Nick and I lived in a rental house for two years before buying our little bungalow, and of course each rented various apartments in college, so the plight of renters strikes near and dear to my heart. Whether your absent landlord could care less if you started knocking down walls or you’re in a corporate building that counts every nail hole, you probably don’t want to invest a lot of time or money into improvements that you’ll have to someday leave behind. Here are seven tips for making the best of where you are today without feeling like it’s all for naught.
- Use furniture creatively. Can a dresser double as an entry table, a nightstand, storage in the dining room, or extra prep space in the kitchen? Can freestanding shelves make your closet less stupid? You might not be able to change the place itself, but you can change what you put in it to make it work for you.
- Cover up an ugly floor situation with rugs. Even a kitchen or bath can be improved with an easy-to-clean canvas floorcloth (see how I created a giant one for my living room here). Dollar and discount stores often have cute rugs in smaller sizes that are good for entryways and thresholds. If you need to cover a larger area, natural fiber rugs (like sisal or jute) are also really inexpensive. The question of whether to place a rug over wall to wall carpet is a controversial one, but I say follow your heart.
- Clean. I am not a naturally good housekeeper, but I’ve developed at least a basic appreciation and tolerance of cleaning thanks to my friend the Flylady. She’s pretty much one of the best things that ever happened to me. You deserve to live in a clean home, even if it’s not your dream house and there’s 30 years worth of crud stuck to every surface (I’ve been there!)
- Declutter. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got shelves and drawers just full of crap you don’t need or want. Set a timer and spend 15 minutes a day sorting out things to throw away, recycle, or donate (and then actually donate the stuff! I struggle with follow-through.) Please don’t go out and spend a lot of money on organizational supplies. Focus on decluttering first, then find a home for everything. Even a tiny or poorly laid-out place will feel more spacious with less stuff in it.
- Learn to grow stuff. Plants inject color and a sense of home to a space. They just seem to say, “somebody lives here,” and if kept in a pot can be easily taken with when you move on to greener pastures. If you’ve got an outdoor space, take advantage of it with a simple container garden, but don’t neglect to plop a houseplant on a side table or windowsill here and there, either. Succulents and herbs are both relatively easy for novice or very busy gardeners
- Personalize. If you’re allowed to hang items on the walls, put up personal photographs and images that inspire you. If nails are verboten, you can invest in some 3m hooks (depending on how many you’ll need and how long you plan to stay–they can really add up) or place frames and personal momentos on flat surfaces here and there. Be careful not to overdo it, as things can start looking cluttered quickly. Keep in mind that arrangements tend to look best in odd numbers.
- Change what you can. I’ve never done this, but I have friends who swear by changing out things like light fixtures and shower heads. I can see how upgrading some items could really make an improvement in your quality of life while you live there. Just stash the original fixtures somewhere out of the way so you can put them back in when you leave and take the good stuff with you.
I’ve gotta say, I don’t miss the days when my house was not my own (although we fortunately haven’t had a situation yet when we wished we could call in a landlord to pay for repairs!). I think the points above can be helpful even if you own your home. Cleaning and decluttering, in particular, is a constant battle for me but I know it’s worth it. Living well in any place is all about making the most of what you have and creating a space that you can identify with.