid stains at all cost or you could end up sleeping on a big bouncy rectangle of mold that will jeopardize your health whether you remove that tag or not. Be sure to elevate your mattress to avoid drafts, even if it's got to be with wood blocks instead of a frame—you can always cover the eyesores with longer sheets. After all, this is your . . .
Space, the creative frontier. Room to fill, but not much to fill it with? Be symmetrical in your setup and work magic with what you've got: Sturdy crates or, in my case, half-size refrigerators, can become tables, bottles can become vases, and candles and mirrors the equivalent of a lamp. Plants expand and don't care how much you earn. Books can be dirt cheap and make your mind rich and your apartment a home. And if you end up without that dining table? Spread a mat and pillows on the floor and start remembering how fascinated you are with Middle-Eastern customs.
Art: poverty's best friend. So what if you can't afford to frame a print? Mounted posters can look just as good, an artistic friend put to a blank canvas even better, or, if you're really broke, the strategically placed postcard never hurts. Remember, good taste in art can make a room full of magazine clippings look better than a mansion filled with tacky prints. Bohemian is always in.
Electronics are the devil, in addition to being expensive. Your friend: "Where's your TV?" You: "I live my life, not watch it." Your friend: "What about a stereo?" You: "I prefer listening to the silence." Friend: "Computer?" You: "I'm post-Y2K." Friend: "No toaster?" You: "I like my bread fresh, like my pad."
The power of credit cards. Don't even go there.