10 Decor Tips for Renters
Unless money is no object and you can afford the deluxe apartment in the sky, there’s a good chance there’s going to be something about your apartment you wish you could change. Whether it’s the bland paint on the walls or the outdated tiles in the bathroom, some things just don’t spark joy …no matter how hard you try.
But rather than get to work making improvements, many renters resolve to “just deal.” It’s not “yours,” you don’t plan to stay long, or you think it will cost too much. None of those things are true if you don’t want them to be.
If you’re renter, there are a lot of budget-friendly options that won’t break the bank, risk your security deposit or upset your landlord. So, let’s get into them!
While it’s the first most people think of when it comes to sprucing up a space, painting also seems to be the thing that most people are terrified of doing—especially renters. Thoughts about lease restrictions, lost security deposits and impending world doom sends all renters into a panic. But there’s really nothing to panic over.
A lot of times it boils down to simply asking. Most landlords are going to be really flexible when it comes to painting. They may require you to paint it back—or at least prime—before you move out, but it’s a small price to pay to live in an apartment that feels like home. But more often than not, landlords are grateful for the “free” upgrades and will even pay you (or deduct from your rent) for changes you make that increase the value or appeal of the property.
That said, in more complicated situations it may require some crafty negotiating. For example, if you’re resigning the lease, you could request to be allowed to paint before resigning. But in my experience, even when my lease put restrictions on painting, all I simply had to do was ask. In the 6 apartments I’ve lived in on my own—in Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City—I’ve never been told no.
But if all else fails and your landlord won’t budge, there are still tons of other options to spice up your apartment.
Paint color: “Quaking Bog” – Valspar Paint
2. Removable Wallpaper
Wallpapering seems to be another topic that makes renters a little nervous. But if there’s nothing to worry about with painting, there’s less than nothing to be worried about when it comes to removable wallpaper. It’s incredibly easy to install and even easier to remove. It won’t damage your walls or leave behind any sticky residue. Your landlord will never even know it was there!
Black Intersections wallpaper – Tempaper, $125/roll (gifted)
Another great thing about removable wallpaper is that it’s available at every price point. I’ve used removable wallpaper in nearly every apartment I’ve lived—from my (broke) grad school days through “real” adulthood. So, trust me when I tell you there’s something out there for every budget. Two of my personal favorites are Tempaper (the first brand I ever used and recently featured in my kitchen reveal) and Drop It Modern (featured in my bedroom). But there are also other great options like Target, Chasing Paper, Walls Need Love, COLORAY, Wayfair and even Home Depot.
3. Light Fixtures
Landlords and property managers don’t tend to put a lot of thought or money into the light fixtures in rental properties. They tend to be unflattering and unattractive. Same goes for ceiling fans. But luckily, there’s an easy fix for that. Change them!
It’s as simple as removing the old fixture, putting it in a box for safe keeping and replacing it with something a little more your style. I know you’re thinking, “What about the wiring???” That part is easy, too! I did it myself in my office with just a quick YouTube tutorial. IMPORTANT: Just be sure you put everything back before you leave.
If rewiring is too far outside of your wheelhouse, you can always do simple plug-in pendants that attach to the wall with just a few screws. A few really great sources for inexpensive lighting options are Target and Lamps Plus.
Image credit: Hangout Lighting
BONUS: Changing out your lightbulbs from traditional soft white bulbs to daylight LED bulbs is a little thought about trick that can also do wonders for your decor…and your mood.
Not allowed to paint? Aren’t a fan of wallpaper? Still terrified to replace the light fixtures? Maybe being a plant parent is a better fit.
It’s cost effective and relatively low risk. Sure, if you totally neglect them, they may die. But usually even the most worse for wear plant can be saved with a little love…and perhaps a few YouTube videos.
I’ve really enjoyed owning plants. Check out my 8ft. Bird of Paradise, Nefi! There are so many life lessons you can glean from caring for a plant and they add so much life to a space… literally. They’re also pretty affordable at places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and IKEA. You can also propagate your own plants from the clippings of pre-existing plants. But if you don’t have a green thumb and need a few tips, head over to my Insta-babe, Carmeon Hamilton’s blog for all of her expert tips.
5. Removable Tile/Backsplash
Of everything on this list, this is one I haven’t personally tried. But I’ve seen it done masterfully. You can take those outdated floor tiles or backsplashes in your kitchen or bathroom and bring them into this decade for a fraction of the price it would cost to buy a home, move out and then gut your entire bathroom.
Just like removable wallpaper, it peels off with no damage to the existing tiles or backsplash and leaves no sticky residue.
Image credit: Black & Blooms (click link to see the before/after)
6. Secondhand Buys
As the saying goes, “One man’s trash and is another man’s treasure.”
That could not be more true when it comes to furniture. Places like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, yard sales, and flea markets are treasure troves! Particularly in large, transient cities where people come and go—seemingly at a moment’s notice—you can find great and often really unique furniture for a steal.
I particularly love the FB Marketplace. It’s all the same great finds from Craigslist without the anonymity and anxiety. I buy (and sell) things on the FB Marketplace all the time. It’s really one of my favorite secondhand sources.
Another great hack for secondhand shopping is the free section of Craigslist. Admittedly there’s a lot of literal trash in the free section, but it’s also tends to be a last resort for people who have simply run out of time to get rid of things. It’s 4am on Thursday, you’ve got a new job across the country that starts Monday and you’ve got to be out of your apartment by 5pm on Friday? Toss it on Craigslist for free and let the internet do it’s thing! You would be shocked at what you can stumble upon.
Though it wasn’t free, my bar cart was a Craigslist find. If you’ve ever shopped for a bar cart, you know it’s tough to find one under $200 …and the prices can go from ‘reasonable’ to ‘ridiculous’ pretty quickly. So when I saw this genuine Italian bar cart listed on Craigslist for $80, I nearly set my phone on fire typing out an email to the seller. I was in love! We arranged to meet up at her AirBnB property a few days later. When I arrived she actually lowered the price and sold it to me for $60. Score! (I also purchased a ceramic bust from her. pictured below)
Cheat code: I often browse Craigslist without searching for anything in particular. I just set a max price—in this case it was $100–and see if anything cool pops up. Hello, bar cart!
vintage genuine Italian bar cart: Craigslist, $60
7. Bargain Retailers
Don’t get me wrong, I love Z Gallerie, West Elm and CB2 as much as the next person. In fact, there’s a mirror from CB2 in my cart right now that I’m thinking of selling a kidney for. But if you’re fresh out of spare organs and still need to buy things like groceries, you can always find really great pieces at retailers like Marshalls, Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Ross, Century 21, IKEA and even Amazon.
Floral Lamp from Marshalls; $49.99
8. Faux Stainless Steel
Just like with removable wallpaper and tiles, you can also use peel and stick paper (or in this case, film) to upgrade your kitchen appliances. Stainless steel film—sometimes in magnet form—is a quick and inexpensive way to spruce up your kitchen and give it a high end finish.
It can be placed over dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves and even drawers!
Image credit: Apartment Therapy
9. Framed Artwork
While you might not be able to afford to have a Picasso in your home like the Carters (I mean, who can?), but that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice art on the walls.
A really affordable way to have art that looks high end is to invest in quality frames. You can take inexpensive prints (Society6 has great options!), wallpaper, degrees, and even scarves and frame them to elevate your decor. The right mounting will immediately take the most basic wall art from ‘college dorm room’ to ‘real adult who has it together.’
The best news is that great frames can be found at every price. I have custom framed art in my home (sometimes a bit pricer, but affordable with sites like Framebridge). I also have gorgeous frames that I purchased at Michael’s.
Artwork by Shani Crowe // gold framed – Michaels, $22 (on sale now for $8)
The idea of DIYing projects around the house tends to intimidate a lot of people—renter or not. But it doesn’t have to be so scary. Most times all it takes is a little bit of patience and a quick lesson from YouTube University.
My biggest DIY project in my apartment has been my closet makeover. At first glance it might look like a major undertaking. But nope. It was super straight forward. I only had to put the middle shelf unit together and then secure it to the wall with 4 screws. If I ever I outgrow it or I decide to move, it’s as simple as unscrewing it and patching the 4 small holes.
Painting, hanging wallpaper, propagating your own plants, even hand painting a piece of furniture you found on Craigslist like I did with the dresser in my bedroom yourself goes a long way towards saving money. Money you can later use towards bigger purchases, like perhaps your forever home. Not to mention the pride you’ll feel when you see the magic you created from scratch.
Check out the before/after of my closet here
Being a renter doesn’t mean that you can’t have a space that feels like your own. Life can be difficult and coming home every day should be a positive experience. So get busy doing more than just living in your apartment. Start LOVING it!