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The 7 Things Under $20 That Turned My Rental Into a Home

You, too, could be as happy as this. Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

So often, when you’re a renter, a dream apartment is less about perfection than learning to make the right concessions. My new apartment is a block from the train, but comes with the caveat of linoleum floors. My bedroom is flooded with natural light, but my kitchen has exactly six inches of counter. Some imperfections just aren’t worth the trouble, while others, I’ve found, can be solved with a good widget. Below, the seven things I’ve used to turn a so-so apartment into my own little slice of heaven — none of which requires overhauling design or even leaving a mark. (We talked to interior designer Fiona Byrne about the six best ways to zhuzh up your rental with décor, too.)

The most charming places are often to be found under five generations of sloppily applied paint. When I moved into my place, the windows, sink, and light switch covers were covered in specks of errant paint that were not deal-breakers, but were definitely eyesores. This razor-blade contraption has them looking like new. Think of it like a chemical peel, but for your house.

I originally bought this product for a thrifted teak wall unit, but I’ve found myself using it everywhere (read those Amazon reviews) — on coffee tables, side tables, even dressers. Most things clean the surface of objects, but Feed-N-Wax actually nourishes them. It has a grandmotherly rich-person smell, like oranges, that’s just “clean.” At the very least, it makes old kitchen cabinets look a lot less tired.

If a room is short on natural light, the worst thing you can do is put curtains on your windows. I’m lucky enough to have a window in my kitchen, but it overlooks an alley and the kitchen of my neighbor. I love the sunlight — I don’t love the view. These removable window films preserve light without sacrificing privacy — cut it to the proper measurement (with, say, the razor-blade contraption), then apply it to a clean window that’s been sprayed with water. Smooth it out (you can use a squeegee or even just binding of a thick magazine), and you’re done. Lapsed Catholics and lovers of camp can opt for the less subtle stained-glass pattern from Artscape.

Command Display Ledges

Another good hack for the hole-averse is to deck your halls using any of the Command brand mounting systems. These supercharged stickers attach to everything from picture mounts and phone-charging stations (if you’re looking for an easy solution to keeping your cord from fraying) to broom-and-mop hooks. But my absolute favorite is their assortment of tiny knickknack shelves, which are a lifesaver for sundries that have no designated place or displaying nice perfume bottles or candles in a crowded bathroom. I hung a box from the wall under my desk and use it to keep all my cords from misbehaving.

One great frustration of a tiny kitchen is wandering through your apartment with wet hands, trying to remember where you put the paper towels. I don’t plan on sacrificing my limited counter to something as pointless as a towel dispenser, so I have this one that clips to the underside of overhead cabinets. If you don’t care as much about how it looks, there’s also a version that clips only to the lower one (it hangs a bit too far when hung from an overhead cabinet)

Note: There are also a lengthwise version and over-the-door version.

If your bedroom is the size of a closet, then you’re going to need a closet that feels as large as a bedroom. This innovation doubles your storage by turning your one closet rod into two. Replace all your hangers with slim velvet ones and you can start telling your friends you have a walk-in.

If you’re unlucky enough to have brittle plaster walls, then you might be lucky enough to have picture rails — that thin strip of molding about two-thirds up a wall, most commonly found in older apartments. I used these hooks to hang plants in my bedroom, but you can use them for your Goodfellas poster or Gloria Steinem print, or whatever.

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The 7 Things Under $20 That Turned My Rental Into a Home