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How Much Is Too Much To Spend On The Design Of Your Rental? Long-Term Renter, Arlyn, Gives Us All Her Opinions And Tips

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.

oh how I love these sconces from hudson valley lighting, but there are no hardwired sconces in our new home to swap out with these. so they are now currently living in boxes in the garage. the same goes for our dining room chandelier.

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. 

charles and i designed this bench and we had sara’s brother shade build it to measurements that were specifically chosen to sit where we wanted under our front window. it’s currently too big for where it makes sense visually now, and too small for anywhere it actually fits. in fact, it just…doesn’t make sense anywhere because of our new layout.

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.

after photo by zeke ruelas | from: brady gives a refresh to his vintage bathroom

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

the nightstands i used in my bedroom are pricey. they just are. but they are well-built pieces that i’ll have forever, whether i use them in my room in the next home or not. i’ll always find a way to use them because they’re worth it.

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

could charles and i own a home if we didn’t have this $1,200 article sideboard (that was gifted to us by the brand)? ha, yeah right.

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.

my beloved armoire sits in my garage now, waiting for another time and place, if that ever comes.

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).

i picked up this awesome dresser from a local vintage seller via craigslist for $800. it’s solid wood, beautiful, and has so much soul. and if ever the day were to come that i didn’t need it anymore, i could likely fetch something close to that same amount by reselling it.

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.

the ceiling line here was fairly low, so I hemmed these to about 84″, but they’re actually much longer curtains because I knew i’d want to use them in another home should the time come…and it did. now, i just released the hem and they fit my very tall sliding glass door.

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


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87 thoughts on “How Much Is Too Much To Spend On The Design Of Your Rental? Long-Term Renter, Arlyn, Gives Us All Her Opinions And Tips

  1. Oh I have BEEN there and still live there. In a short-term rental (1-2 year plan) I work with what I have and mostly work with paint. Long-term rental I slowly build the decor and home improvement foundation. I’ve replaced carpeting. I’ve purchased appliances. I’ve done landscaping. The thing I try do is only one major investment to that property a year. (Probably what I’d do in ownership too). I tell myself it costs money to live regardless if I own the property.
    I agree on the quality vs quantity of new decor/furniture pieces.
    I’ve never been asked to leave my rental but you can’t plan for those things. sometimes you just need to pivot and take the hit.
    Great tips, Arlyn.

    1. Thanks Karen! We bought a new stove in our current apartment, but only because the one here was pretty awful and the lease didn’t really include maintenance on them (sucks).

  2. I love your taste, Arlyn, and this article is honest and lovely. I’m 52 now and my husband and I work in education, so it was a long time before we could afford to buy a house (in our early 40s). We got married at 25 and moved every two years for a while, including after having a kid, and then another one four years later. It always felt like we would never be able to own. . .but in the meantime, we had to live life, make happy homes for our kids (and then move again, and make a new happy home), keep working on our careers, and muddle through. For 11 of these years, we lived in Seattle, and as prices climbed there it felt like we would never be able to own. But in 2015 we found a 1970 split level and while everyone was distracted with the Seahawks’ first Superbowl, we put in an offer. Our realtor friend (a parent at the school where we worked) deftly navigated the sale for us and we got it below asking, for $470K. We loved it so much–views of Puget Sound and the Olympics off our deck!–but you know what? Owning didn’t feel all that different, and life didn’t suddenly get perfect. We had some rough years with our daughter’s adolescence in that house, including the worst day of my whole life. The last day I drove away from that house (due to a move back to the East Coast for our jobs), my emotions were very bittersweet. I knew I would miss those sunsets forever but that life goes on. And luckily we were able to sell it for $725K (but if we had held on to it longer, whoa boy, prices are even higher in the Seattle area now).

    Anyway, you are making the right decision for yourselves right now. Maybe moving away from LA will be possible for you someday, but for now you are in one of the world’s great cities, raising your baby and building your career. That career has given you an appreciation for intentional and inspiring spaces and objects, and life is happening right now. This blog has had a big impact on my living spaces for the past 8 years or so that I’ve been reading, so thank you for that, EHD team! “We must cultivate our garden,” as Voltaire writes at the end of Candide. We can’t control a lot of things in this world, but we can shape the environments in which we live.

    1. This is such a thoughtful comment. Owning a house does not make a perfect life, and there will be ups and downs, and bittersweet, terrible, wonderful, and happy moments and memories no matter where and how you are living. Almost everything is temporary, but we can always cultivate our garden.

    2. “Owning didn’t feel all that different, and life didn’t suddenly get perfect.” Thank you for this reminder. And yes, cultivate our gardens we shall. It’s a healthy balance of living in the here and now, because who knows what tomorrow brings.

  3. I feel all of this so much. I was fortunate to only rent once and then buy. I have no plans to move but I also joke that I couldn’t move because all of the furniture and decor I carefully hand selected for my house were hand selected for this house and I know wouldn’t translate. There is very little that has stuck with us from the apartment to the house for that same reason. And I am not good at selling things, I prefer to give furniture away to a good home, so it would definitely not be worthwhile for me.

    The housing market is crazy right now. I see it where I live in South Jersey and can only imagine what it must be like in LA. The home prices have jumped significantly in just three years. It stinks for anyone who is ready to buy now.

    1. Yeah three years ago, we weren’t really in a place financially or mentally to buy. We didn’t know if we wanted to stay in LA (still don’t, but it’s where we are right now), but now, it’s just a pipe dream. Particularly in any area we’re interested in. But it’s okay. I’ll make our home a place we want to be for as long as we’re here, and at a level that makes sense to us.

  4. Oh, how I feel your pain and reason in this one. I’m living in Ireland, and like you, I’m a long term renter who seems to be getting further away from owning her own home. The 2008 crash saw some major (and necessary) changes to mortgage rules here. Many people were in negative equity for years, many lost their homes. In the following years, there was a reluctance to build, even state supported social housing. Big investment funds found a fast route in and bought apartment blocks and huge numbers of houses. They are now the largest landlord group in the country, yes even bigger than the state. A continuing housing shortage, and restrictive planning and mortgage rules has seen a housing crisis develop. Add a pandemic where many moved out of cities, materials costs soared, and an energy crisis coming from a dependency on energy from outside our borders, and it continues to be very, very hard for many to afford their own home. Gov policies are changing some things but change is slower than we need. Long-term residential rental is not protected in Ireland, though again this is slowly changing, because it has to. It’s harder to own property exclusively for use as short-term (holiday) rental.
    I’m one of the lucky ones. I already have a site and my family works in construction. I will arrive at the stage where it becomes affordable/ a no-brainer for me to build but for many, it’s not the case. I’ve been renting for years. It started out where I was reluctant to spend on a ‘temporary’ home. I made do with hand-me-down furniture and bare walls. And made do with feeling ‘temporary’ in my home. But that’s changing. My home is my home. I want to feel it as soon as I open my front door. When I realised I was growing envious of friends who borrowed from family to buy, or in their 30s moved back home with parents to save towards buying a home, now buying ‘real’ furniture, decorating their homes, building outside spaces and planting gardens, I made a decision not to continue to think of my home as temporary. Again, my home is my home.
    I made a firm decision to intentionally buy from Irish makers, local stores and source vintage. This means I’m not falling hard into fast buying, or unsustainable materials. I consider my choices. As well as working in the space, I have to love it.
    I must mention that I found Medina Grillo on IG from EHD and her posts played a big role in helping me see beyond the temporary nature of renting.
    It’s a slow process but I am starting to feel love for my home now. It’s a good feeling.

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful response. I totally hear you, and it’s tough in so many ways. I’ve also felt that envy for others who did similar things. Like…have I made the wrong decisions in life? Have I prioritized the wrong things? But like I heard recently, if you’re always looking back, you’ll crash.

    2. K, I appreciate your thoughtful comment. “Big investment funds found a fast route in and bought apartment blocks and huge numbers of houses.” This same thing has happened in the US as well. It’s a significant reason why real estate in popular cities like LA, San Francisco, NY, Boston, Chicago etc is so hard to afford and buy: the corporations keep the housing they own empty to drive up prices for everyone.

  5. I really enjoyed this article. I love the way you write, Arlyn. I am not necessarily a long time renter but I have moved a number a times – every move involved a different style of home. As you stated above, I would not be here if I did not believe that there is value in loving my home. For me, the pieces I found to “work” in each place were the high quality pieces that I loved. While space does limit possibly, I have been able to use a number of old pieces for different purposes, especially since having my daughter. Though, I do believe the key to all of this if buying the stuff you love. Not trends or what the internet tells you looks good – but the stuff that makes your heart skip a beat.

  6. I enjoyed this so much. As a (long renting) LA parent of young kids this really rings true. This is a great counterweight to the alternative reality of the Portland farmhouse (which I also love reading about). Thanks so much.

    1. Agreed! I do like hearing about the farmhouse but honestly, what keeps me coming back to this blog is the posts from renters. Shoutout also to Emily Bowser’s home, which feels much more attainable in my lifetime than anything close to the homes Emily Henderson has done for her own family in recent years. No shade to EH but honestly, we can get that level of $$$ home and interiors pretty much anywhere on the internet. I want to see more posts like this!

  7. I think the guideline I would follow is: invest in furnishings, not fixtures. That awesome couch that might not quite fit in your next place? Go for it with the understanding that you may have to sell it down the road for less than you paid. A kitchen or bathroom reno in a rental? No thanks!

      1. Although, I would have to say that the changes that Brady made to that bathroom made an outsize difference to how it looked/felt/functioned and if you were staying more than a year (or even a year for me as the before picture really is yucky) then it may be worth replacing a toilet and pedestal sink as you can do both for about $1000 and hopefully paid less on your lease for the yucky before (although I know that isn’t true everywhere).

  8. Arlyn, I’m so glad you’re back! Love your writing. 😊 I wholeheartedly agree that making your home your own is an invaluable investment in your happiness. And home ownership is no guarantee that life won’t throw you an unexpected curve ball that requires a move. So make your home a place you love no matter where you are!

    1. …And be careful to not overcapitalize….same goes for buying or owning a home if it’s not truly a forever, take me out in a box, forever home.

  9. In the history of the world, how many times have the rich people done anything for the little people? The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is one of those very few times. You should take advantage of it. My husband and I bought our first house for $60K at 11.5 percent (equivalent to about $300K in today’s dollars) on grad student stipends, and the house was only seven hundred square feet. But four years later we sold it at a 50 percent profit and moved into our dream house, which we could never have done if we hadn’t gotten on the property ladder at a lower rung. Bear in mind that the three-dollar iced coffee actually costs you fifteen dollars, because reducing your possible 20 percent down payment by three dollars reduces the house you can buy by five times that amount. And please don’t tell me that you’re waiting till you can afford a safe neighborhood, because your rent payment is money that enriches someone else and you never see it again. It’s like getting mugged at the bus stop every month.

    1. While everything you say here is technically accurate, I think the part that’s missing is that even if Arlyn and her husband wanted very badly to own a house, it’s possible they literally cannot get a loan for one that will work for their family in LA due to a combination of astronomical prices, competition for those houses (other buyers that are able to make all cash offers and waive inspections) l, and their personal debt to income ratio and savings. All you have to do is read the articles whitten on here by Bowser, Caitlin, and Sarah about their home buying journies over the past few years to see that. The market is not what it was when you bought. So many in your generation chide younger adults for not “doing what you did” when your situation was drastically different.

      1. When we bought our first house the mortgage rate was 11.5 percent. That’s much higher than anywhere in the US today for buyers with good credit scores. The rate forced us to adjust our expectations for what we could buy—but a year later, the prevailing mortgage rate had shot up to 18 percent, so we were glad we bought what we could, when we did. Hopefully inflation will never return to such levels.

        1. But this fails to account for the fact that home prices are MUCH higher. So yes, interest rates are “relatively” low compared to the past. But home prices are astronomically high, driven by the ultra low rates of the last few years. So even with a relatively low interest rate monthly payments are unaffordable because home prices are so high. We purchased a home last year at 3.875%. If we wanted to purchase our same home today 1) the price would be higher (prices have slowed here, but not really dropped) and 2) our loan payment would be about $1,500 a month higher (not hypothetical numbers, I looked at a loan comparison calculator). We absolutely could not afford that. As it is, we already purchased the only home we could find that did not require tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of work. Frankly, its naive and somewhat offensive to coerce someone into making the same decision you did simply because it made sense to you when you made it. Homeownership is a highly personal and extremely high stakes decision these days and making someone feel bad or anxious about not purchasing a home for whatever reason just isn’t helpful or relevant these days.

    2. I agree, but it’s about priorities too. Some sacrifices (spending more time in traffic) could be worth the lower cost of the house, and working towards having greater equity over time. Meeting friends at home as opposed to going out to eat, could be a way to save more too. But then for some people, it’s a good motivator to get a coffee before work, and they are very social and it would be depressing to not go out. We can’t decide this for others. But I agree that in terms of finances, renting the same property is generally more expensive than owning it. I would not be able to afford to rent a house that I own. And while I do spend money on remodeling, that also increases the quality of life while I live here.

    3. I don’t find it fair to compare mortgage to rent payment. There are so many other additional costs to owning vs. renting. First of all there is home insurance (much higher than renters ins), taxes, and sometimes an additional fee on top of your mortgage if you don’t have a high downpayment. Special assessments on the property. Then you have all of the maintenance and upkeep, including potentially big problems like with electrical, plumbing, sewer, etc. You have to do all of the upkeep yourself (both inside and outside) which has a significant lifestyle cost. People were always telling me that I was “throwing my money away” renting but honestly, buying a house put me into much more financial strain and time strain than I had ever been renting. I think it really all depends on your rent you’re paying. I’m still glad I bought my house for many other reasons, but the finances are not as simple as swapping a rent payment for a mortgage payment.

      Additionally people often look at the purchase price and selling price, thinking they made a lot of money, while failing to factor in the investments they made in the house, taxes, etc. while living there. If you bought a house for 250, and “made” 100 by selling it at 350 great. But what if you spent 200 while living there, you didn’t actually “make” that money. This is not always the case, I get that you can do something with the equity, and I do appreciate the value in purchasing property. But it is not always as simple as it seems on the surface.

    4. I totally get riding the property ladder. Absolutely. However, many of us, particularly in cities like Los Angeles, can’t afford that “starting” property. I recently worked on a story for where a realtor told me in this market, houses are getting offers in the double digits…as in 20, 30, 40 people are putting offers on a house. In places like Los Angeles, many of those are cash offers from investors. It’s nearly impossible to compete. A house that’s on the market right now for say, $400K sometimes ends up selling for nearly $100K more than listed because of the offers. It’s untenable. So the solution is either to keep renting, move somewhere with lower cost of living and take a considerable cut in pay, or buy a very questionable money pit in a very questionable neighborhood—which would also cost FAR more than you’d ever imagine here. And yes, I would absolutely be waiting to afford a home in a safe neighborhood, especially with a child, especially in a city like Los Angeles known for its crime (and bad public schools) depending on where you are. That, or buying a ‘second’ home first in a place we don’t intend on living to eventually sell to help fund a home purchase where we do live (we’ve considered this).

      This is very complex, sadly, and dropping my occasional weekly iced coffee, even if it actually costs me $15, is like putting a bandage on a triple compound fracture. Nice try, but it’s not going to cut it.

      Also, I can see how this specific comment chain might get a bit…colorful, so perhaps we all leave it at this. Thank you!

      1. The cash offers are nuts – investors KEEP getting richer and everyday people can’t get a foot in with that unfair competition.

        It’s the same in Australia. Our goverments (both state and federal) are looking at changing laws to make it less attractive for investors via tax breaks.

        Lifestyle must be seriously constrained to achieve entry to the market as well.
        Australia isn’t generally big on apartments (yet) and first home buyers are wanting 3+ bedrooms!? Starting as early as possible, small and very basic in a not great suburb is how I did it.
        Um, and I didn’t “have a life”. I just paid that mortgage, hard!!

        1. Yeah there needs to be some regulations. Here for a while, another problem was big corporate like Zillow coming in and buying up full blocks, flipping the houses, then reselling for much more, essentially pricing out a whole bunch of people. It’s so awful and needs to be checked.

          1. A LOT of local shires are considering reigning in airbnb rentals so that they have to be long-term rentals, in order to free up homes for renters. There’s simply no stick available.

    5. Aunt Sue,
      California has become so expensive that all of the tips you give above, which are true generally, just don’t even come close to allowing one to reach the amount necessary to buy a house for so many. It is a really sad fact for so many here. The choice between moving away from family and support ( if even possible employment wise) versus staying and renting is very difficult.

  10. It’s not just renters – I’m in my mid 40’s and I’m on my 4th home that we have purchased. It was never the plan to move so much but career changes took us from Philly to Denver to Seattle and now back “home” to Southern NJ. Moving every few years has been so fun as we work to make each home shine. It’s fun to look around my home and see what I’ve kept through each move and what has been added along the way. I sell or donate things that don’t work or I no longer love and move forward without regret. At this point, I calculate the cost of outfitting a new home into the full cost of the move. And we transform each new home right up until the day it goes on the market. Home is meant to evolve just as we do. The freedom to allow that is a gift.

    1. I came here to say this too. We lived in our first house that we owned for almost 8 years and did many things to customize the home just for us – taking down a wall in the basement, buying just the right furniture and decor, replacing fixtures, countertops, etc. Some of those built equity, others probably lowered the home value (removing the basement wall in particular – it reduced the number of bedrooms by one, but greatly improved how we used the space). So whether we owned or rented, when we moved we definitely walked away from money we put into that house. Worse, we walked away from design that I had poured my heart into, some of which I could have probably taken with us if it were a rental, but which stayed with the house in the sale (light fixtures, for instance). Sure we sold for more than we bought for, but we probably would have even if we’d done nothing but maintain the house. Now half of our furniture is in storage while we build our dream house and live in a much smaller rental, and we got rid of some pieces that we didn’t love enough to store. One of the pieces of art that we absolutely love that was perfect for our last house may not have a true home in the new house (I’m still crossing my fingers I’m wrong about that! It will break my heart to have to put it in the basement or somewhere it won’t be seen every day). We almost certainly will relegate one of our primary bedroom dressers to the spare bedroom because two dressers in the primary bedroom will be not only unnecessary thanks to the large, well-designed closet, but also won’t make sense anywhere there. We might need to swap out our rectangular dining table for a round, or at least shorter, one.

      Does that mean I regret any of what we spent? No! I was so proud of that first house and the ways we made it our own! I got JOY from those new counters, dang it, even if we only got to enjoy them for a couple of years. I had no way of knowing which pieces of furniture would make it to our next place, even when I knew that we wouldn’t stay in that house forever. Heck, when we sold and got rid of some things, we actually got rid of a few pieces I now regret giving up, because we hadn’t designed the house we’re building yet and now we could use some of them. But our 2nd couch is living it’s best life in my cousin’s apartment – I liked that couch, but he LOVES it. And I didn’t have to figure out how to store it for over a year. We will buy another couch for the basement eventually, one I love even more.

      Arlyn, what if your armoire had the PERFECT place in your new rental? Then you wouldn’t have regretted buying it at all! There’s just no way we could ever know those things. Maybe you have a friend that has a place for it and could use it, and they can love it for you until your next place where hopefully it will make more sense? Then you can visit it occasionally? If not, you have the most beautiful storage piece any garage has ever known. 🙂

      1. Oh for sure. If it fit up in my new bedroom, I’d be happy as a clam. But it’s definitely other things, too. Things that felt great in my old place just feel kind of…meh here. But nothing is fully decorated yet, so maybe I’ll feel differently when I have a better grip on things!

      2. I got to borrow my friend’s amazing Y2K leopard print couch for one year in the early 2000s when it wouldn’t fit in her apartment. It pained me to give it back but it was fun to babysit it.

  11. This post could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. We have owned our home for 5 years and just sold it bc I got residency halfway across the country (yay!), where we will be renting. We do have the option to buy it later but who knows what is happen? Since we moved from a 1 bed condo to a townhome then, we did fall prey to get stuff for now thing bc it costs a ton to furnish a bigger space and I was 8 months pregnant so there was an urgency to have the place feel finished. But the nightstands from Target are already falling apart and there was no way the 5×5 Kallax unit is making the move cross country. The 2nd hand market in the DMV is amazing bc so many professionals/military are transient but what if I buy things here that don’t fit in our new rental? But I only have 3 weeks on the other end before I start working 80 hours a week and I want my “free” time to be with my toddler and new baby, not on figuring out furnishings. Man, is my comment gonna be as long as your post, Arlyn? I will say I never “finished” my bedroom here either, so maybe we are always still finishing? And yours was so warm and beautiful, even if you never got to enjoy the majestic armoire there. And thank you for making a stamp on your rental bc I was def influenced by your dining room – gorgeous!! I guess I don’t have any answers either, but I can completely understand needing to make your space feel like your home, even if we are renting. Can’t wait to see your process in your new space and how you use what you could make work from your old space.

    1. Same! Aryln’s living room layout solved a big dilemma I had in our tv room! I’m equally grateful for the inspo. 🙂

  12. This is such a useful article. I’m middle-aged now and happily ensconced in a home we own, but rented for many years and have lived in dozens of places. I’m definitely of the ‘make your environment as beautiful if you can now’ view, because you never know if and when you’ll buy. My furniture started out mostly second hand and I upgraded various pieces along the way – mostly of the view that any pieces purchased were investments and would last the rest of my life. I think I did pretty well overall, but where I stuffed up was on sofas. We all tend to buy a sofa that fits our space, but my advice is scale down, even if you’re currently living in a large space. Don’t buy a sectional (get a sofa + ottoman) and don’t buy a super-long sofa (or, rather, don’t spend a lot of money on them) because the chances are high that they won’t work at your next place. Also, think hard before purchasing a king-size bed, even if your current place allows it. I’ve never had one because I’ve lived in many places over the years where the bedroom was not big enough (perhaps less of an issue in the US, though?). Where I’ve probably been most extravagant is knobs. In fact, I had some knobs I bought years ago at a reclamation shop and that cost a pretty penny. I had nowhere for them for years, but they now have pride of place in my living room! (Never get rid of fancy knobs you purchase; even if they don’t work in your next place you’ll eventually find a home for them).

    1. I do love a good knob. I’m fairly certain there’s a box somewhere in my garage full of knobs and hardware I’ve collected across all my homes.

    2. Agreed! We’re about to move from a short-term rental to (hopefully) long-term resident housing (A house built in 1907 with lots of challenges!) for our new jobs. I’ve been scanning Facebook Marketplace in our new area, looking for a sofa and there are SO MANY huge sectionals and sofas available there. No one wants to move those things! I had considered “upgrading” to a sectional sofa, but after I spent some time in our new living room, I realized that would be a mistake. Luckily, I found a 3-seater sofa in tip-top shape at the ReStore (non-profit organization), with a coordinating armchair, both in a good scale for the new living room. It’s more flexible to work with small to mid-sized furniture pieces, both for different room layouts, or to move into a new space in the future. I’ve also never had a king-sized bed, and indeed, many bedrooms in the US (especially older homes/apartments which are very common for rentals) won’t fit a King. We’re happy with our Queen bed and I can feel secure that I can always move it. I like to keep curtains, even if they don’t work in the next house, they may work in the future, or I can repurpose the fabric into something else. I also think new lighting makes a huge difference: whether lamps, permanent fixtures, or string or fairy lights — they change the whole mood of a room. Another great post Arlyn!

  13. I moved out of home (very begrudgingly coz my mum and I got along famously) at 18 coz uni was 2 hours by bus each way and trying to study on a bus with a stranger falling asleep on you as you’re wedged against a window does not work!
    I rented houses. I fell behind in rent even though I worked 3 jobs as well. I lived with whackos. It. Was. Hard.😜
    Then I shared teacher housing in remote desertl locations. I moved back to the city and couldn’t afford to live in the apartment I bought when I was just 22 because I was paying 18% interest!!! I took a lease and sublet rooms.
    I moved into my apartment and flipped it on the absolute cheap.
    I bought a stunning tiny townhouse on the very street I now live in my 100 year ol’ gal😍, an histotic cottage with a magic garden (I lived in several houses with my ex, in between).
    The point? If you’re prepared to NOT have a life, NOT go on holidays, NOT have fancy clothes, shoes or hobbies….I DO believe it can be done, even at 18% interest! But, if you actually want to LIVE your life, then maybe/maybe not!🤔

    Thing is, was cozy. They were furnished with made over hand-me-downs (even-side-of-the-street finds) and flea market finds that I got up at Dawn’s crack for to get the bargains.
    I STILL have some of the finds from my uni days!

    You need to purchase carefully for the long term (I get the need for the king bed, but probably wouldn’t have bought it as a renter). Being extra careful about buying large furniture is essential.
    Things like textiles, etc., can be high quality as long as they are NOT TREND PIECES, but classic or art pieces.
    Paint and removal decor are the go (I stiiiiiill read the Apartment Therapy blog for ideas).

    “the math ain’t mathin’.” is real. However, I did it on my own and believe middle income individuals can, too….but it comes at a lifestyle sacrifice.😉

    1. The thing is, what if we’re not going on holidays, not buying fancy clothes, don’t have expensive hobbies, and we still can’t afford a starter home? Sure, interest rates are lower than 18%. But I could buy a ‘starter’ house for 200k less(or more) at 18% interest rather than what home prices are now. The whole ‘interest rates are way lower than what they used to be, I did it, you can!’ Doesn’t compare anymore. My in-laws bought a brand new subdivision home in the 90s for 80k. Those same houses today are selling for 400-500k. TBH the interest rates… aren’t much a part of it. For it to compare, we should be able to live on one income making 60-70 an hour and then I can buy that same starter home my in-laws did paying the same percentage of our monthly income to the mortgage payment.

  14. It depends.

    If your goal is home ownership, then it makes sense to prioritize that. It doesn’t make sense to invest a lot in decorating a rental if you are only planning for the rental to be very temporary. You can still make it look nice, certainly.

    I don’t know what it costs to have an apartment professionally wallpapered or to have furniture custom built, but we aren’t talking about avocado toast money here. This is just math- if you have a savings goal that is important to you, it just makes sense to put as much money as possible towards that goal. I think this is also true if you buy a home but plan to move fairly quickly.

    If you plan to rent long-term, it definitely makes sense to spend more on making your living space exactly how you want it.

    It is also an entirely different question when part of your job is styling and posting photos of beautifully styled spaces. This can also be a career investment for some people.

    Now whether it even makes sense to attempt to buy is another question and very dependent on both time and place. There are many cities where I would never buy a house just bc I don’t think it would financially make sense. We bought a house here in 2009, but I wouldn’t buy a house right now in the much lower cost city where we live. Financially it would just make more sense to rent and invest elsewhere.

    I would also add- always look at secondhand first. There are secondhand furniture stores that are very nice and selective. I’m not talking about going to Goodwill for a couch and just throwing a blanket over the cigarette burns.

    We have been able to find far better quality furniture secondhand than is even available new nowadays from places like Crate and Barrel or West Elm or that kind of place. I know there are still high quality furniture makers out there, but they are far beyond my budget.

  15. This is kind of heartbreaking and I’m sorry you’re experiencing it. I totally get the affordability of a house thing- my stepdaughter wants to buy just a small condo in Seattle but it looks impossible- and she is 45 and has a master’s degree from Georgetown! And the comparison to clothing-buying is something I have been living with for decades, too! When my husband and I first merged our lives, I think we had 9 sofas between us! (I had only 2!) We then bought a large house and thought we could use 4 of them, but nope! 0! They didn’t work stylistically or simply would not go through the door into the room where we planned to use them. This was before Craig’s List, but we sold and bought a ton of stuff via the Thrifty Nickel newspaper. But since then, we’ve lived in 3 places and were able to use everything in every place (whew). I think buying “normal-sized” furniture helped. And I did pick up a fabulous Drexel Heritage dining table and 8 chairs for $1500 at a consignment shop. Now if I look for those chairs on Chairish, they are $1000 each! I was always one who would rather have nothing than the wrong thing, so I totally sympathize with your desires to have a really great space. I guess there’s a compromise in there somewhere! But I also think buying something even tiny and ugly would really help- by building equity. Makes a huge difference. Good luck with getting the new place squared away! Can’t wait to read/see more about it, Arlyn!

  16. I’m 54 and still don’t live in my own place, although I own two properties and recently sold a third. Complicated but it involves caring responsibilities, moving a lot for work etc. But I’ve always invested in nice things for my house and making my home feel like a home. It’s a balance but if I’d waited I’d still be living like a nomad. and I’m glad I invested in nice things. And furniture not working can be just as much a thing moving from one owned home to another owned home! On the other side of the coin, my parents bought their house in the 70s, and in a pre-credit era we had sheets at the windows till they could afford curtains, cement flooring with rugs till they could afford floor coverings etc etc. You get the picture. (My father is a dentist so not exactly on the poverty line, this was how people did it). It was not uncommon for people in their first home to use borrowed furniture, even milk crates to sit on for a bit while saving for sofas etc etc. TVs, record players etc came slowly. They rarely went out for meals (actually never), we rarely had takeaway and overseas holidays were not a thing. This was everyone though and middle class, young-and-starting-out Australia. Expectations of todays first home owners are vastly different. I’m not saying that one is right or wrong but it’s easy to look back at other times as halcyon. The truth is people had different priorities and expectations, society itself was different and that’s ok but buying a first home has ALWAYS felt unattainable and very tough but no question the voting power of the baby boomer generation has shaped policies that favour that generation at the expense of others. Try and enjoy all your lovely things.

    1. this x 100 !! My parents lived like this too, cobbling together used furniture and found things and saving everything. They saved and saved and set us up so we didn’t have to worry about money when we got our first jobs. I rejected that sort of frugality when I was younger, as I felt a bit of shame. Now, as a 40 yr old, I love hunting for second hand anything – furniture, clothing, jewelry. I love it because i think the quality is better and the items are more unique and the resale value often higher. Life is funny.

  17. As a long term renter with several kids and several moves I buy furniture that has several purposes. I have a drop leaf table that has been my dining room table, my kitchen table, and folded up against a wall with a lamp and art over it. I have a great chest that I can keep all my holiday decorations in. A bench that’s been inside and outside, at the foot of a bed and is currently a coffee table. I try to remind myself that owning a home is not everything. That I have not failed at life because I rent. Even home ownership can be temporary and fraught. It’s important to support renters rights as a renter. Affordable housing is important for a happy diverse community that benefits everyone.

  18. I’ve lived in five homes now (I’m 42) and I’ve been a landlord for 16 years (unintentionally, when we couldn’t sell a house because the market crashed). I can say, unequivocally, that I would be delighted to have any of the EHD contributors as tenants. “You want permission to give my property a glow up AND you’re going to keep paying your rent?! Stay forever!!” Hahahah. I’m so bummed y’all had to move. Listen, whether or not you ever own a home, I truly believe in making where you live feel like YOUR HOME. Great advice to buy high quality when you can, if you can find high quality via secondhand…even better! I prefer vintage/estate sale finds and think patience in acquiring and only buying what you truly love, regardless of trend, lends itself to fashioning a home wherever you go.
    I hope you find places for the things you love and barring that, someone willing to pay an exorbitant asking price. 😜

  19. So glad to see you back around these parts, Arlyn! Thank you so much for sharing your insights and tips. I feel all of this so hard right now. The only reason I’m able to be a (minuscule) property owner is because of generous financial support from my in-laws. Buying even the world’s tiniest condo in most cities is just not a realistic possibility for so many of us millennials (and god help poor Gen Z when their time comes!). But we deserve to live in beautiful little nests that feel like “our” space, regardless of whether or not the deed is in our name.

    Side note: “my need to not be touched at night” made me feel deeply seen. Thank you!

  20. Arlyn,
    I enjoyed this article and enjoy your voice, but please don’t feel the need to be self-deprecating. Own your voice and experience – you can share the dilemmas and uncertainty but that’s nothing that deserves the label of “inane” that you gave your writing. (And I say this warmly as a gen-x professor who sees many younger women question their authority and contribution).

    I’m in a different life situation (now on my 3rd house and 3rd state), but the tips remain true to all of us – invest in quality and vintage if possible, not the ever-changing displays at Target, Home Goods, or trendy West Elm etc. It’s not only better for the environment and usually your pocketbook, but it also adds soul and meaning and uniqueness to your home. I’m tired of the very interchangeable interiors that I see on the web, and I love personal and unique interiors and objects that speak to the people who love there even if it’s not my style. (Your armoire, Caitlyn’s very loud and proud and fun style, etc. I love scandi and midcentury as much as the next person, but it would be sad if my home did not also have the vintage Moroccan table, Jordanian rug, Egyptian tapestries from my travels, and yes, even my sister’s hand-me-down primitive farmhouse items that we inherited with our first house as Poot young graduates.

    Anyway that’s not directly related to your post – but I do think I’m on the side of make your living quarters HOME, which might involve a big project but oftentimes is just being intentional about how you use your space for your life rather than decorating a space without considering how you live and love.

    Looking forward to reading more of your contributions!

    1. I agree. Your style, viewpoint, and writing are all top-notch and you need not express yourself with apologies. You’re wonderful.

  21. The furniture you have might not be ideal in the new place, but there’s great value in not having to start from nothing. You can buy secondhand, buy things that you love that could work in multiple areas of the current home. Don’t buy oversized furniture, unless you are open to selling it later. Oversized furniture would be more difficult to place if the layout or size of the room changes. Even when you move to your own home, having to pay the mortgage, and needing a budget for repairs, painting etc, could prevent anyone from buying a lot of things at once. I moved from a tiny 3-room place to our own house. After 8 years, I still have the furniture I had then. Thankfully it all works somewhere. We had sloped ceilings so we didn’t prioritize wall art then. And that has been the hardest to source and decide on, even now. I still have lots of empty walls. But now I actually have walls, and if I buy things I love, I’ll love those things in the new place too if we ever move. In general, if you buy furniture that you love now, you’ll enjoy it now and after you move. So that’s what I would prioritize. I wouldn’t prioritize any custom pieces or sizes that fit only in that one spot unless it could be modified in a new place.

  22. Great article! The other benefit to investing in nicer things while renting is that sometimes you spend everything you can just to buy the house, and then may not have the money to decorate it. Buying nicer pieces along the way while you’re renting means you will have nice things to furnish your new place right away. Maybe they’re not perfect for your space but at least they’re still nice pieces until you can swap out the “okay for now” for the “perfect forever”.

  23. I was of the don’t-invest mindset when I lived in a rental for 7 years in California, before moving last year (I was fortunate to buy what will likely be a forever home, because it has sentimental family value on top of being a great house). Honestly, I regret that decision — I lived with a brown accent wall that I hated for 7 years, and I should have just painted over it! I never even got around to asking for permission to paint, because by the time it felt like we were “settled” for the medium term, I had already put up a bunch of art and a big credenza up against the wall, so painting felt like a huge hassle. But it never stopped bothering me in all that time.

    1. Yeah, I never did a *thing* to the many (LA and elsewhere) rentals I lived in. Not one thing. I wonder now why not.

  24. We lived in rentals in China and Saudi Arabia for YEARS. Buying wasn’t an option for expats. I agree with the poster who advised investing in furnishings and not fixtures. We’ve accumulated some really lovely art and furniture along the way. It’s fun to see where it slots into a new living space. Way back when I first moved to China, I was admiring how an old China hand had repurposed decor from a much different apartment layout in a new space. She shared her “three color rule,” and it’s been my guide ever since. The rule is simple: decide what three colors you want to use in your living space. They should be colors you love. Then, when you’re thinking about adding a collectible (rug, art, etc.), make sure it goes with your chosen colors.

    We’ve also had to let go of big items when we’ve done international moves. Mostly couches and dining room tables. We’ve gotten the tables second-hand and we’re able to recoup what we spent, but we’ve always lost money on couches. We’ve decided that getting comfortable living room seating is a sunk cost we’re happy with. We love hosting dinners and play groups and book club and game nights, and it’s so much easier to do when you’ve got a comfortable living room.

    We also paint. Our rule of thumb is if we’re going to be somewhere for more than a year, we paint.

  25. It’s so hard to predict what will happen! We were so lucky to be able to afford what we thought would be a starter home a few years ago, and actually refinanced our mortgage when rates dropped super low during the pandemic. We really love our area, but the actual street we live on isn’t the greatest, and the house has some odd layout quirks that made us think we wouldn’t want to invest too much money into big projects like a new kitchen. But with rates back up and the housing market pretty terrible here now, it’s dawning on me that we might be living here quite a bit longer than we thought. I’m trying to convince my husband that we should consider more upgrades that make us happier living here long even if they may or may not increase the eventual selling price of the home. I guess that’s all to say, I feel super privileged in being able to own a home, but I STILL worry about investing too much into it.

  26. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately while debating whether to pull the trigger on buying a vintage Moroccan rug that I’ve been lusting over for a year. My [homeowner] friend suggested I wait to invest in a large rug until I own a home, and what if I have messy children in the future, or a dog to potty train etc etc.

    I am working towards buying a home in the coming years, but the reality is that the average price of houses in my city (where I need to live to commute to my job) is $600k, and my mortgage pre-approval amount is $300k. There are only a handful of houses within my budget in the entire city and it’s not a matter of me being too picky. Would saving the cost of the rug and denying myself the comfort/pleasure make home ownership possible? Nope.

    I bought the beautiful rug that may be too large for a future living room because my *now* is just as important as my *someday*.

    1. This last line is AWARD WINNING. My now is just as important as my someday. YES! Obviously, there is an unhealthy lean toward this and can be abused but in this instance, it’s absolutely true. Thank you Faye.

    2. Some high-quality rugs can be sized down! If you take them to a good rug person, they can cut them down if it doesn’t affect the pattern too much.

  27. I agree with you 100%. We always changed light fixtures, ceiling fans, wall paint and anything else that would improve our quality of life when we rented. We’d always switch them back when we moved unless the landlord liked the paint color.

  28. Love this topic! I’ve accepted that I’ll never be able to own my own home and that’s ok. On the other hand, I think longingly of wallpaper and window treatments, lighting and paint. Sadly, past tries show that DIY is not my strength and money was wasted. Arlen, your thoughts here are helpful as I, and others, process the tension between our home vision and our reality (which is hopefully full of goodness nonetheless). I’ll just be here to live vicariously through every EDH renter’s MOTO instead 😉

  29. Great article. I appreciate the insight on this truly relatable topic. I always love the rental tips and before/afters. We are in the same boat with real estate in Colorado. Ownership is unattainable for where we want to live for our peace and well-being. We’re moving to a much larger 3bd rental in June after living tiny for 4 years now. So the extra space can be overwhelming thinking of everything we need, much less styling and decorating. Right now my plan is to watch Marketplace for gems and let go of the dream furniture pieces for now. Making it feel like our home slowly and patiently. Since we’re in a tourist mountain town, I’m hoping we’ll get some quality wood pieces! Best of luck to all of those renting longterm or simply moving frequently.

  30. I loved this so much! Thank you for helping me release the guilt of not being able to afford a house right now..though I’m 40 and finally making good money (after ten years of being underpaid!)

  31. Another useful and heartfelt article!

    My dad once gave me some advice which I try to apply to everything (clothes, furniture, food, holidays) – if something costs 3 times as much is it 3 times as good? If is costs 10 times as much is it 10 times as good?

    Here’s an example:

    I’m luckily enough (after years and years and years of saving, moving to a cheaper city and waiting until I was nearly 40) to own my own home.

    I own lots of books and while I was renting I had a wall of beautifully styled IKEA Billy bookcases. Was it my dream bookcase? No but it looked good and was pretty cost effective. When I moved I found someone else who starting out and gave them the bookcases so they weren’t wasted.

    I then got some quotes for a built in bookcase (my dream) in my new house and they were…..A LOT. So I searched and searched and found some beautiful white oak narrow bookcases and bought 5 of them to line a wall. This probably cost 1/5 of the custom job. Are they my dream bookcases, no – but they are pretty close, look awesome and built ins would not be 5x better.

    Everything is a compromise and everything is a trade off and you need to find the rest the balance for you.

  32. I get this. I lived in a rented apartment in Santa Monica for 15 years, though I never expected to be there that long when I moved in! I lived frugally and saved for a down payment but there was no time over those years when I could have entered the local real estate market and today’s market is a million times worse. The restrictive rent control in effect at the time, discouraged owners from doing anything beyond the bare minimum so renters were expected to pony up if they wanted a nice place. I painted, recarpeted the whole place, installed window treatments, light fixtures, etc. Lots of DIY. All gradually over the years. No regrets. I’d do the same again. It was worth it to enjoy the place I lived even if I didn’t own it!
    Since then, I’ve moved and bought twice in less expensive Ventura County. Both times, prices dropped and took years to recover. Overall, it’s been positive but there were certainly times I felt I’d have been better off renting instead.

  33. We owned for years but are now renting due to a move to another state. We’re looking to buy again and our landlord is pretty restrictive about changing the envelope, so it would not be smart to invest much. Art, plants, books, and objet help a lot. I haven’t had to purchase much for this apartment, but the few things I bought were good quality and (fingers crossed) usable in a variety of settings. Of course, I can’t know for sure. And BTW, so great to have you back on the blog, Arlyn! I’ve always enjoyed reading anything written by you.

  34. I’ve honestly employed the EHD color scheme tips, bought the dresser from the local vintage furniture shop, bought fabric to sew my own curtains, bought the cheap used solid wood bed frame and cool chair and console table on fb marketplace, bought a new solid wood desk from article, 8 months into my apt. People would say it’s insane how much time I looked at fabric or waited and added, I’m happy. Sure the used nightstand style isn’t perfect and the console table could be higher, and actually leaving the train to go home to my room.

  35. Great article Arlyn! I find this really interesting, particularly as an Australian who has read the blog for years and seen many quite large makeovers in rental properties shared. I have always been intrigued as to whether this is a general difference in laws between the US and Australia, or just a skewed perspective given it is a design blog after all. Without getting into the nuances of the home owning conversation (I totally understand where you’re coming from about the impossibility of home ownership in cities these days – prices are astronomical in big cities here too), I have been both a renter and now a landlord and am really interested in how this differs between the countries. In Australia, renters have to get permission to even hang a picture hook on the wall and I have never heard of anyone painting, wallpapering, adding shelves etc let alone kitchen or bathroom makeovers. Thank you again for an interesting article and something that is often on my mind reading EHD!

    1. Legally, in most leases, it does mention you need to ask permission. But most people don’t because…what if they say no? We have security deposits that we’d forfeit if we don’t reset the apartment, but honestly, I’ve always left a place better than when I got there.

    2. I agree with what Arlyn said, but to add a little more: I have asked permission from my landlords for repairs and upgrades and most of the time they will pay for the materials (like paint, new faucet, etc) since we’re doing the work. The advantage is also that we don’t have to worry about them getting a surprise when we move out and keeping our security deposit. For smaller things like hanging pictures, I just do it anyway, and fill the holes / touch up the paint, before I leave and I’ve never had a problem. People should be allowed to personalize their rental home to some degree!

  36. Ugh I feel this! We’ve been renting the past four years ever since we unexpectedly moved from Seattle (expensive but high earning potential) to London (even more expensive yet sometimes bafflingly way lower labour wages). We’re about to buy our first place in London, as many fellow EH commenters have seen me go off about here and there, haha. (The process takes AGES here so it’s still a maybe, but seems to be creeping forward!) I am going to be so relieved when we do have ownership and a sense of permanence, even though the numbers aren’t that far removed from your understandably scary LA scenario, heh. (Your square footage quoted is actually bigger than our 4-bed will be, and it’s a major space upgrade for us. London life is so different.)

    I think my big takeaway ever since I became a parent is that splurging matters for window treatments above all else, including hardware! We’re in a rental right now where all bedrooms face either due east or due west, and the light just poooouuuhurs into my kids’ room(s, back before they shared one) and it makes such a big difference to them staying asleep or not. So we’ve shelled out I think £1,200, not a paltry fee, for custom blackout window treatments in their two separate rooms… only to have to combine them into the same room during covid for more WFH space, and sadly combining them into a room with the worst possible window situation. So now my 5yo wakes up at like 5:30 instead of 7:15 and it sucks, heh. I’m holding off on spending yet more to gussy up that window since I know we’ll ostensibly be leaving soon enough, and we’ll have to pay to patch any window hardware changes, argh. But this was a worthwhile-seeming expenditure at first and I’d probably do it again if we had another rental to deal with.

    That said, my mom always really over the top altered rentals as well as homes she owned, with alterations that she made ASAP as opposed to living in the space for a while. She then often didn’t end up staying all that long, and it often seemed like a poor investment to me. BUT it always brought her a lot of joy to have her custom whatever, and she always has been really dogged and focused about such things, so who am I to stop her? She always mostly jokingly but not entirely jokingly told me to do as she said, not as she did, and not spend as much money as she did fixing up temporary places…. but then in the same breath told me proudly about how she painted the ugly linoleum floor of the horrid room she rented for Glasgow grad school, and she never seemed to regret it. Go figure! I think things relating to money and prudence are SO incredibly personal and not nearly as black and white as your brother makes them sound – after all, Arlyn, your very SOUL is so affected by decor in a way his probably isn’t, so he can make his statements about what’s smart or prudent in a way that totally differ from your own calculations, and that’s OK.

    As sucky as it is to possibly be in a “we may be renting for the foreseeable” climate, I think it means you can make decisions more like an owner because this indefinite saving for an unattainable target might not be the right mix for your own long-term happiness, when you factor it all in. Sorry not sorry all my comments are basically blog post length, heh, but it just means there have been really good thought-provoking discussions on here lately! ♡ And I’m SO SORRY for what happened with your last rental. Just utter crap. I trust you’ll learn to love the new space and/or find a way to sell or rehome or disassemble and reassemble the beloved garage stuff, when it becomes the priority, and it’s OK if that’s not now, you know? But what a rough deal all around, ugh.

  37. I have had the pleasure of being on both sides of the renter/homeowner equation. Our “starter” home was with one set of parents and they wanted to sell after 7 years. We were mid remodel… Took our portion of the profit and bought where we could, not where we wanted. Did a few updates there and decided to leave after three years. It wasn’t the right place for us. That led to 10 years in a rental home that we very much made our own, but we got the itch to buy. We really wish we hadn’t because two years later we were transferred to So Cal for work… juggled a mortgage and rent for a year and sold. We had poured ourselves into the living and outdoor spaces of that home and didn’t really recoup the cost. Then we were in another rental home for a year (really thought we were staying longer, but circumstances sent us back north). We did freshen paint, cheaply change a few dated fixtures, but less than $500 total. No biggie. And here we are nearly four years in another rental home. One we thought would just be a year until we bought again, but the market quickly priced us out. I am just now making it our own, knowing we are likely to be here (not unhappily) for quite some time.

    So, long story short… whether you are renting or buying, the length of residence is probably the dictating factor in how much investment(time and money) a place deserves. The unpredictable moments in life (like your apartment that the landlords wanted and our unplanned job relocation) are part of the risk/reward of the whole thing.

  38. I’m hoping that with so many more of us working from home we will be able to move out of expensive cities like LA and into less expensive states and towns. Then home ownership might actually be affordable to more. Just buy what you love and invest in pieces that will give you joy whether you rent or own. Hopefully thrifting!

  39. Excellent article! I’m a NYC renter (and always will be) and I decorate because that makes me happy. I have bought and sold so many items as my tastes changed. I wish I had been more brave about painting walls, I am allowed to as long as I paint them back to white before I go.

  40. Even if you own, this can happen. We bought our first home, and were fortunate that the few pieces we bought for our previous rental worked. We added over time, but after three years living there, our income increased more than expected, and we decided to sell and buy in our dream neighborhood (where we still are 16 years later). Many of the pieces from our first house didn’t work in the new house. So some rooms needed to start over. A few of the pieces I loved enough that I forced them to work. But regardless, even when you buy a home, it’s not necessarily forever. I believe if you have the resources and it is a priority for you, decorate your home in way that brings you joy. I think the idea of finding quality used pieces to be an excellent alternative.

    Arlyn, I hope over time, you find the same joy in your new rental. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

  41. Oh, I love, love, love this article. 🙂 I have fixed up, renovated and changed around all my previous rentals, and, even if that all cost money, I am happy I did it. They were mine through and through and I really enjoyed the design process. Funnily, it is now-that I finally have a place of my own that I am struggling with it-but sooner or later I will figure this one out, too. Thank you for the great reading!

  42. i really appreciate this thoughtful post! i think what’s interesting from my perspective is that this mindset kind of doesn’t change once you do own, because then the “wisdom” shifts to doing things for resale value or for people who will live in your home after you. this is particularly true for “starter” homes/apartments. does it make sense for me to put a mirrored backsplash in my kitchen if i’m most likely going to sell in the next 5 years? maybe not, but will it make me happy for 5 years? absolutely! and sometimes that’s worth more than any future value, for renters or homeowners.

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