Here's the Apartment I'm Supposed to Have — and Here's the Apartment I Can Afford


"You cannot get white sheets."

That was the unequivocal declaration leveled at me by several friends when I announced intentions to redo my bedroom — my bedding, specifically — entirely in white. 

You'll have to wash them all the time, they said. You're too sweaty, and you snack too much in bed. (Both true.) And, as an older friend in her forties pointed out, white sheets need to be ironed. (I LOL'd at that one — the last iron I held was a hair straightener.) 

Despite their wise points, I was determined to have my dream bedroom, with fluffy white bedding and billowing white curtains like out of the most serene tampon commercial you've ever seen. It would be calming, zen and eternally clean, accented with pillows, carefully-placed plants and perhaps one solitary dangling Edison lightbulb.

It would be, in short, every bedroom I'd been seeing on Instagram. And dammit if I wasn't going to let my very millennial budget and sweaty human realities keep me from my millennial apartment dream, down to the last $70 white pillow sham. 


We can't escape the beautiful homes: Wanting a gorgeous home certainly isn't novel nor particularly modern. (If Elizabeth Bennet had Instagram in Pride and Prejudice, she would have been snapping the shit out of Pemberley.) 

Shelter magazines, as home and decor magazines are known, date back to 1898, according to Curbed. The magazines always reflected the times. In the 1970s, for example, the short-lived Apartment Life spoke to the youth generation of apartment-dwelling hippies.

Today, magazines like House Beautiful, Elle Decor and Veranda are still around, but the lion's share of readers have, unsurprisingly, migrated online. Fewer than 600,000 people subscribe to Elle Decor, while 2.1 million people follow the magazine on Facebook. But it's not just the decorating magazines posting to Facebook. Given that Instagram and Pinterest are essentially windows into our (idealized) lives, they're filled with photos of beautiful bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens.

"Before, you had to seek out design inspiration in a magazine or by knowing which blogs and sites to visit," Brie Dyas, a design writer who has covered the decor industry for the past decade, told Mic. "Now, gorgeous rooms are pretty much everywhere, in your Instagram feed right next to your friends' photos." 

"Gorgeous rooms are pretty much everywhere, in your Instagram feed right next to your friends' photos." 

Seeing those rooms all around us has sparked an interest in decorating among some 20-somethings that they didn't know they had. "What I've noticed is that, due to Instagram and Pinterest, more people are getting into decor at a younger age," said Dyas. 

That interest is evident from the business success stories of stores like CB2 and West Elm, which cater to 20-somethings and 30-somethings, as well as e-commerce sites like One Kings Lane and blogs like Apartment Therapy. It's also evident in the conversation's explosion on social media, where young people really live. There are over 1 million photos tagged #apartment on Instagram, and more than 4 million tagged #bedroom — terms that trend as young people actually get excited about the spaces they live in.

Like other photos all over our feeds, it can be nice to see what everyone else is up to. It can also screw with your own airy apartment visions, prompting some decor FOMO. As Mic's Kate Hakala wrote, "Social media not only fuels our FOMO but also sets the standards we subsequently strive to meet." 

We've never had more decorating inspiration or impetus to get decorating ourselves — but the bar has also never been higher.

The pretty pictures vs. the financial reality: I hadn't considered white when I initially prowled the aisles at Bed, Bath & Beyond years ago with my mom. We opted for a sensible bed-in-a-bag set in bright coral with a beige floral print, an ideal match for my beige Target sheets.

That worked for a while, until it all suddenly felt horribly wrong. Why was my room so garish? What buffoon had chosen this obnoxiously loud duvet? Enough swipes online had made it obvious that I needed an upgrade. There were beautiful beds out there, layered with neutral pillows and casually tossed blankets, hovering above lush white sheepskin rugs. I wanted to go there.

Except, like pretty much everything on social media, the beautifully manicured rooms that populate our feeds are idealized ones. Flipping through the pages of Elle Decor and Real Simple, it's easy to remember that the photos have been given a professional touch. But when such touched-up photos are interspersed with "real" pictures, the images are far more seductive and feel closer to reality.

"If I had more money, my apartment would be filled with bohemian rugs, throw pillows, cool pottery, more wall art and fresh flowers always."

But the truth is this: Young people may love pretty things, but we don't have such pretty bank accounts. The dreamy homes presented online are, for many, simply out of reach. Those shaggy flokati rugs easily go for more than $100, while a single lightbulb-on-a-rope is $80 (thanks, CB2). If you're really going to live up to online expectations, there better be some succulents scattered throughout — which can run into the $50 range.

"I feel incredibly stifled by my 20-something writer salary," Rebecca, 26, told Mic. "If I had more money, my apartment would be filled with bohemian rugs, throw pillows, cool pottery, more wall art and fresh flowers always." 

As the Observer so aptly wrote in 2014, "Underemployed, Debt-Ridden Millennials Dream of Home Ownership, Make Sad, Aspirational Pinterest Pages."

We can turn to flea markets and thrift shops and spice up Ikea furniture with hacks. But getting a room that looks like it's out of a magazine might be a stretch. 


Faking it until we make it: I decided to take the plunge on white bedding. I shelled out for a West Elm duvet cover, but skimped with a shitty duvet that's definitely not filled with genuine down. As for the rest of the room, it's still a little lacking — I've been too cheap to spring for framing, so the walls have lingered bare for 13 months.

But you wouldn't know from Instagram. The photo I posted provides a prettier reality, cropping the idealized image while cropping out the crappier reality — like everything else on the app. 

That's the thing to remember, as images of billowing curtains, softly lit Diptyque candles and linen pillows waft through my mind. Even the photos we see of our friends' apartments are filtered. Who posts an apartment pic right after they get home from a vacation and dirty clothes are strewn everywhere? Who snaps a pic when they just spilled coffee on the bedspread?

No one — especially not someone losing the battle to keep her white duvet clean.