For the better part of 20 years, I’ve been a renter. And while I’ve been blessed with some pretty great apartments, from a “charming” (read: “tiny”) studio in Brooklyn with a palatial deck, to a circa-1860s stone cottage in rural Pennsylvania, no apartment is perfect—anyone who has ever rented knows that.
Some rental apartment issues aren’t worth the cost to fix. That pink-and-black tiled bathroom? You’ll get used to it—promise! Those honey-oak kitchen cabinets? Your best bet is to distract yourself by filling your kitchen with things you love (and can take with you). And I’d skip painting your walls, unless you’re planning on doing it yourself and using a white or other neutral hue that won’t offend future tenants.
While there are many renovations I avoid in a rental, there are three improvements that I do again and again (and again!) because they are cheap, easy, and oh so rewarding. They also shouldn’t upset your landlord, or result in you losing your security deposit. These are the ones I always, always make when I move in.
1. I replace the shower-head
If you start to think about the shower-head in your rental apartment for a little while, you will realize a couple of things. First, unless the bathroom was just renovated, the shower-head that’s in there is probably pretty old. It’s at least as old as however long the previous tenants lived there—and maybe a lot older. And it’s probably pretty gross. In addition to calcium deposits, which can affect water pressure, that old shower-head is a breeding ground for mold, bacteria, and all sorts of other germs, especially if it’s plastic.
Luckily, a good new shower-head is affordable—I bought a Speakman Anystream for about $30 for my most recent apartment, but there are decent stainless-steel options for less—and it’s also easy to install. It doesn’t require tools, apart from a wrench or pliers to get the old shower-head off. My shower-head even came with plumbing tape. (If you see the words “plumbing tape” and think I must be some kind of professional, I assure you I’m not: It’s just tape that you wrap around the threads to make sure there are no leaks.)
2. I install an in-cabinet trash can
Here’s the thing about trash cans: Even the really expensive ones aren’t actually that good-looking. At best, they’re fine-looking; at worst, they’re a complete eyesore. Not to mention, they also take up precious floor real estate, which is usually in short supply in rental kitchens. And while cabinet space is also precious, I find under-counter cabinets significantly less useful. In other words, I don’t feel bad taking over an under-counter cabinet for trash.
I’ve always liked the premium company simplehuman for trash cans—it seems worthwhile to shell out a little extra. I paid $80 for its combination system, which includes bins for garbage and recycling. It was super easy to install (really) and although the bins are on the small side, they work for me because I’m a one-person (plus two-animal) household and don’t generate that much trash or recycling. Some reviewers mentioned adding a bit of rubber lining to keep fruit flies out, but I haven’t had any issues with pests of any kind. Mostly, it’s out of sight, out of mind, so the only time I’m thinking about the garbage is when I’m throwing something out or taking it out to the curb.
3. I replace outlet plates and switch covers
If your apartment is anything like most of the apartments I’ve ever lived in, the outlet plates and switch covers have been painted over roughly a gazillion times and are just a hot mess. Functionally speaking, they don’t need to be replaced—they should still work (and if they don’t, you should contact your landlord)—but brand-new outlet plates and switch covers add a certain je ne sais quoi. They make everything feel cleaner and fresher, as if the apartment has just been given a new coat of paint.
They cost basically nothing (I want to say you can pick some up at your hardware store for about $2 a pop) and are easier than you’d think to install. You’ll need a screwdriver and access to your fuse box, so you can turn off the electrical outlet you’re working on. (Better safe than sorry when it comes to accidentally electrocuting yourself). It takes a couple of minutes per switch or outlet, so give the whole project about an hour, tops.
And that’s it! For a grand total of around $120 (depending on how many outlets you have) and less than two hours of labor (plus a trip to the hardware store), you can make tiny tweaks to your rental apartment that will make it look and feel like home for as long as you decide to stay.
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