Apartment Décor 101: Grad Student Style
Apartment Décor 101: Grad Student Style

When I washed up in South Dakota—home to Mount Rushmore—I felt as though I’d washed up on Mars, alone. I had to live like a modern day Robinson Crusoe not knowing whether I’d be a permanent resident or a serious sojourner. So it made sense for me not to collect too many effects, for when it was time to move, the more their number, the more money I’d spend in transportation.

I embraced minimalism. The class of minimalism in science-fiction movies, set in gloriously tech-driven futures is dreadfully expensive. But there are more ways than a red Knoll chair ($4,000) or a Herman Miller workstation ($1,500) or a litter of technological baubles to make an elegant, clean and spartan pod of a home.

As a singleton living in a one-bedroom apartment, where there’s a cap on floor area and cash, I bought a few essential objects, so I could live a green, economically prudent lifestyle that was not powered by Wi-Fi and electricity. I could always wardrive around campus for Wi-Fi, but chances of a steady connectivity 24/7 were as fat as Ally McBeal. Most of the stuff I bought harkened back to the age of the vinyl and earlier.

Lodge’s Iron Skillet. When one lives solo, one needn’t have a constellation of cookware. Owning Lodge’s iron skillet – a versatile receptacle that one can both cook in—sauté, sear, bake, or roast and eat out of is essential. Sear a slab of steak in it, pop it into the oven, and use it for serving. After the meal, wash it with hot water and a soft cloth, coat it with a layer of oil, and replace it on the rack. Cost: $20

Really Useful Boxes. The “Really Useful Boxes” are truly “useful” in keeping one’s abode organized. I got six big red and blue boxes, stacked and alternating a red with a blue, and set it up in one corner of the living room, creating the effect of a geometric cairn. I stowed away my quilts and comforters in those. For squirrelling away all manner of odds and ends, I got a dozen tiny ones in candy colors: red, blue, pink, lime, aqua, green, and purple. They took good care of everything from paper clips, measuring tape, loose change and IDs. Cost: They can set one back between $2 and $15.

Valet Stand. When you don’t have a treadmill, you have a problem. You can’t prop your clothes anywhere. Ta-da! In comes the valet stand: a piece of furniture popular in the Victorian yesteryear for men, when sartorial choices were far more formal than today. Placed in the dressing room or the hallway, it was where gentlemen would hang their apparel and accoutrement: tailcoat, trouser, pocket watch, pince-nez, and bowler hat. In the 21st century, I found it to be the perfect companion for arranging clothes to be worn the next day or for placing those garments that had been worn, but weren’t soiled enough to be laundered. Cost: $35

Cheval Mirror. A kind of looking glass that can be tilted, a cheval mirror isn’t a space saver as is a quotidian mirror that can be affixed to the closet door. But it spares one sweat. As I couldn’t hire a handyman, I got a portable silver oval that I could just set down anywhere, without hassle. Cost: $50

Étagère. A piece of furniture with cascading shelves, placed, typically, in the parlor, for displaying object d’art, all of which one wants, but doesn’t need. But, how about books? I filled the étagère with as many volumes as would fit. After all, “what is a bookshelf other than a treasure chest for the curious mind?” Besides, when you had to spend your leisure hours without even a radio, reading was the best form of entertainment. Cost: $25

Escritoire. For those with an intellectual bent, a writing desk is a precious possession, for you may want to pen thoughts in a Moleskin notebook. Without the Internet, there’s no opportunity to e-mail, WhatsApp, Facebook, or Twitter. The only way to stay in touch then is through letters, handwritten or typewritten. Cost: $40

Futon. Hardy as one is, it’s still immensely difficult to sleep on a pallet of newspapers. A sleeping bag is a notch better, but it still won’t keep one off the hard floor. For lumbar care, you’d need something sturdier and softer. A bed is cumbersome to lug around. With a futon on the other hand, the draw is that with the purchase of one, one also gets a bed—free. A sofa by day, a bed by night, it offers a terrific return on investment. Cost: $150.

Clock. One needs one of these to keep track of the passing of time. Cost: $10 or less.

Toas-Tite. Before we knew about the panini press, there was the Toas-Tite. This throwback is an efficient device for making grilled sandwiches. On the days that I was either too fatigued to cook or not in the mood, I’d fix myself a sandwich. Lightly grease the clamshell-like aluminum forms, place a slice of bread in each, add a filling, close the device, and place it on a burner or over a campfire. Voila! You have a hot, melty sandwich. Cost: $30

Mocha Pot. This is a clever contraption—invented in Italy in 1933 for brewing coffee on the stovetop. The smallest pot of the series produces one demitasse of rich, velvety espresso. Cost: $14

Rubbermaid: Rubbermaid is today’s Tupperware (developed in 1946.) These airtight, plastic tubs are fabulous for storing food. Cost: A 40-piece set will come to less than $10.

Candles. For a cozy fug, burn a cluster of scented candles. Cost: $10 or less.

Alakananda Mookerjee is a New York-based writer who loves science fiction.

Alakananda Mookerjee lives in Brooklyn, and is a Francophile.