Moving sucks. For so many reasons I’m sure I don’t need to expound upon because this is a universally known fact of human existence. Beyond the normal terrible things about it (exhausting, infuriating), my recent moving experience has left me a bit introspective about some things. You see, the last home that I lived in with my husband for five years was the first home I poured myself into making just right. I picked furniture that was the exact measurement needed for a nook. I arranged art and got things framed in specific sizes for my existing wall space. I hunted down an armoire for months (years?) that I had no guarantee would work anywhere else we’d ever live.
That apartment felt really, really good. I was so proud of it. I didn’t do it for anyone’s approval—IRL or even the internet. I did it for myself and how I like to feel in my spaces (but the hypothetical flowers thrown at me from visitors weren’t bad, either).
But you see, that last home was a rental. And if you missed my 1,000-word explanation of why I no longer live there, hop on over to my bedroom reveal to read all about it. The short of it? The landlords wanted our apartment. The landlords gave us some money to leave so they didn’t have to evict us. We left. The end.
All those items I painstakingly selected, things I loved dearly, things that made that home sing, ::cough:: things we spent a lot of money on ::cough:: well…they don’t all work in our new place. Some logistically in that they actually do not fit, and others stylistically.
Those first few days in our current home (also a rental) were filled with a strange cocktail of emotions. I was mourning everything that was relegated to the garage and likely either had to stay there until we moved or until we sold them/gave them away. I was also mourning the feeling of our old place. About 40% of our furniture and decor makes sense here, but 60% is a bit like a square peg in a round hole large enough that it can slide through, but you know while you’re doing it, it’s not actually the right answer.
It all made me think of something my older brother said to me years ago. While I don’t remember his exact words or even the circumstance in which he said them to me, the gist was this: don’t spend money or invest in anything if you’re just renting. “But don’t you want to like where you live and feel good when you’re home?” I said to him (or something like that). Ever the pragmatist, he flatly and without any doubt in his mind said no, and we moved on.
His words rang in my ears while I thought of the sheer amount of money, time, and passion that was spent on things we wouldn’t or couldn’t be using here. Now, don’t get me wrong, I plan on keeping most of the things I’m not totally loving here. We have a daughter who likes to eat and wear clothes her own size, which are far more important to me than whether the doors on the media console are too warm of a gray against the stark landlord-special white on the walls. But truly, some things just don’t make sense.
It’s not just furniture or decor items. If you’ve seen any MOTO (Makeover Takeover) reveal around these parts, you know an EHDer loves to go hard on making their rentals their own, be it through wallpaper (and not removable kinds), lighting, custom-built furniture, and shelving.
These are things that have completely transformed Caitlin’s and Jess’ homes, and probably how they feel (felt) in there. If I knew them at all, the work they put into these apartments has seeped into their lives in the most positive ways. Their work. Their social lives. I’m not exaggerating.
And remember Brady’s old apartment? He changed nearly everything in his bathroom (I believe with his landlord’s approval though…but I might be wrong about that).
Are we…absurd for doing this? Yes, some brands are nice enough to gift us items that we are not paying for just for the photos and promotion. But the fact is, a lot of this stuff is either staying in place or not being used in the next place we go to.
So, I couldn’t help but wonder (hope that phrase isn’t copyrighted), was my brother right all along? Is it a waste of money and energy to invest in furniture, decor, and art as renters when the nature of it is so impermanent and transient? I’m of two mindsets about it all, and lucky for you readers, I’m going to lay them both out here. Spoiler alert: there isn’t going to be a right answer, because the decision is highly personal, but let’s just see where this takes us, shall we?
Mindset #1: Not Absurd: You Value How You Feel At Home Based On Design
There have been plenty of studies proving the positive impact a well-designed room can have on your mental health. None of you would be here reading this if you didn’t think the state of your home mattered to you. I know I don’t have to argue that, but I would be remiss if this wasn’t one of the biggest backing points for why investing in your home—rental or not—is worth it. (And I just want to say that how I’m using the word “invest” isn’t necessarily just monetarily, but emotionally, with effort or time.)
When I first started talking to Jess and Ryann about this topic, I used the phrase “depreciation for appreciation.” This was in regards to buying something for the time you live in any given place and then reselling it at a lower price (will go into this further later on in the post). Meaning, there is absolutely a value to the length of time you get to enjoy something and it improves your life in one way or another.
But is a rental home any less well-designed if it cost less, or wasn’t custom-designed, or didn’t push the limits of a security deposit?
Mindset #1.A: You Don’t Want To Buy Disposable Things
Apart from everything mentioned above, there’s the very big and possibly paramount discussion point of waste. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m an environmentalist that gets an A+ in all my efforts. I have my (large) faults. I could do far, far better than I do. But I can’t help but feel an immense responsibility to not buy a bunch of poorly made “for now” pieces that are destined for the garbage dump when I’m onto the next thing.
It’s kind of like the idea of not buying quality clothes for a body you swear will be smaller in the coming months or years. I’ve been guilty of talking myself out of purchasing something well made or that fit my body really well over a certain price tag because…what if I lose weight? I have been meaning to work off those 30 or so pounds I’ve been carrying around for, oh, a decade. I’m renting my size. I don’t own this size. Let’s delay gratification for much, much later…or never. So I often rely on fast (cheap) fashion, because it feels like squandering funds to “invest” in a lasting wardrobe when I hope to get back to my pre-pregnancy (or beyond) figure.
I feel like I’m writing in circles, and it’s because I kind of am. As I said a few paragraphs ago, there is no right answer here, but I do have some ideas to share to make more sense of all this if you keep reading.
Mindset #2: Yes, Absurd: Save Your Money If Homeownership Is What You Want
That same very practical brother I have would likely tell me that perhaps homeownership would be in the cards for me if I didn’t spend all my money on rugs and case goods. Of course, this is a hyperbolic overreach of the truth. It’s like every article ever written about how Millenials can’t buy houses because of all the money they spend on avocado toast or iced coffee. While yes, you can only spend the same dollar once, the promise of the American dream that looks like “work hard, buy a house, live happily ever after” is just not realistic anymore for many of us, depending on where we live, what our finances look like based on income or circumstances…like how much money we had to borrow just to get a college degree.
This leads me to…
Mindset #2.A: Maybe Homeownership Is Unattainable For Some Of Us
My parents bought our family home in 1990 for right around $100,000. Their mortgage, if I remember correctly, was about $800. Including a line of credit for our pool. My mother was an elementary school teacher and my dad was a pharmaceutical sales rep. We were always squarely middle class, definitely not “upper” middle class by any means. This was in Orlando, Florida, where the average cost of a home is now $366,135 according to Zillow, and the average household income is $54,000.
A quick search for “how much house can I afford making $54,000” leads me to the answer: $165,000. That’s a far cry from $366,135. And this is in Orlando, which I left many years ago because my earning potential in my chosen industry was nowhere near where I wanted or needed it to be.
So I moved to Los Angeles after a stint in South Florida, where the home values are even higher, but the salaries are a little higher, too. Let’s take a look at figures in the city of Los Angeles.
Median household income: $69,778 (in 2021)
Median home value: $705,900
Uh…good grief. “Then leave Los Angeles and move somewhere with a lower cost of living.” That is the very easy, very straightforward suggestion someone might offer me. Heck, even you might be thinking it. You’re not wrong, but in the industry my husband works in specifically, moving somewhere else would surely cut his take-home pay in half.
There are many variables I’m not diving into here since this story isn’t titled “Why It Feels Impossible to Buy a House Right Now Even Though My Partner & I Make Good Money,” but of course, debt to income ratio, interest rates, home inventory and where you live all play huge roles. Regardless, it’s completely understandable why many of the 30-somethings I know, in the greater Los Angeles area, and even some in much smaller cities, feel like owning is a pipe dream.
The townhome my husband and I rent is valued at roughly $1 million. It sold in 2009 for around $500k. With 20% down ($200,000), our very high credit scores, and current interest rates, a mortgage at that cost would be about $4,500, before property taxes, HOA fees, and insurance. For a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home of less than 1,500 square feet.
My friends, the math ain’t mathin’. This landscape is bleak for many my age or for anyone in my income bracket or lower.
So…can we be blamed for wanting to cover our rental kitchen floors in peel-and-stick checkerboard tiles? Or changing all the light fixtures? Or installing that custom floor-to-ceiling library bookshelf system in the homes we have right now being that our “forever” homes (or heck, even a starter home) are very far off, if attainable at all? When we have the itch to design and decorate and build out solutions for ourselves that maybe don’t make sense given the temporary nature of renting, are we supposed to just…not?
Yes, the king-size bed we upgraded to last year was super limiting when we were searching for a new apartment. Maybe we should have waited for something that size until we put down roots in a home. But the extra space has been so great with the baby and my need to not be touched at night. Is not saving my marriage worth it? (This is a joke, my marriage is fine…now…with a king-sized mattress.)
So…What Is The Solution Here? Glad You Asked.
We’ve reached the part of this long, possibly inane article where I offer some useful tips if you’re staring down the long runway of being a long-time or forever renter.
Tip 1: Buy Quality From The Get-Go If You Can.
Hear me out: If you buy the best you can for the money you have, there’s a lot you can do with those pieces later on. Their resale value will be higher if you need to offload them. Quality will (hopefully) be better, so they have a longer shelf life. My mind specifically goes to real wood vs. MDF or particle board for furniture. Real wood is always a good investment because:
- It can be easily repaired if it gets damaged during a move.
- It can see many lives through painting, staining, sanding, new hardware, no hardware, etc.
- It holds its value.
Tip 2: Buy Secondhand (And If You Plan On Reselling, Know Its Resale Value).
Honestly, the best thing you can do if you know your home design choices have an expiration date is to buy second-hand, and I’m not just talking about vintage. Electronics, lighting, soft goods like curtains and rugs…all of this can be found locally through peer-to-peer selling or even online through sites like eBay.
Prepare yourself, I’m going to talk about the armoire again: While it was heartbreaking, I’m glad I bought my armoire on Facebook Marketplace for $500, rather than the new $2,000 versions I was considering. If we choose to sell it and move on, it could easily be listed for $500 again (or maybe even more), whereas the new armoire would never get what we paid for it.
Hot Tip: If you’re buying something super customized in space or style to your current living situation, do some searches in your area for what other things like it are selling for. It’ll give you a good idea of what market pricing is should you need to sell it down the line.
Tip 3: Buy The Longest Curtains You Can Find/Afford.
I learned this one the hard way, but now that I know, it’s been a game-changer. As long as it’s not super cost restrictive, I opt for the 108” curtain panels, even if my windows only allow for 84”, for example. Get them hemmed (iron-on hemming tape is a Godsend) to the height you need, leaving all the extra fabric to give you flexibility as you move around and your window heights change.
Tip 4: Be Prepared For A Little Heartbreak, And Then Move On.
One word (again): armoire. In the end, everything is just “stuff.” Release yourself of the weight of things and find an opportunity for new things to love, while hopefully giving your items a new home.
Tip 5: Take Your Time.
Yes, invest in your home, no matter what the permanence situation looks like, but also…take your time. A home doesn’t come together as quickly as a 27-minute HGTV show leads you to believe. Don’t rush to fill a space. Obviously, buy what you need to live your life, but everything doesn’t have to be finished or fully rounded out *right now* either. It’s okay. Pick the spaces you spend the most time, and start there.
So…I’ve reached the end of my mental loopty loop. This is where I hand it off to you, dear readers to throw in your own points of discussion or considerations. If you’re a long-time renter, how do you justify home expenses that some people might question your sanity on? If you’re a homeowner that used to be a long-time renter, where do you stand on this? I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts here.
See you in the comment section.
Opening Image Credits: Design by Arlyn Hernandez | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Arlyn’s Moody Dining Room Reveal Is All About the Insane Power of Paint