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Disclaimer: Before making any significant changes to a property you are renting, remember to talk with your landlord and/or refer to your lease agreement so you know what is allowed and not allowed.
Do you find yourself daydreaming about owning your own home some day, browsing home decor blogs, or creating Pinterest boards to pin your favorite looks? Are you tired of empty white walls and a lack of personality in your home? If you are one of the millions who rent and thought that you cannot customize your temporary “home”, think again!
There are a number of things that you can do to personalize a property you are renting without spending a great deal of money or breaking your lease contract. Here are nine inexpensive ways we have and are currently transforming our current rental house into a cozy home that fits us.
1. Hang Curtains
Yes, I know it sounds simple, but you would be surprised how a properly hung curtain can radically transform a room. We went two years with a makeshift curtain in our master bedroom even though we already had a rod, curtain, and sheers simply because 1.) we were not certain we would be staying in this rental long, and 2.) we were lazy and did not want to remove the hideous and broken vertical blinds.
When we finally decided to make the switch, it took us maybe twenty minutes to remove the old vertical blinds and the plastic mounts, mount our nice double curtain rod, and hang the sheers and curtains. We went two years with a cheap curtain draped over a plastic mount and closed with clothes pins when we could have been enjoying a gorgeous and relaxing master bedroom with a mere twenty minutes of work!
A properly hung curtain can take a room from shabby to chic in as little as twenty minutes!
Curtains do not have to be an expensive purchase. Browse your favorite home decor stores to find the style and color that fits you. If you are on a tight budget, visit online retailers to find better deals on similar items or wait until the store has the desired item on sale.You can also try visiting secondhand stores, consignment shops, or even asking friends and family if they have old curtains they no longer use.
Just be sure that you get two matching panels (one for each “side” of the window) of the correct length. Measure your window!
To take it up a notch also hang sheers. Sheers allow light to enter a room while protecting your privacy, and sheers can take a window from looking average to elegant.
2. Change Out Toilet Seats
Though toilet seats may not be even on your mind when you move into a rental home or if you have been renting for awhile, they can transform a bathroom. Toilet seats wear out and some even break over time due to daily use. Some seats are heavy and tend to SLAM! if accidentally dropped. Some are just plain uncomfortable, ugly, or so old that the cleanliness is questionable.
Take a trip to your local hardware store and browse the toilet aisle. There are many options to choose from and at $30-$40 dollars, it is fairly inexpensive to change out a seat. Just be sure you choose the correct shape (circle or oblong) and color (white or beige) for your toilet!
We recently replaced the oblong toilet seat in our master bathroom with a wood, no-slam toilet seat for around $35. It has made a huge difference, especially during those middle of the night or early morning bathroom visits when, before, we would accidentally drop the toilet seat lid and it would make the loudest sound ever! We will be replacing the circle toilet seat in the guest bathroom this weekend.
Toilet seats are very easy to replace. Just follow the instructions on the box to remove the old seat and add the new one.
3. Switch out basic fixtures
Since we are already talking about changing out toilet seats, how about switching out other small and basic fixtures, especially in the bathroom? Sometimes towel rods and toilet paper holders in rental properties are old, mismatchy, or, let’s be honest, some landlords go too cheap and simply slap a dowel rod up on the wall where a missing towel rod should have been.
A new towel rod or toilet paper holder, especially one that matches the finish of the bathroom faucet, can bring a sense of cohesion to a small space.
Also in the bathroom, switching to a brand new shower head — especially one with multiple settings — makes a world of difference. No matter if the shower is old, a nice and new showerhead can turn your daily routine into a spa-like oasis! Depending on the type you want, you can get a multiple settings showerhead for as little as $12.
One more tip: improving the atmosphere of a room can be a simple as changing out the type of light bulbs used.
4. Remove accordion doors
One of the worst inventions in home decor, at least in my opinion, are those heavy and hard to use metal bifold doors. They tend to be found in older homes and used for closets. More often than not, they no longer slide smoothly on their tracks, may not even close all of the way, and can pinch fingers and hands.
We had one on the coat/pantry closet in the house we are currently renting and after months of fighting with it, my husband simply removed the door.
If you desire, you can leave the closet open, for example in an office or child’s room. There are really cool things you can do with a door-less closet, such as turn it into a little office nook by adding a desk. If you would still like the privacy, you can hang a curtain that compliments your decor on an inexpensive tension rod and place it inside the closet opening.
5. Brighten up cabinets and drawers with lining
If your kitchen and bathroom cabinets are older or stained on the inside, you can easily pick up inexpensive rolls of lining and lining paper. The second night after we moved into our current rental, I cleaned and put lining in all of our kitchen cabinets and drawers before unpacking our dishes, pots, pans, and utensils. It gave me peace of mind and also made cheap and very old white cabinets look presentable-ish.
Recently, I picked up some cheap paper lining with a subtle white and gray chevon pattern to place underneath our kitchen sink. When I say “cheap”, I mean it was literally $1 from Dollar Tree. Dollar stores and the “dollar” or “clearance” aisles at other stores are the perfect place to shop for things like cabinet/drawer lining, because you can experiment with the look (and texture) without spending a lot of money.
The nice thing about utilizing lining around your house is that it freshens up a space, can be customized to fit your individual style, and if it is damaged, it is easily replaced.
6. Display themed artwork beautifully
Nothing screams “rental” more than empty walls or, even worse, poorly hung artwork with no theme or cohesiveness.
First, you need to talk with your landlord about their policies when it comes to wall hangings. Some landlords do not want you putting nails/screws in the walls at all so you will have to look into using an alternative method (such as command strips) that will not “damage” the wall. This may limit the size and weight of the artwork you choose to display. Other landlords have no problem with you drilling into the walls but may require you to spackle over the holes before you turn in the keys on move-out day.
Before you rush out to buy new artwork (if you do not already have some), take time to consider your personal tastes in art, colors, subject matter, and where you would like to feature pieces. The last thing you want to do is throw random pieces all over your walls.
Also, like I mentioned with curtains, you do not have to spend a great deal of money on artwork. Depending on your location, a visit or two to some second hand shops may result in a few treasures at severely discounted prices. If possible, try visiting a second hand shop in the higher income area of town. Some places have beautifully framed paintings and prints that originally cost over a hundred dollars for anywhere between $5 to $20.
Keep an eye on sales at your favorite home decor stores as well.
However, be careful not to rush into purchases that do not quite fit your theme and color scheme simply out of a desire to fill your space. It is worth living with an empty room for awhile to save your money for the perfect fit.
When it comes to hanging artwork, browse Pinterest and home decor blogs for visual inspiration. You can hang a large picture by itself or you can cluster a variety of small pieces for a gallery look. Before drilling into the wall (or applying your command strips), cut brown paper into the size/shape of your artwork and tape those on the wall to get a feel for placement.
7. Add a few potted plants
Potted plants not only bring a bit of life and color to a space, but the oxygen that they provide has a cleansing affect on the air within your home.
But not just any plants will do. You need hardy specimens that will thrive in the low-natural light of your apartment/home or won’t die if you forget to water them for a few days or can adjust to the temperature variations (if you do not use air conditioning in the summer).
Some of my personal favorites include philodendron, snake plant, aloe vera, and spider plant. We have little potted plants, mostly philodendron, on a buffet table beneath the dining room window.
The nice thing about philodendron, specifically, is that it is a trailing plant, which means its stems grow very long. You can let them trail, wrap them up, or snip them off. Place the trimmings in a jar of clean water, and they will grow roots so you can replant them. More plants for free!
A sweet bonus about keeping an aloe vera plant or two around is that you can cut a piece off and spread the gel it secretes on your skin to treat sunburns.
If having live plants is a no go for you — perhaps you travel too often or every plant you ever had died on you — try adding a few nice fake plants. Just be sure you clean the fabric leaves as they easily collect dust and dirt.
If your landlord has granted you permission to paint, a fresh coat of paint in a neutral color with an accent wall is a relatively inexpensive way of customizing your rental home. Take your time to consider your color options. I recommend getting the paint samples from your local store and placing them in the room(s) so you can see how the color looks throughout the day and night in various types of lighting. When painting, take special care to protect the floor and ceiling from ‘accidents’.
Some landlords do not allow tenants to paint — and for good reason! Many people have no clue how to paint so the floors and ceilings end up a disaster or the tenants choose horrible colors that the landlord will have to paint over later. Before moving in to a new rental, consider asking your potential landlord if he or she is willing to give the home a new paint job in a neutral color of your choice or even just white, off-white, light sandy beige, or a light gray. These neutral colors will usually compliment any decor scheme.
If your landlord originally did not allow painting but you have been a good tenant for a handful of years, you may want to bring the subject of painting up again. Having “proved” yourself by taking care of the residence for two or so years, the landlord may allow you more freedom to re-paint or may offer to re-paint for you.
9. Change out light fixtures
This can be a little more expensive, depending on if the landlord covers the cost and, if not, where you purchase your light fixtures. Landlords are obligated to replace damaged or broken fixtures (if it is not your fault), and some landlords may be willing to replace a fixture that is inconvenient, old, or simply hideous if asked.
If your landlord decides not to replace a light fixture for you, you may want to consider replacing the fixture yourself. Talk to your landlord first to see if he or she is willing to deduct the cost of the new fixture from your next month’s rent. (Our landlord deducted the cost when we replaced our kitchen faucet.) If not, it might be in your best interest to just eat the cost.
For example, we had a functioning light in our kitchen but it was hideous and hung too low over a high-traffic walk area. We have some friends who are taller-than-average, and one in particular kept banging his head on the light. The final straw for us was when he hit his head so hard I heard the impact of it in the living room over the hum of conversation.
So we found a nice four-bulb track light on sale at our local hardware store for around $60, and my dad helped my husband remove the old light and install the new one.
For a little out-of-pocket expense, we not only removed a hideous light that some of our guests hit their heads on, but we also were able to direct the bulbs to the areas of the kitchen that needed it most: the fridge, the stove, the sink, and the island. Now the kitchen is brighter and is a more pleasant space!
We are thinking about replacing the three outside lights with lights that are either on a timer or light-sensitive to help us save money on our electric bill, especially in the summer when the sun rises early and sets late.
Whether you are renting an apartment, a condo, a single-family home, or a mobile home, we hope that you have been inspired by these nine ways to personalize a rental property. How have you personalized a rented space?