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16 Budget-Friendly Ways to Personalize Your Rental Home or Apartment


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If you’re like most people, you’ve rented a home or apartment at least once in your life. Renting can be a great way to save money for a down payment on a house or stay flexible about where you want to live. However, rental homes and apartments can feel bland and impersonal.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can personalize and update your rental to make it feel more like home – and you don’t have to spend a fortune to do it. Let’s look at some creative ways to add personality to your rental without breaking your budget.

The Rise of the Rental

According to an analysis of U.S. Census data conducted by the Pew Research Center, more Americans are renting now than at any point since 1965. And this rise is occurring across all demographics, including those (such as older adults) who typically choose to buy a home. Additionally, CNBC reports that second-quarter 2020 rental demand was up 11% compared to the previous year.

Why are so many people choosing to rent instead of buy? According to the Pew analysis, 72% of renters say they would like to buy a home at some point, but the majority can’t do so due to financial reasons such student debt, credit card debt, or not earning enough at their current jobs.

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For 32% of Pew respondents, renting was a matter of choice. Renting can be a great way to save money, especially if you’re living or working in an area you don’t plan to stay in permanently. A June 2020 survey conducted by FreddieMac found that 82% of respondents felt that renting was more affordable than owning a home.

Renting can also help you get a feel for the personality of a new city or a new neighborhood. If you end up liking where you are, you might decide to buy a home there later on.

Budget-Friendly Ways to Personalize Your Rental

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One of the biggest downsides of renting is that you’re limited in how much you can personalize your space. You can’t paint unless you want to spend time and money repainting when you move out. You can’t plant flowers or trees unless you’re willing to leave them in the yard for the next tenant to enjoy. And you often have to live with outdated light fixtures, flooring, and appliances.

However, with a bit of creativity and not a lot of money, you can turn your rental into a place that reflects your tastes and personality and feels like home.

1. Shop Smart

You can wind up spending a fortune on home supplies if you’re not careful. But if you shop smart, you can save quite a bit of money.

First, search for home supplies at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. ReStores sell home goods and supplies donated by others in the community. You can find furniture, lamps, and artwork at your local ReStore, as well as home improvement supplies like cabinets, doorknobs, windows, and light fixtures. Sometimes, you can even find vintage gems that would cost a fortune elsewhere.

You can also check thrift stores and garage sales for unique or vintage items.

2. Replace Doorknobs

Chances are your rental has bland, run-of-the-mill doorknobs that you don’t look at twice. But doorknobs can make a statement if you find the right ones. Vintage doorknobs especially can transform the look of an entire door.

Doorknobs are easy to change and an inexpensive way to personalize your space. There’s a good tutorial on how to do this project at Better Homes & Gardens.

Make sure to keep all original hardware for your home or apartment in a labeled box. You’ll have to reinstall this hardware when you move out or risk losing your security deposit.

3. Upgrade Cabinet Pulls

You’d be surprised by how much something as small as a cabinet pull can influence the look of your kitchen or bathroom.

Cabinet pulls are relatively inexpensive. You can find them for as little as $3 each at home improvement stores (the more unique the cabinet pull, the more you’ll spend). Upgrading your cabinet pulls involves nothing more than unscrewing the old ones and screwing in the new ones. It’s a simple project that will take only a few minutes.

You can also scour Etsy for handmade pulls. These will cost more than mass-produced pulls from Lowe’s or Home Depot, but remember that you can take them with you each time you move. If you buy them slowly over time, you can transform your kitchen bit by bit. And some handmade options are quite affordable, such as these brass pulls that start at $6.50 each or these cast-iron knobs that start at $2.99 each.

4. Get Creative With Washi Tape

Oh, washi tape. What can’t we do with you?

You can use washi tape to decoratively secure pictures to the wall or to add a splash of color and pattern to your baseboards and the sides of kitchen cabinets. You can use it like temporary paint and create geometric designs on your walls. You can even use it to make glitzy stripes on your refrigerator. And the best part about washi tape? It peels right off when you move out.

There is an endless number of uses for washi tape, making this a budget-friendly way to decorate your rental. You can get 52 rolls of 3mm washi tape for only $8 on Amazon. If you need more ideas, you can find roughly a million on Pinterest. Just search for “washi apartment” and prepare to be amazed by some of the creative uses for this humble craft tape.

5. Upgrade Your Appliances

No, you can’t replace your appliances when you’re renting. You’re stuck with what your landlord decided to buy, which means that stainless steel fridge will have to wait until you have your own place.

However, you can give your appliances a visual makeover with stainless steel contact paper. This is a sticky or magnetic nickel-plated film you can apply directly to the surface of your refrigerator or dishwasher to give it an updated look. It’s easy to install and can be trimmed to fit your appliance.

You can find stainless steel contact paper on Amazon. Just make sure you buy a roll that will fit the dimensions of your particular appliance.

6. Upgrade Your Kitchen

Updating kitchen cabinets is an expensive home improvement project, and as a renter, you’re not allowed to do this, anyway. However, you can transform your kitchen with removable vinyl cabinet covers, like these or these from Amazon, which cost $12 to $20 per roll.

Vinyl cabinet covers stick directly to the surface of your kitchen cabinets and come in a wide variety of colors. So if you’ve always wanted some vintage-looking red cabinets or sleek grey cabinets, you can have them even if your decorating budget is tight.

Washi tape is another way you can transform your cabinets. One couple featured on Apartment Therapy transformed their kitchen using nothing more than washi tape, and the result is a happy, colorful, and completely temporary space.

You can also transform the look of your kitchen’s backsplash with peel-and-stick backsplash tiles, like these from Amazon, which cost around $40 for 10 sheets. While you can find backsplash tiles in a wide variety of colors and sizes, white tiles will brighten up any space and give your kitchen a fresh, subway-inspired look.

If you feel comfortable with basic plumbing (or if you’re willing to learn), consider upgrading your kitchen faucet. You can spend $30 to $100+ on a sleek new faucet, but it can be a great way to upgrade something you’ll be using every day. Lowe’s has a tutorial on how to change a kitchen faucet, which you can find on YouTube. Again, remember to hold onto the old faucet so you can replace it before you move out.

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7. Use Fabric on the Walls

Yes, you read that right. If your walls or ceiling are unsightly, consider using fabric to hide them.

Designer Nick Olsen used this idea in his New York rental. He bought some discounted Ralph Lauren dark green and ivory striped linen and spent two hours tacking it up using only a staple gun. The results, as Architectural Digest shows, were amazing.

If you’d like to try this idea, scour JoAnn Fabrics, keep an eye out for sale fabrics, and use Capital One Shopping to find coupons that give you the most bang for your buck.

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8. Hang Pendant Bulbs

You can’t add ceiling light fixtures to your rental without altering the walls, so that option is out. But you can add some ceiling light with pendant bulbs. These bulbs, like this vintage-inspired bulb for $28 from Amazon, hang from a small hook in the ceiling and plug into the nearest electrical outlet. You can use one on its own to brighten up a dark corner or cluster several together for a bolder look.

9. Add Some Wallpaper

Gone are the days when you had to spend a week gluing wallpaper in place (and even longer taking it down). Today, you can find an amazing array of temporary wallpaper that goes up, and comes down, in hours.

Traditional wallpaper patterns are only the start of your options; you can also decorate your space with wallpaper that uses photographs on a large scale. For instance, you can turn your living room into sunny open plains or a tropical rain forest. If your child loves trains, you can apply a realistic steam train to one wall of their bedroom. There are plenty of removable wallpaper options on Amazon, most of which cost around $66 for a 66 x 99-inch sheet.

You can also find removable paper to decorate your stairs. These stair stickers from Amazon looks like Spanish tiles and only cost $19 for six stairs.

10. Upgrade Switch Plates

How often have you looked at your light switch plates or your electrical outlet plates? Probably never, because they’re bland and boring, designed to blend in with the wall and go unnoticed. But you can use your switch plates to add some color and personality to your place.

One option is to buy some white, inexpensive plates and decoupage them with pictures. Decoupage is the art of cutting out pictures or designs, gluing them to a surface, and then covering them with several coats of lacquer or glue (Mod Podge works great for this). There’s a good tutorial on how to decoupage at wikiHow.

You can also turn to washi tape for a quick upgrade. Again, Pinterest provides plenty of ideas here; simply search for “washi switch plates.”

11. Upgrade Your Toilet Paper Holder

The toilet paper holder is another fixture that rarely gets any attention. However, you can add a splash of color and personality to your bathroom by upgrading to a handmade toilet paper holder like this one from Etsy, which is available for $50.

Yes, $50 is a bit of a splurge for a toilet paper holder. But it’s something you can take with you to every new home, and you’ll use it every day.

12. Disguise Ugly Floors

If your kitchen’s dated and stained linoleum floors are driving you crazy, take heart. There is a temporary way to fix this: peel-and-stick linoleum tiles.

You can find these tiles at any home improvement store or on Amazon. They’re easy to install and fairly inexpensive. For example, you can get 12 x 12-inch black and white tiles, in a box of 20, for around $20 on Amazon. That’s enough to cover 20 square feet, making them perfect for kitchens, hallways, and bathrooms. The black and white tiles will give your space a vintage, diner-like feel, and there plenty more patterns and colors available.

13. Upgrade Your Shower Head

Most landlords don’t focus on luxury when choosing a shower head for their property; they often buy inexpensive fixtures to save money. But just because your bathroom comes with cheap fixtures doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Instead, you can upgrade your shower head to a luxury model and change it back when you move out.

The price of shower heads run the gamut; this model on Amazon is only $20 and gives you a rainfall-like experience.

14. Change the Blinds

Many rentals come with bland, white plastic blinds on the windows. If those blinds have been up for a while, they likely look dingy and a bit worse for wear.

Buying new blinds for all your windows can be expensive. However, if you like the natural look of bamboo blinds, you can save a lot of money. Bamboo blinds cost around $30 on Amazon and are quick to install. Once up, they’ll give your space a beachy, California vibe that’s laid-back and easy.

15. Add Plants

Like most people, my husband and I rented for years before we bought a house. In every new place, we tried a variety of different design solutions to make it feel more like home. One strategy that I felt really made a difference was to invest in plants.

Plants add life, color, and texture to a room, and some varieties are also effective at purifying indoor air. I bought ivy, fiddle leaf figs, succulents, and spider plants, then scoured thrift stores to find vintage and unusual planters and put them in every room of the house. It made a huge difference in how the space felt. And, of course, we could take the plants with us when we left.

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16. Talk to Your Landlord

You’re living in a rental you love and want to stay there for a while. You’d love to do some more permanent updates like painting the walls. What can you do?

If you’re renting an apartment in a professionally managed community, your lease is likely set in stone, and your landlord won’t be flexible about any changes you want to make to your unit. However, if you’re renting from an individual, there’s a good chance they’ll let you paint the unit as long as you paint it back the way it was before you move out.

In some cases, you may not even have to do that. If you do a good job, the landlord might see the new paint as an improvement to the property and let you leave it the way it is when you move. Still, talk to them first about what you’d like to do and get their approval in writing so you won’t run into any problems if they change their mind about the paint color down the road.

If you decide to go for it, and you have an iPad, download the ColorSnap Visualizer app for free on iTunes. The app lets you digitally paint a room so you can try out different colors before you buy the paint. If you have an Android device, you can try Home Depot’s Project Color app, which allows you to browse paint colors and digitally paint a photo you upload.

Final Word

It’s easy for a rental to feel like a temporary space. After all, the reality is that you won’t be there forever. However, the feeling of walking through the front door into a place that really feels like home is priceless. It’s worth the effort to personalize your rental at least a little bit so that it reflects your style and personality.

What design ideas do you use when you’re renting? How have you turned your rental into more of a home?

Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.