5 Golden Rules for Renter-Friendly DIYs, from a Maximalist Who Tried Them All

published Apr 17, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Pink kitchen with lots of color accents and art
Credit: Megan Zietz

What happens when maximalist renters — you know people with a penchant for peel-and-stick, patterns, and paint galore — have to move out and try to get their security deposit back? There are lots of renter-friendly DIY options, but when it’s time to get a rental back to a blank slate, the question is, are they truly renter-friendly?

DIYer Megan Zietz is living proof that they totally can be. When Megan and her family of five had to leave their NYC apartment, they completely undid their DIY-packed, colorful, maximalist home with a little bit of elbow grease.

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Megan and her family took peel-and-stick and pasted wallpaper down from the living room, entryway, and fridge, removed a peel-and-stick tiles from the kitchen, turned the color-drenched green primary bedroom back to white, undid the space-savvy kid’s bedroom, reversed any light fixtures that had been swapped, added the old plastic blinds back, took down their outdoor hangout setup, rehung closet doors, added sheet mirrors back on, and more.

Below, check out the apartment’s full transformation life cycle during the time the Zietz family lived there. “Before” labels are from when they first moved in, when it was totally empty; “during” are from their four very colorful years of living there; and “after” photos are from move-out day, after they undid all of their projects. Here are the best tips Megan learned in the process of both doing and undoing all of her maximalist projects so that she could leave her apartment as a clean slate (and keep her landlord content!) 

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Add a buffer layer of contact paper before using peel-and-stick-tiles.

“Peel-and-stick tiles, they’re great — don’t get me wrong — but they have a tendency to peel off paint,” Megan explains. “I had a friend who was decorating around the same time, and she did peel-and-stick tiles and ripped off her drywall.” 

The damage can occur both because peel-and-stick tile is heavier than most peel-and-stick materials and because the heat in a kitchen can cause the adhesive to become especially sticky. So before she installed her own white peel-and-stick backsplash, Megan first added a layer of peel-and-stick contact paper to the wall. Then, she installed the tiles on top. “I would always do that because it made it such an easy way to take it off,” she says. 

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Start with any outdoor projects that need reversing first. 

Meagn and her family made sure to undo every inch of their DIYS in their old apartment, down to the Command hooks used to hang string lights on the back porch. Megan’s husband even took the composting station he created with him. 

That said, Megan recommends doing any outdoor work first (before you’ve restored your apartment back to clean white walls) because you might track in dirt — and because the outdoor undoing took longer than expected. 

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Your favorite white paint is the perfect blank slate. 

As Megan and her family were “un-decorating,” as she calls it, they repaired any holes in the wall and coated all the walls with white paint. “We just painted everything with KILZ and covered it,” she says. 

“Technically in New York, your landlords have to paint every two years for you, and [our landlord] never did,” Megan adds. “So we were like, ‘You can paint it whatever color you want when we leave, but we’re just going to take all the color off, and you’ll be able to put one coat of paint on.’”

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Paste-on wallpaper can actually be easier than peel-and-stick.

In Megan’s home, she had two types of wallpaper: one traditional and one peel-and-stick. She found the former to be much easier to work with in both installation and removal.

“I can’t believe I didn’t know this sooner! Traditional wallpaper is easy to remove?!” Megan writes on Instagram. “This @lust.home wallpaper was a dream to remove and came right off with a bit of steam from my clothing steamer. I can’t believe it. Am I a traditional wallpaper convert? I think I am. Turns out pasted wallpaper CAN ALSO be renter-friendly! Don’t sleep on it because it’s way easier to put up than peel-and-stick.”

As for removing peel-and-stick papers, Megan recommends pulling from a 45-degree angle to minimize damage to the underlying paint. And to remove any leftover adhesive, she recommends using vinegar in a spray bottle with a rag.

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Cheap materials will eventually reveal their true character. 

“We had covered our fridge several times with peel-and-stick wallpaper and contact paper, and when it came to removing and installing, it was all about the quality,” Megan says. “The $10 roll of contact paper you can get on Amazon was a pain to peel off. …  It didn’t cause any damage or anything, but it was still a pain because it came off in tiny little strips.”

Megan says one of her takeaways is that while a wallpaper might have a cheap price tag, “in the long run, you want to pay a little bit more for the better-quality product.”

Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz
Credit: Megan Zietz

Don’t be afraid to add your personality to a rental.

Mostly, Megan’s takeaway is that “if you want to paint your apartment, and you want to make it your home for however long you’re there … you can definitely do it,” she says. After all, it only took Megan and her family about a week to undo all of their projects. “It was so wild to see the transformations of each of the rooms go back to the way they were,” she says.