How to Personalize Your Apartment on the Cheap

Turning a rental into a home doesn't have to be expensive.

By + More

 Before I bought my first home, I lived in my fair share of cheap apartments for rent. As you well know, most apartments are notoriously bland. The off-white walls, beige carpeting, generic light fixtures, and the boring floor plans...it's enough to make your heart sink every time you walk through the door. Living in such a generic environment isn't very uplifting. When you can't put your personal touch on your environment, it's hard to feel like you're in your own home.

[In Pictures: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]

As a result, many apartments simply feel like a place where you're staying for awhile, instead of feeling like anything permanent. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to personalize your apartment so it feels a lot more like your home.

1. Paint the Walls

If you think you're going to stay in the apartment for a significant length of time, paint the walls to turn your apartment into a home. And before you say that painting your apartment isn't allowed, review your lease. Many landlords will in fact let you paint, as long as you repaint the walls off-white before you move out. Painting your apartment will make a world of difference in how you feel about where you live. When you choose paint colors, keep in mind how colors affect your mood.

For instance, if your apartment doesn't get a lot of light, then choosing a vivid yellow or orange paint will brighten the rooms and make you feel more cheerful. Other colors, like cool blues and soft greens, can turn an average bedroom into a relaxing escape. Another great technique is to paint just one of your apartment's walls to reduce the work and expense of painting. This will add a pop of color, and when you move, you will only have to do a minimal amount of repainting.

2. Change Light Fixtures

Apartment light fixtures are often hideous. So why not install light fixtures you love? Keep the fixtures that came with the apartment in a cupboard, and change them back before you move. This is a wonderful way to add style and a personal touch to your apartment.

3. Work with Rugs

When I rented, I couldn't stand looking at the bland carpet (which was always taupe or gray). So I bought some brightly colored rugs from IKEA. Those rugs added a ton of color and personality to my rooms, and they hid the ugly carpeting. For $100, this was a very cheap way to personalize my place.

4. Hang Up Your Art

Before you start banging nails into a wall, review your lease to make sure you are allowed to hang art and photos in your apartment. One landlord charged me $5 per nail hole when I moved out. I was charged the fees because I didn't take the time to review my lease before I started hanging photos on the walls. It's definitely a good idea to review your rental agreement before you buy art paintings and prints or hang any photos in your apartment.

Cover the walls with art that's meaningful to you. And if you're on a budget, don't think you have to buy bland prints at Target to personalize your apartment. There are plenty of places to get cheap or free art online. You might also choose to display a collection or to hang photos of family and friends. You can find cheap shadow boxes to display collections and inexpensive picture frames at stores like Michael's, Kmart, and Walmart.

[See the best personal finance stories from around the Web at the U.S. News My Money blog.]

5. Use Room Dividers

If you have a long room, it can be a challenge to effectively divide the space. Use curtains, bright hanging fabrics, folding screens, or wooden blinds to create the illusion of separate rooms. Also, rearrange furniture to better utilize the space. One of the apartments that I rented was in a house built in the early 1900s. The rooms were more like ballrooms, and my living room was 60 feet long! And no, that's not a typo; it really was 60 feet long. The room was challenging because I had to use half of it for the living room, and the other half for my home office. I hung bamboo shades to simulate a hallway, and created two separate living spaces for work and personal use.

6. Use Accessories to Customize Your Apartment

Use accessories to personalize your apartment. Check clearance racks at department stores for lamps, throw pillows, and shower curtains. These types of accessories can quickly change the look of your apartment. Look for gently used items including planters, patio furniture, or brightly colored tablecloths at yard sales. Garage sales often have inexpensive accessories for sale that you can use to personalize your apartment.

Final Thoughts

Apartments are always going to be a challenge to personalize and call your own. After all, you can't make major changes because eventually, you're going to be moving on. However, making small changes such as painting an accent wall or adding some brightly colored rugs can make a world of difference in how you feel about your apartment. You might even find yourself feeling at home.

Do you have any other tips for personalizing an apartment?

Heather Levin is a columnist for Money Crashers, one of the top personal finance blogs covering financial issues like retirement, saving money, coupons, and credit cards. Levin also writes about going green on The Greenest Dollar.