I have been renting rooms in shared apartments for over a decade. My first place, an old on-campus apartment my first semester in college, lasted only one semester before I moved off-campus. That started a trend for me: I rarely stayed more than 1 or 2 semesters in any one apartment, so I never really settled down. Everything was mismatched. Nothing had a theme. And too many of the items were probably from Target’s cheap dorm room section.
A year after I graduated, my friend Cameron called me out on my lack of interior design skills.
“You can still create a home you love even if you’re just renting a room in an apartment,” he said. I truly had never considered that before.
There are some things I’ve still chosen to stay frugal on while living with roommates—namely kitchen supplies or other items that will be used by multiple people. But things in your personal space? This is your home, and you can absolutely create a space to feel like that.
Things I invested in:
Frames and art
A side table
A lamp, etc.
Things I did not invest in:
TV, and other electronics in common areas
A good shower head
Dishes and utensils
Throw blankets and pillows for the living room
“Smart” technology (Alexa, Google Home, outlets, light bulbs, etc)
The things in my “Don’t Invest” list are things that are in common areas of the home and can be on the more expensive side. For example, I’d never spend more than $10/15 on skillets or pans for a shared kitchen, but I would definitely consider investing in quality kitchenwares in my own home.
The optional things are things I have no opinion on. Did some of those things get used or broken by my roommates? Yes, but it’s not a big deal. I would personally just not invest too much money on things that are in common areas of a shared home. Whatever I purchase for common areas, I make sure I’m mentally prepared to part with them if they get broken or misplaced.
Want to start putting more intention into your design style, even in a rented room? I’ve really been loving the A Beautiful Mess Podcast, hosted by Emma and Elsie of the A Beautiful Mess blog. Both the website and the podcast have a lot of great insights into interior design, including some DIY projects. I think this is a great place to get started in finding your personal style, and what you want to invest in to reflect that. Here are some of my favorite A Beautiful Mess podcast episodes about design: Episode 2: Forever Homes; Episode 10: How to Decorate Affordable (And Not Just From Target!)
I started adding furniture into the mix in 2018 when I made my first table, then in 2019 when I restored a desk that my great-grandpa had made around the 1950’s (pictured). Because I was living in a basement apartment at the time with a roommate, the table went in a corner of the living room and was used sparingly when I needed extra workspace. The desk went in my room and acted as my office space (pictured). In the background you can see the Ikea bookshelf I used as both a bookshelf and a dresser—there are clothes in the cubes of the shelf. Beside the bookshelf is my bed (not pictured). By this time, after a decade of living in apartments, I finally had a style: a lot of white, green plants, and natural wood—basically, colors to brighten up a dark basement bedroom. While my next apartment won’t be in a basement, I’m still planning to keep everything very light.
My space finally started to feel like home, but it took years. I’m grateful that Cameron started me on the path to designing a space that feels like home and not just a temporary dorm room. What can you add to your space to help it feel more like a home? What’s the right investment for you right now?