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To Ikea or not to Ikea… that is the question

When my partner and I met, we were living in New York. After some time, we moved in together and consolidated our belongings- his mattress and my laptop. We were then faced with one-bedroom apartment of a modest size, only without any furniture…

Moving to Germany with no job offers and even fewer plans was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I quickly learned how different cultures can be; although many people in Germany speak English, everything from humor to manners can be anything but transparent to outside eyes looking in.
An ex-pat’s real life experiences
Santana I.
To Ikea or not to Ikea… that is the question
When my partner and I met, we were living in New York. After some time, we moved in together and consolidated our belongings- his mattress and my laptop. We were then faced with one-bedroom apartment of a modest size, only without any furniture. We had to ask ourselves then, invest in nice stuff or try to work it on the cheap? As two young people (one student, one recently graduated unemployed person!), living in New York is expensive enough without investing in nice furniture. So we obviously went the cheap route: Ikea, Craigslist, even Amazon. After some very long weeks of receiving boxed furniture and assembling things by hand, we finally had a homey little place of our own. Which was great… until we moved.
To Europe or bust
A few years later, we were faced with the prospect of moving to Europe. For him, the move was back to home; for me to a new culture, country, continent. Now the questions we asked ourselves next are undoubtedly some that you, dear reader, have or will ask yourself when tasked with moving to a foreign country. Should we take our furniture abroad? Is it cheaper to ship by container or by mail? Should we just cut and run? What do we do once we’re there and have nothing to sleep on? Should we just buy all new stuff once we’re there? Should we rent furniture? Is that even a thing ‘over there’?
Considering that our hodge-podge DIY furniture was, after a couple of years, being held together by nothing but chewing gum and bread ties, we chalked it all up to sunk cost and
abandoned everything. Well, actually, it’s a funny story. We sold the e n t i r e apartment worth of stuff to two 19-year-olds for $300 on the one condition that the move everything out of the apartment (they were most ecstatic about the two, year-old half-drunk bottles of Costco vodka). But you get the picture: we arrive in Europe with only suitcases and positive outlooks.
Both quickly wore out.
First find a roof, then find a bed
After about six months of temporary, Airbnb apartments (more on that later) we had finally signed a lease on a lovely 2-bedroom apartment in our favorite neighborhood. Funny story part deux: we slept the first night in the new place with nothing more than an inflatable mattress and the clothes from our suitcases to keep us warm (February in northern Germany made this less romantic than it sounds). Close your eyes and imagine our plight: borrowed old blow-up bed with a slow leak, bodies covered in cluttered collage of dirty underwear, sweaters and stray socks. Needless to say, priority number one for both of us was a real bed. But what about the rest?
To invest or to rent?
After a sleepless, cold night (how were we not more prepared?!), we were again faced with the problem of furnishing an entire apartment. For me, it was a particularly daunting task- as I did not yet speak German or understand the culture whatsoever. I looked into the standard options; how foreign can a country be that has the same Ikea designs?
So, at least there was that. With the Ikea mobile app and sense of urgency on deck, I set out to find furniture. I found out that there are other low-price furniture companies in Germany like Home24.de and Otto.de. There are higher-end online suppliers like Fashionforhome.de. If my good ol’ Manhattan days taught me anything, it was don’t count out Amazon as a source of cheap stuff; in Germany it’s Amazon.de and it works just as well (although I say this with one less-than-stellar caveat: Amazon has become somewhat
renowned for its poor record of working conditions in Europe). There are also local, high-end interior designers and furniture providers in every city.
Renting furniture, I found, is also a viable option. The big player worldwide (indeed the only name I knew before moving) is Cort. I had looked into renting furniture for the NYC apartment mentioned above- I was a little turned off by their selection and price. Furnitureleasing.net is a good, German company serving the entire DACH region (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). There are also smaller, region specific companies. From my research I discovered that all in all, furniture rental companies will, for the most part, deliver, set up and haul away rental furniture. Pricing is dependent on how much furniture you need/want, duration of lease, if your want rent-to-own, etc.
How to choose, how to choose?
Faced with this new info and, frankly, overwhelmed by the choices, we started by looking at our budget and our needs. Did we need furniture immediately? Yes. Did we want to spend an arm and a leg? We opted for either the arm or the leg, but not both. We knew that we would be staying in Europe for the long haul, so we wanted some big ticket items with some budget options to supplement. We ended up using Home24.de for items like light fixtures (usually missing from European apartment rentals), chest-of-drawers, etc. We used Fashionforhome.de for the nicer items, like the bed frame and couch. Other items we pieced together from Ikea, flea markets (Germany has some pretty famous ones), and some other no-name stores.
If we weren’t staying long in Germany, or frankly, if I hadn’t been jobless (read: unlimited time for bargain hunting) when we first moved, we would have opted for furniture rental- it was the affordable, flexible, have-furniture-as-soon-as-you-land option.
Bottom line- if you’re not staying long, have no time to prepare beforehand or want a rent-to-own option, go with furniture rental. When none of the above is true, –or you happen to be Donald Duck’s rich uncle—buy your furniture.
Happy hunting!

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