Thoughts on Rental Decor

Like many people, the first place I ever lived on my own was a rental. Josh and I got married right after finishing college and moved into our first apartment just before he started graduate school. For both of us, it was the first time we had ever had our very own ‘home’. It was a two-bedroom apartment with rice stuck to the carpeting and a bug problem (these are very possibly related). After our lease was up in the buggy apartment, we began renting a house. We’ve lived in the rental house for close to 6 months now, and I am just now beginning to see renting as the great opportunity it is to get all sorts of experience decorating, with almost no risk. Seriously, don’t like it? It’s okay… you’re going to move!

When we moved into our apartment, I was deep into watching HGTV and was convinced that if I didn’t spend a lot of money, or if it didn’t have exposed wooden beams, my home would look like a garbage can. I fell into the comparison trap, and became paralyzed by imperfection. I knew that I would make mistakes decorating, that my taste would change and whatever furniture or decor we had purchased for our first apartment I would eventually want to get rid of. I didn’t want to take these risks, so I ended up not doing much of anything to our first apartment. Apart from essential furniture, like a couch and a table, and a handful of pictures hung on the living room wall, our apartment was quite empty. Every now and then, I would experiment by moving the TV stand to a different wall, but we spent hardly any money. When we moved out, I realized what a missed opportunity this was – We both loved our first apartment because it was the first home we’d had together, but we never really made it our own.

The smallest of all gallery walls in our first apartment

Once we moved into the house we live in now, I was determined to do things differently. I came to realized that the homes I most loved being in were not the HGTV-magazine-spread-perfect homes, but the ones that exuded the person’s or family’s personalty. It is my favorite to go into homes and see family pictures, maps of important places, and kid’s art hung on the walls; meaningful quotes, the week’s dinner menu, and shoes strewn about. Homes like this tell a story. I want our home to tell our story, to be a place where it can continually unfold, a place where we can invite others into our lives. To make this happen, of course, I had to do something more than create the tiniest of all gallery walls.

However, as I’ve come to learn, home decor can be tricky in a rental. Tampered by a binding lease and a landlord, these are the main things I consider before making a decor choice in a rental:

  1. How long I plan on living there – If I’m only able to enjoy something I change, fix, or hang on the wall for a short period of time, I probably will not do it. This factor is also a great motivator! Nothing incentivizes me like a deadline, and knowing I will only live in our current house for likely no more than two years makes me want to to have it decorated and organized ASAP so I can enjoy it for longer!
  2. How easy a piece would be to move with (if you can take it with you at all), and whether or not you would be willing to move with it – Some changes you might want to make, such as painting a room, obviously can’t go with you when you leave your rental. Other things, like a piece of art or a cool light fixture, can. Before buying anything, I always ask myself if I like it enough to move with it in the future (because I know I will at least once). If the answer is no, I pass on it.
  3. The lease agreement – Legally binding, so kind of a big deal. If you have major questions, ask your landlord. Things like nail holes in walls I consider to be normal wear and tear, but it’s best to ask first if you’re concerned!
  4. You will not gain anything from cosmetic changes or alterations – This includes things like painting walls or installing hardware on cabinets. I would avoid these unless I had express permission from the landlord and I know I would enjoy the change enough to make it worth it. One of the most fun things about getting to live in a rental is working around what is or isn’t there! It’s also a good idea to start a running list of things you do and do not like in your rentals (in case you ever find yourself looking for more permanent housing!). For example, I love top-loading washing machines, and I do not like living in a home with little natural light.

I am coming to love renting because it’s such a great opportunity to practice, make mistakes, and find your style. And truly, renting is the perfect time to do this – commit all of your decor blunders (okay, maybe not all of them…) while you’re just starting out so that if and when you find your forever home, you know exactly what you do and don’t like. The best part of renting is, if you really can’t turn your rental into something you love to call home, you can move out! Working within the limitations of a rental always makes for an interesting challenge, and learning to make the best of whatever you have is, I think, a really important skill.

A dresser for a buffet? Sure! We work with what we’ve got.

For anyone who is afraid of making mistakes, just remember that no decor is permanent. Nail holes can be filled, furniture can be moved, lampshades can be changed, rooms can be repainted. If your taste changes, it’s okay – that’s why Craigslist lets you list furniture and home decor to sell. You learn a lot more by trying something and not liking it than not trying anything at all.

Regardless of whether you live in a rental or you own a home, I hope you’re willing to try, to make mistakes, and to create a home that you love.




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