When I moved into my first apartment with my then-date friend, now-fiancé, I remember feeling an incredible rush of independence that I’d never experienced before. It was thrilling to have a place of our own to design and decorate and to fill with whatever we wanted.
While we were handling expenses of moving, like first and last rent with security, we were on a tight budget. To this day, a lot of apartment help guides mainly involve buying products. Getting $omething to organize, getting cute furniture, and getting kitchen gadget$ is at the top of every list. It alway$ $eem$ that the $olution to every problem i$ a product.
Here are some tips and tricks to make your space feel more like a home — without spending too much cash:
1. Upgrade your DIY skills.
You have a security deposit to make sure that you don’t wreck your place, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve your space. You can make small changes to your apartment! Go put that air conditioner in the window for summer days, use coat hangers instead of plain Command hooks, and fix up things that your landlord won’t. Making a space feel more functional and less temporary is always a great step towards feeling like it’s really yours. Just remember that there’s a difference between upgrading your space and doing maintenance. Things like installing working hardware on doors and windows, ensuring proper drainage in sinks, tubs, and showers, having access to heat in winter, and installing safe electrical and plumbing systems are all things that should be covered in your lease or your city code. Your landlord needs to comply with these.
2. Inform your city about consistent code violations.
Let’s face it — just because you can fix something yourself doesn’t mean that you should. If you’re renting, your landlord is responsible for making sure you have access to hot water, working doors, and ventilation. If your landlord doesn’t provide these necessities, look up your city ordinances about property owners’ responsibilities. Then, if asking your landlord to fix these issues doesn’t get you anywhere, report them to the city. Having a space that works for you and meets the habitable requirements of your city is important for personal and public health.
3. Say “hi” to your neighbors.
It’s good to check in with neighbors and share contact information so that you can get a hold of someone you know in case you have a problem, need a cup of flour, or need someone to water your plants when you’re on vacation. Your neighbors can help you feel a sense of community. Offer to help a neighbor take their bags up the stairs, or offer to go on a walk with a neighbor you want to get to know better. It’s also great to have a support system of other tenants when you have complaints for the landlord. You can even make a group chat with your neighbors to discuss ongoing needs and changes.
4. Don’t be afraid to get furniture wherever you can.
When we moved in, we learned of a little holiday called “Allston Christmas,” which takes place every September 1. It’s when a lot of college kids move out, and they leave lots of free furniture on the curb for whoever can haul it. That day, we got a sweet IKEA desk for free! Keep an eye on local curbs for giveaway furniture and books. Sometimes whatever you find just needs you to clean it up a little bit, and it will be good as new! Don’t be afraid to dumpster-dive too. It may sound gross, but it can be lucrative if you’re on a budget. If you’re lucky, you can find some great lightly-used items to fill your space without having to go to Target. Make sure to clean your items well, and always check for any sign of bed bugs, mold, and other health hazards before you bring it home with you.
5. Spice up your tiny space.
If you have a small space, take inspiration from #TinyHouseMovement and #VanLife! What spaces are you not using, and how can you better use the space you do have? Store items under your couch, take advantage of vertical space for shelving, and fit items in every nook and cranny.
We turned the living room of our apartment into a second bedroom for my brother so that all three of us can help with rent. We also have a wide hallway in the entrance, so we plopped a couch there, and now we have a comfy living area right when we come into the apartment. Is it tight? Yes. But I would rather fill the space than have an empty hallway.
There are so many ways to improve your apartment space, and if you’re living in your first apartment, you have time to make changes. Remember to work safely: wear protection when working with tools, use a stud finder instead of hammering on plain drywall, and do research to make sure you do the job right. In no time at all, your first small space will feel like a personalized sanctuary that will make you proud.