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Okay, so we all get that the real estate market is completely bananas, and even if millennials and Gen Z collectively promise to never so much as look at a ripe avocado again, chances are that a good chunk of us will end up renting for a significant portion of our lives – if not forever. 

I know, I know, it’s hard to justify investing in something that’s not yours. But in my opinion, if you know you’re going to spend at least a year living in the space, it’s worth spending the time (and cash) to personalise it and make it feel homey.

Because even if we end up giving a significant portion of our incomes to someone that just got lucky in the housing lottery sure as hell doesn’t mean that we have to suck up living in a beige box, or dealing with an ugly splashback that makes you too sad to cook (that’s my excuse, anyway). 

Before you dive in, know that seeking permission is easier than seeking forgiveness. Even if you know that your decor choices are definitely reversible, it’s a good idea to ask your landlord for their blessing (in writing) to prevent any issues, which could include losing your bond, or worse (like being blacklisted for being a bad tenant). So let’s get into it – scroll on for 9 tips on making your rental less naff. 

1. Get some inspo

There’s a reason that Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest exist. Between them, they offer endless glamorous, inexpensive and reversible decor tips for renters.

TikTokers thekwendyhome, beingtheblooms and Melbourne-based joshandmattdesign have great landlord-approved design ideas, and heaps of delicious decor eye candy.

Some of my favourite renter-friendly Instagrammers are Alexandra Gater, Lone Fox Home, Grillo Designs and Maisie Violet Rees, all of whom live in rental apartments (and/or make over other people’s rental spaces) and show us all how it’s done. (Ngl, they make it look almost too easy!) 

2. Buy some damn plants

There’s almost no space that can’t be improved by adding some indoor plants – that no, even you can’t kill. There are so many places out there where you can get great plants for cheap – the hardware store, an old-school local nursery, online or even by swapping cuttings with friends.

Minimalist, maximalist, whatever your vibe, try to get a substantial plant that’s a bit sculptural. A trusty fiddle leaf, an olive tree, a monstera or even a rubber plant can add visual interest and breathe life to an otherwise dull space. You can carefully curate your plant babies, or go ham and add a plant to every empty corner. Best of all? You can take them all with you when you move. 

3. Explore the world of peel and stick

Ugly kitchen backsplash? Peel and stick tiles! Ugly floors? Peel and stick vinyl! Ugly walls? Peel and stick wallpaper! You get the picture – there’s really no excuse to live with a feature you hate, especially if it’s small.

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A post shared by Sara Toufali (@saratoufali)

Peel and stick options have become a lot more realistic and a lot less expensive over the years, and can be applied with no special skills in an afternoon. You can find perfectly good options at Kmart, Amazon or Etsy, but there are boujee-er options that cost a bit more. While most places offer a guarantee saying their products won’t destroy your walls or existing tiles, it’s not a bad idea to test a small area for a few weeks first. 

4. Hang some statement art

In my world, there’s no good reason for living with blank walls. You can get decent, cheap art on Etsy, at markets or on Instagram, and support your favourite artists to boot. It’s easy enough to get a cheap frame from IKEA or Kmart too – and in this case, a cheap, flimsy-looking frame is usually better (as it’s usually not made of glass, so it doesn’t weigh as much). Use command hooks, 3M velcro strips or even sugru to get that art up and show off your personal style.  

5. Create a feature wall with washi tape

Insanely versatile, washi tape is one of my favourite ways to jazz up a blank wall, and it’s usually paint-safe too. You can go all out by doing a whole feature wall, “frame” a poster or just upgrade your furniture by giving it some architectural detail (but just like with peel and stick, make sure you test the tape in an inconspicuous spot for a few weeks).

6. Hide your heinous shower

If you don’t have a modern glass shower stall (and who does, with these rental prices!), you’ll want to hide as much of the tub as possible.

Instead of getting a cheap plastic-y shower curtain that makes you feel funny every time it brushes against you, go for something in a thick fabric that is loud and wacky and distracts from that weird black mould growing on the ceiling.

Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie have a bunch of cool ones, or if you’re crafty, you can get some fun fabric from Spotlight and DIY your own. Just make sure you get a mould-resistant shower liner as backing.

7. Swap out hardware

This is something I’ve done in every place I’ve lived in – it’s low cost and high impact. Think your bathroom cupboard, kitchen drawers, built-in closet… anything that has a handle or a drawer pull, really. All you need is a screwdriver and a bit of imagination.

Matt black or brass hardware almost never go amiss, if you’re not sure of what to get, or you can more intricate, artsy ones made of agate, marble or mother-of-pearl. I like to keep a labelled ziplock bag of the old hardware (including screws) so I can replace the originals when I leave.

8. Change your bathroom mirror

Most affordable rentals in Australia tend to have ugly, old mirrors (or maybe I’ve just been unlucky?). Whatever your morning routine is, you need to be able to see yourself in the mirror when you’ve dragged yourself out of bed.

The good news is, this one is a super-easy swap! You can go for an ornate version, like the one in the picture, or add storage with an inexpensive bathroom cabinet. Just hold on to the old one so you can return your bathroom to its original hideous form.

9. Upgrade your light fixtures

You know that solo lightbulb that’s menacingly hanging in your living room, like it’s a low-budget set for an interrogation scene? You don’t have to live with that. You can find beautiful (and sustainable!) pendant lighting for relatively cheap these days, including at Kmart and IKEA.

If the lighting is a bit more complicated (i.e. it involves wiring), you’ll need an electrician – or you can just pepper your room with more mood lighting (table lamps! floor lamps! candles!) and forget about the boob light in the ceiling.

Zahra Campbell-Avenell is the Head of Editorial for Refinery29 Australia. She has written widely on topics including career and personal development, travel, money and women’s financial wellbeing. 

Image: Instagram / @saratoufali