9 Things You Should Upgrade in Your Rental (and Then Take With You)

updated Feb 24, 2020
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(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

It’s taken years for me to come around to the idea that a home isn’t any less of a home because it’s rented. Five years, actually — that’s how long I’ve lived in my white-walled, cookie-cutter apartment. But now that I’m finally comfortable hanging shelves and buying furniture to fit my space, my husband and I have our sights set on buying our first house next summer. That’s why all of our recent apartment projects have focused on “forever upgrades”— we’re investing only in the things we can replace in our rental today and still take with us to a new home.

Even if, like us, you know your living situation is temporary, don’t let that inspire a case of improvement paralysis. Here are nine things you can splurge on right now for your rental, knowing the investment will travel with you to your next home (or seven).

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Kitchen Faucet

This is the easiest way to perk up a boring kitchen. Pick out a new faucet for the sink that’s a true statement piece and instantly knock your kitchen’s style up a few notches. Daniel of Manhattan Nest did this in his former Brooklyn apartment and you can do it too. Here are 10 beautiful faucets for less than $200, and here’s a Home Hacks post from The Kitchn about how to replace a kitchen faucet.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Shower Head

Replacing your standard-issue shower head with a new one has a two-fold benefit: your new hardware will look and feel better, and if you buy something low-flow, it will use less water overall. Win-win! Here are the New York Times’ picks for the best low-flow shower heads, and a helpful post from us to show you how to install them.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Window Coverings

You can hang curtains, of course, but it’s pretty easy (and totally reversible) to install new blinds, shades, or window film on your windows to replace the beige-ish vinyl mini-blinds that came with your unit. The only caveat here is that you might not get to re-use blinds if your windows — now or in your next home — are a non-standard size.

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

Cabinet Handles & Pulls

Such a simple thing can make a huge difference. Find new cabinet hardware that’s more your taste (making sure they fit the cabinets’ existing holes) and switch out every one of them. Total project time: about 5 minutes. Here’s a handy post on choosing and installing new hardware, and here are 10 of The Kitchn’s favorite sources for knobs and pulls.

Toilet Paper Holder

Often forgotten, a sturdy and attractive toilet paper holder is one of life’s little joys. It’s the one thing in your home you’re guaranteed to touch every day. If your apartment’s toilet roll is flimsy and plastic, or if it’s placed awkwardly in the room, take it down and replace it with one of the world’s most beautiful toilet paper holders — you’ll marvel at its allure 5 to 10 times a day.

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Toilet Seat

Again, the bathroom is kind of an important room. I’m not saying a good toilet seat is as important for your well-being as a good mattress, I’m just saying… it’s close. A new seat can cost as little as $10 and will eliminate the myriad rental toilet sins: ugly, discolored, uncomfortable, and/or made of super thin plastic. Here’s a handy tutorial on how to replace a toilet seat.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Light Fixtures

This is a place to splurge. Replace your rental’s overhead light with a fixture that you will love for years and years to come. The new hardware will look great, and choosing your own fixture will also give you control over the kind of light you want in your home. Here’s a short round-up of sources to learn how to change a light fixture in your apartment.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Pull-Out Shelves

Organization is key to happy home. Convert your messy lower kitchen cabinets into pull-out drawers, like Chris did over on The Kitchn, and take all the hardware with you when you leave. It’s a great solution for under the sink, too.

(Image credit: Mackenzie Schieck)

Light Switches & Power Outlets

Ugly colored switch plate? Switch it out. Craving modern outlets with a sleeker look? Replace them. Want a dimmer switch in the bedroom? Totally doable. Wish you could just plug your iPhone’s USB cord into the wall by the bed? There’s a tutorial for that.

What forever upgrades have you made- or wished you’d made- to a rented home?

Re-edited from a post originally published 7.6.15-DF